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Mogari no mori (2007)
beautiful and profound portrait of grief and redemption
The story is deceptively simple, but the psychological depth of the characters and the deep symbolism captured in the everyday scenes of rural Japan are astounding. This movie never gives you too much, never lets you take anything for granted, never lets you have a clear resolution. Some of the symbols, I admit, may not be as resonant with non-Japanese audiences, and lack the emotional weight that they'd give someone familiar with Japan. The subtle changing of the foliage from early to late summer, the association of summer with the return of spirits, the idea of "mogari" as an ancient mortuary ritual of "temporary burial" that implies a return from beyond-- all of this is set far in the background of the central story of two grieving people, who, despite so many other differences between them (old/young, caregiver/cared for) can find some sort of healing connection with each other. Perhaps this is why some think it is boring. They're following the movement of individual characters rather than the whole movement of the story. The story moves from the close-shot, narrow confines of life in the old folks home, to the field (cultivated nature) in the chasing scene, to the forest (wild nature). Along the way, the psychological strain of grief becomes gradually more wild, more natural, and more capable of finding meaning, however incomprehensible. Watching "mogari" requires an eye for these subtle changes, which the actors portray compellingly, (almost as if it was a documentary), as well as a deep willingness to empathize with the characters. If you can do this, the movie will take you on an emotional roller-coaster throughout. Perhaps that's just part of the nature of grief.