I saw Hirokazu Kore-eda's Maborosi--about a woman whose husband was run over by a train, an apparent suicide, and who years later comes to terms with his death--in the 1996 Hong Kong festival, if memory serves, and was bored out of my skull by it, both during the twenty minutes I sat through in the theater, and the full length I endured played out on one of the festival's many VCRs. The experience was so excruciating I invented a term for it--'The Cinema of the Comatose'--and used it to refer to either a film's energy level (or lack of it) or the effect induced on the audience.

What a difference ten years makes--watching it again it comes off as strangely poignant, even lovely. Koreeda's storytelling seems livelier (maybe watching Turkish, Iranian, and Taiwanese films helped stretch my attention span), the musical cuing and acting style more emphatic. And little touches--like the woman's visiting the neighborhood where she and her husband first lived, then having a bike ride past behind her ringing its bell (the husband once stole a bike because their bike had been stolen)--have all the sharp, delicate pain of a needle prick. Then there are moments like when the two children--the woman's son and her second husband's daughter--walk down a tunnel towards a grove of sunlit trees on the other side, the image shot just so that the children look as if they're wandering into the crystalline passages of an emerald; or when the woman and her second husband listen helplessly to the howling of a terrible storm outside, knowing their elderly neighbor is out there foolishly trying to catch them some crabs...

The penultimate scene, where the woman is finally forced, after a long period of anguish, to confront her trauma, is shot from afar and in sillhouette; this time around the effect wasn't soporific, but restrained, understated--you feel her cry reaching out to you from a great distance. I don't know if it's the film's innate power or the shock and suprise of finding out that something I used to dislike is actually quite good, but I was moved.

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