Maborosi (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Rating: ** (out of ****)

"Bring coffee," a friend of mine suggested when I told him I was planning to see the Japanese film Maborosi, and it was good advice...although "Don't bother" would have been even more helpful. Clearly influenced by the films of Hou Hsaio-hsien -- an acclaimed Taiwanese director whose work leaves me cold -- Maborosi is breathtakingly beautiful, at least superficially, and will undoubtedly please those who are open to the idea of motion picture as dynamic art gallery. Alas, I have not yet reached that enlightened stage; though I'm not someone who demands non-stop action in the films I see (Safe and Wild Reeds both made my top ten list last year), I do find it preferable that something happen onscreen. You know how, in some films, the screen will fade to black -- usually in the first reel somewhere -- and a title along the lines of "THREE YEARS LATER" will be superimposed? In addition to keeping you informed about when the story is taking place, it's a shorthand way of saying: "Then various things happened for a while, but none of it is relevant to the narrative, or particularly interesting, so we'll just skip ahead to the next time that something eventful occurs." Well, about 75% of Maborosi's running time takes place during those three years. An interesting notion, that, when I set it down on "paper"; watching it unfold in front of me, however, I found myself gradually sinking into a stupor, and by the time our protagonist finally found herself in crisis, in the final reel, it was too late -- I'd more or less checked out, emotionally. The compositions are striking; the natural lighting is exquisite; the actors are expressive...but in aid of what, exactly? In that sense, Maborosi is the arthouse equivalent of Twister: all dressed up and goin' nowhere.