After the Flowers 花のあと
2009, colour, 1.85:1, 107 mins
Directed by Nakanishi Kenji (中西健二)
By Derek Elley
Wed, 17 November 2010, 11:25 AM (HKT)
An exquisitely mounted love story-cum-swordplay drama, with a memorable performance by Kitagawa Keiko. Festivals and film weeks, plus niche TV.
Japan, late Edo period. The eldest of three dutiful daughters, Terai Ito (Kitagawa Keiko) has been personally trained in swordcraft since a child by her father, clan elder Terai Jinzaemon (Kunimura Jun). One day, while admiring the cherry blossom outside town, she's approached by low-level samurai Eguchi Magoshiro (Miyao Shuntaro), who hopes that one day she will give him the pleasure of a match. Ito's father agrees, and she and Magoshiro have a private match with bamboo swords in the courtyard of her home. Ito acquits herself well and also falls for the handsome young samurai, but later hears from her father that Magoshiro is planning to marry one of her friends, Kayo (Ito Ayumi). The extremely ambitious Magoshiro rises swiftly through the samurai ranks, and Ito's father feels used and betrayed. However, one day Ito by chance learns that Kayo is having an affair with clan leader Fujii Kageyu (Ichikawa Kamejiro), who may be plotting against Magoshiro. When her worst fears are realised, she asks samurai Katagiri Saisuke (Komoto Masahiro), whom her father wants her to marry, to help her exact revenge.
If Jane Austen had ever written an Edo period love story, and OZU Yasujiro 小津安二郎 had ever directed a swordplay drama, it might have looked a little like After the Flowers 花のあと (2009), an exquisitely mounted second feature by NAKANISHI Kenji 中西健二 (The Blue Bird 青い鳥 (2008)) in which all the emotions are beneath the social surfaces and the swordplay is held back to only two (life-changing) fights, near the beginning and end. Adapted from a short story by the late FUJISAWA Shuhei 藤沢周平 — best known as the source author for YAMADA Yoji 山田洋次's The Twilight Samurai たそがれ清兵衛 (2002), The Hidden Blade 隠し剣 鬼の爪 (2004) and Love and Honor 武士の一分 (2006) — Nakanishi's movie has more emotion and meaning packed into its 107 minutes than the whole of journeyman Yamada's trilogy.
Starting like hundreds of other Japanese costume dramas, with spotless clothes, formal compositions, polite exchanges and loads of cherry blossom, the film quickly hints at more in the closeups of lead actress KITAGAWA Keiko 北川景子's face, which hides a million supressed emotions beneath its placid surface. When, 15 minutes in, the first test of her swordfighting takes place, the transformation from young lady to tomboy is remarkable, giving MIYAO Shuntaro 宮尾俊太郎's quietly arrogant samurai more than a run for his money — a sequence capped by a magical moment in which Kitagawa's Ito literally experiences the initial shudder of first love. For the next hour, she returns to being an immaculately dressed, ever-dutiful daughter, but the promise of a memorable finale is cleverly kept alive by flickers of emotion as the plot gradually unwinds.
The movie is a huge artistic gamble by Nakanishi that relies on all its elements faultlessly coming together. The formalised human emotions are given dramatic expression by the exquisite, formally composed photography of ace d.p. KIKUMURA Tokusho 喜久村徳章 (Cure ＣＵＲＥ (1997), The Grudge 呪怨 (2002), Happy Flight ハッピーフライト (2008)) — paragraphed by still-life landscape shots showing the seasons — and TAKEBE Satoshi 武部聡志's warmly scored interludes. On a script level, the political machinations of the samurai parallel the conflict within Ito herself: like many of Fujisawa's stories, this one is grounded in the struggle of a onetime warrior class trying to adapt to more peaceful times during the late Edo period, just as Ito struggles to reconcile her two sides. Only the use of a soupy voiceover commentary at the beginning and end — framing the story as a reminiscence by the heroine's granddaughter — seems misjudged.
The central irony of Ito risking her life for the wrong man, and only finding the right one by chance, is beautifully brought out in the performances. As the older, somewhat hand-me-down samurai who proves a loyal and suprisingly clever suitor, KOMOTO Masahiro 甲本雅裕 comes through in the second half with a likeable performance, alongside ICHIKAWA Kamejiro 市川亀治郎's oily villain, that carries the film through to its denouement. The finest moments, however, are the scenes between Kitagawa's daughter and veteran KUNIMURA Jun 國村隼's father, a deeply loving relationship signalled by the tiniest displays of paternal-filial pride. In her first costume role, 23-year-old Kitagawa (Cherry Pie チェリーパイ (2006), Dear Friends ディアフレンズ (2007)) shows she handle both a sword and a kimono with convincing ease.
Photo, ©2009 Hana no Ato Associates
ContactSales: Bandai Visual, Tokyo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: Japan, 13 Mar 2010.
Presented by Hana No Ato Production Committee (Bandai Visual, Pony Canyon, TV Asahi, Yamagata TV, Nichigakudo, Asatsu-DK, Asahi Shimbun Company, Destiny) (JP). Produced by Destiny (JP). Executive producers: Kotaki Shohei, Umezawa Michihiko. Producers: Kawashiro Kazumi, Ogoshi Hirofumi, Kameyama Keiji, Endo Yoshiaki.
Script: Hasegawa Yasuo, Iida Kenzaburo. Short story: Fujisawa Shuhei (1983). Photography: Kikumura Tokusho. Editing: Okuhara Yoshiyuki. Music: Takebe Satoshi. Art direction: Kaneda Katsumi. Costumes: Nakayama Makoto. Sound: Take Susumu. Action: Takase Masatsugu.
Cast: Kitagawa Keiko (Terai Ito), Komoto Masahiro (Katagiri Saisuke), Miyao Shuntaro (Eguchi Magoshiro), Aitsuki Akiko (Iku), Sato Megumi (Tsuse), Ichikawa Kamejiro (Fujii Kageyu), Ito Ayumi (Kayo), Emoto Akira (Nagai Soan), Kunimura Jun (Terai Jinzaemon, Ito's father), Fujimura Shiho (narrator).