The story is simple. A boy has a mother who is dedicated to him in every way, emotionally engaged and prepared for extreme sacrifice for the smallest pleasure for him. On the other side is a father so stern he makes Bergman's Scandinavian Lutherans seem mild. The mother dies when the boy is 11; all the siblings have fled and the boy at the end is stuck with his father, penniless. The thing is framed as the book the boy writes, now old and missing key parts of his soul. Lots of snow. Lots of lonely stares that contrast with the wide eyes of the boy, selfish and demanding.
It works. It works because its gentle, a gentle knife that wounds. In the west, you'd have Nick Nolte shouting. Beatings. Dark drama and loud. Here, the routineness of how bleakness seeps is much more disturbing. Everything is beautiful.
The anchor scene. There's usually one in such compositions, and here it is obvious because it is recalled a dozen times and repeated about half that. The boy and his sister are in the field playing. Tossing sandals in the air and pretending they are bats. We see the bats in their imagination as they attempt to catch them, which of course they are, continuing to keep them flying. The saintlike mother calls them for supper, which we know was painstakingly and perfectly prepared.
The children ignore her, playing with their imaginary hauntings in fun because they know they can control them. It builds and builds in resonance each occurrence, obviously the center of the movie the adult plays over and over in his head...
Director: Kaneto Shindô.
Cast: Keiju Kobayashi, Nobuko Otowa, Ichirô Zaitsu, Meiko Kaji, Kotoe Hatsui, Taiji Tonoyama, Bin Moritsuka, Rokkô Toura, Yûno Sugawara, Tokiko Miyama, Mami Okamoto, M. Shôjo, Tsuyoshi Naitô.
Subtitles: English, Russian.
| Rakuyôju / Tree without leaves. 1986.