Greetings from Fukushima / Grüße aus Fukushima / Fukushima, mon Amour (2016)

What primarily drew me to this picture was its alternative title-  Fukushima, mon Amour – which happens to be a direct homage to the Alain Resnais 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour,  a French New Wave film set in Hiroshima that centered around the last breaths of a romance between a French woman and a Japanese man. Immediately recognizing the Resnais connection, I was intrigued and felt compelled to see what this Doris Dörrie movie was all about.

While Dörrie’s quasi-tribute to Resnais isn’t actually a straight up remake, the two pictures do seem to share one or two similarities, at least in broad strokes. It’s been at least a decade since I last saw Resnais’ picture, so it’s hard to go into fine detail over the shared similarities, but both do, for example, revolve around the relationship of a native Japanese person and a westerner, while a relatively recent  atomic disaster event is echoing on the background. The one fundamental difference in the narratives that stood up to me was that the two movies are completely opposite in what drives their stories. In Resnais’ film, from what I can recall, the film revolved around the relationship between two lovers ending, where as in Dörrie’s  picture it’s the opposite, the story is largely about an unlikely and non-romantic friendship being formed between the two female leads.

The primary players in Fukishima, mon Amour are Rosalie Thomass in the role of Marie, a German woman fleeing her home and trying to find herself after a disastrous failed marriage ceremony and much heartbreak by throwing herself into (clown) charity work in Japan, and Kaori Momoi, who plays the elderly and headstrong aging Geisha, Satomi, who is attempting to get her life back together after the devastation of the 2011 Tsunami and nuclear plant disaster. Both women give very strong performances in the movie, and it is their combined chemistry, as well as their clashes of personalities alongside the obvious cultural clash, that makes this part-drama, part-comedy so entertaining.

One particularly interesting aspect of the movie to me personally was that apart from Momoi and Thomass who play the main lead characters, nearly everyone else in the movie were not professional acto rs.  They primarily cast the picture with actual locals from the surrounding Fukushima area. Even the businessman wearing the giant Cat-head and greeting people near the train station in Tokyo that we see both at the beginning and ending of the movie turned out to be a genuine person, he actually does that on his spare time as a sort of hobby. It’s little details like these that work in favor of the picture by adding some endearing root level charm to the project, though admittedly it only adds to the viewing experience only once you become aware of these little tidbits.

The visual look of the picture is rather gorgeous. There’s just something magical about shooting in black and white that can elevate even the more mundane of landscapes into beautiful imagery, and in this instance the ravaged Fukushima landscape only magnifies that effect tenfold. The lack of color is very beneficial to the cinematography, as it gives the story a bit of an old school and artistic vibe that lends well to the picture’s slow pace, and adds nice contrast (and vibrant gravitas) to the night and day scenes, especially once the ghosts that haunt outside of Satomi’s ravaged house start to appear.

You might say the movie is basically a representation of the importance of learning to let go of the past. In order to get back on your feet again after a  great disaster you need to start by rebuilding, both spiritually as well as physically. You also need to understand the importance of knowing when and how to receive help from others, rather than trying to go about it alone. In Marie you see her healing process represented through her growing self-confidence and inner calm that she slow gains through her efforts to help rebuild the old Geisha’s house, where as with Satomi the key to overcoming her painful guilt that the looming ghosts during the night clearly represent is achieved through forming a reluctant friendship with Marie and setting her sights forward, rather than being chained by her guilt and past. Neither could do it alone, it was only through their combined effort and help that they are able piece themselves together from the painful shards that metaphorically is their past. The most charming example of this is when Marie is taught the Japanese tea ceremony by Satomi. It’s not particularly subtle device to signify their developing relationship and bond or the methods that prove to be the essential tools to mending their broken hearts, but once Marie finally succeeds to perform the ceremony perfectly, it does leave you as an audience with a certain sense of warm, fuzzy feeling.

Though the story itself in Fukushima, mon Amour is nothing particularly amazing, the overall atmosphere and the chemistry between Momoi and Thomass is very pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable. Their slowly budding friendship goes a long way to make the movie engrossing, even if by the end it doesn’t quite manage to deliver a wholly cathartic and strong ending. And while the picture didn’t really leave that much of an emotional impact on me, I did find it a rather compelling watch. It does have a certain charm to it that makes  it worth seeing if this type of independent movies are your cup of tea. I don’t know about you, but for me sometimes all you really need in order to start feeling good about yourself and the world again during the bleak winter nights is to watch  something warmhearted, like a simple scene about appreciatively drinking tea in serenity that Momoi and Thomass share at one point in the movie.

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