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Asian cinema: Japanese films

Sakura Guardian in the North film review: Sayuri Yoshinaga plays ageing war widow in meandering trilogy finale full of problems

Much like its central character, played by veteran actress Yoshinaga, Sakura Guardian in the North grasps hopelessly at the fading memories of former glories

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 7:03am

2/5 stars

Veteran Japanese actress Sayuri Yoshinaga completes her thematically connected “Northern Trilogy” with a sweeping and at times experimental melodrama in which an ageing war widow wrestles with senility and reconnects with her estranged son.

Filmed over seven years, Sakura Guardian in the North boasts stunning vistas of the countryside of Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands, but the narrative, which spans three decades, proves icily unengaging.

Yoshinaga plays Tetsu, who is forced to move to Sapporo and live with her adult son, Shujiro (Masato Sakai), whom she has not seen in 15 years and who is now married to the heiress of an American hot dog empire. She yearns to return to their childhood home in Sakhalin, where she last saw her husband (Hiroshi Abe) before he left to fight the Russians.

Shujiro reluctantly agrees to accompany her, putting his marriage and business on the line, and on the ensuing road trip they revisit the many tragedies they have endured.

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While Yoshinaga’s pedigree as an actress is indisputable, the demands of the film, directed by Yojiro Takita ( The Last Recipe ), often test the limits of her range. Her classical performance style feels at odds with the rest of the production, particularly when called upon to act many decades younger than her actual age.

Similarly, the action jumps back and forth between an avant-garde stage production of the same story, serving no definable purpose other than to provide theatre director Keralino Sandrovich with work.

Ultimately, the film meanders through a lifetime of inconsequential vignettes, and much like its central character, grasps hopelessly at the fading memories of former glories. Sakura Guardian in the North is a tragically fruitless ordeal.

Sakura Guardian in the North opens on August 23

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