9 January 2018



This is the saddest, most beautiful film by a director best known for making sad, beautiful films. It's just gorgeously-photographed and wonderfully acted and it's well worth the more than two hours it takes to watch it. Yeah, it's a long one! The director's been described by a chap called Derek Malcolm as 'the poet of family life' and, if you watch this film, you'll see exactly why someone would say this.

It's a simple family story marvellously told, acted and filmed. Mr. and Mrs. Hirayama are a lovely old Japanese couple in, I would say, their early seventies. This means that they would have been born in the late 1800s and that they've lived through the first two World Wars. Why did I say the 'first two World Wars?' Well, there's always time for one more! I know of at least one person- who shall remain nameless- who claims to have his itchy digit on a certain button...

The Hirayamas are living in a Japan that's probably changed a lot in their time. They've lost a son in the war- presumably the second World War- and it's only been eight years since the bombs that decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I can't even imagine what those cities would have looked like, even eight years later.

The point is that the Hirayamas have, sadly, lived to see an age that's sorely lacking in the love and respect for one's elders that they might have been used to in more olden days. They find this out first-hand- although methinks that they may have already suspected it!- when they leave their little village to go on a visit to Tokyo to visit their various offspring and their grandchildren. It looks like it's their first time visiting the Big Smoke and they're naturally very excited to be so doing.

I love the scene where they're packing to go away. It's filled with exactly the kind of natural dialogue you'd expect from a couple of their age, going away on a big trip and panicking a little bit about whether they've packed everything:

'Where's my air cushion? I can't find my air cushion! Have you seen it?'

'I haven't seen it. Why would I have seen it? Are you sure that you packed it?'

'Of course I'm sure. What do you think I am? Why would I be looking for it if wasn't missing? I'm not a fool! It's gone missing now and I'll never find another one in time for the trip- No, wait, there it is, over there on the chair, pass it to me, will you?'

'I KNEW you hadn't packed it!'

'Oh, shut up and just pass me the damn cushion!'

These aren't their exact words but you know what I mean. Anyway, when the lovely old couple reach Tokyo, their visit turns a bit sour as the welcome from their relatives is only lukewarm at best.

Their doctor son Koichi, who's also their eldest, has no real time free to spend with them (he didn't even plan for a locum to cover for him for one or two days, for one thing) and his kids are kind of rude and ill-mannered and don't want to hang out with these bothersome old folks, as they would see it.

Their eldest daughter Shiga, who runs a shabby little beauty parlour-cum-hairdressers' salon from home, is not only unwelcoming but she's horribly dismissive of her old parents as well, referring to them as 'just friends from the country' in front of her customers. Is she ashamed of them or something? What a cow!

The only person who shows them any love, respect or affection is their beautiful and gentle daughter-in-law Noriko, the widow of their departed son. Having also lost a child, this lovely woman welcomes them into her home when they need a place to stay and is much, much nicer
and more considerate and thoughtful towards them than their own blood relatives.

There are some funny scenes in the film too, such as when the old Dad gets pissed drunk on sake while staying in Tokyo and ends up spending the night in one of Shige's uncomfortable beauty salon chairs, with his equally drunken friend in the chair next to him. Maybe not the best time for the short back-and-sides then, methinks...!

They take a lovely touristy tour of the city on a bus with Noriko, all of their little heads bobbing in time to the movement of the bus. They have these tourist bus-trips in Dublin too, and the only feature the tourists ever seem to get really excited about is the Guinness Storehouse, lol. 

We have a beautiful city jam-packed with cultural icons and the homes of famous writers and artists and some fabulous old buildings and museums and all the tourists give a shit about is the free pint of the black stuff they get with the price of admission...! Typical, haha. It doesn't matter a fiddler's f**k if they don't like or drink the stuff. It's free...

I love when the old couple walk together along the beach wall when they go to the spa, but they're obviously painfully aware that their eldest son and daughter only paid the few quid for the spa just to get rid of them for a few days. They decide themselves and in perfect accord with each other, you know what, we've seen Tokyo now, let's just go home.

What happens when they go home is even sadder. You'll see their grown-up children for what they really are, that's if you haven't guessed already. It's a very, very sad ending and it'll make you want to phone your own parents or grandparents just to check in and see if they're okay. Maybe you should do that anyway. They won't be around forever or, as a character in the film remarks, somewhat ironically under the circumstances: 

'You can't honour your parents from beyond the grave...'


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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