A myth about lost harmony, which is always with us, though we often cannot feel it, is further developed in this film by Alexander Sokurov. The material used here is concrete and, at first sight, quite fit for TV. The whole work is unhurried and detailed report from an old solitary house, lost in the mountains, in the village of Aska, prefecture Nara, Japan, where an old woman, whose name is Umeno Matshueshi, lives alone. But filmmaker’s creative task is quite opposed to the TV information stream. It is not only because this subject, this person couldn’t be of any interest for any TV crew in any country (and least of all, perhaps, in modern Japan).
Sokurov’s camera doesn’t watch this character, doesn’t ask any questions, doesn’t surprise her, but extracts uninterrupted poetical image out of the trivial details of this physical reality, out of this extinct life and daily routine. The image is epic and lyrical at the same time. Refined simplicity of Japanese landscape, interior, a series of portraits are not a representation of “couleur local,” but only the sign of ideal technique of the ideal description, allowing to enter this life. The woman, who remains silent throughout the whole film, cooking and eating, kindling the fire and sewing, giving alms and combing her hair before us, recites in the final poem as a prayer: artless and sorrowful tanku about loneliness, about the constancy of losses and gainings. Sokurov shoots this unexpected stroke in his personage’s portrait as a lyrical coda of his work.
One of the most important directors in both Russian and world cinema, Alexander Sokurov is considered by many to be the spiritual heir of the great Andrei Tarkovsky. Sokurov — who has enjoyed a long creative relationship with Tarkovsky — has discounted such comparisons, but certain similarities between their works remain indelible: a predilection towards very long takes, natural performances by their actors, and an almost otherworldly use of natural sounds and music. And, perhaps most important, both directors are concerned with the essential questions of human existence and the state of the human spirit.
Sokurov was the son of a World War II veteran. His family moved around a good deal while Sokurov was growing up, and after finishing high school, he went to Gorki, Russia’s third largest city. There, he attended Gorki University and began to work as an assistant television director when he was 19. He continued to direct television programs for the Gorki station until 1975, and… read more