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This epic story starts out interesting, if rather gently paced, and gradually builds up to involving and terrific. The scenery and cinematography range from grim to spectacular, and are always effective. The Japanese actors do a sterling job, whilst the Russians are adequate (though a cut above the typical one-dimensional gaijin so often seen in Japanese film). I, along with others in the audience, was captivated by and feeling for every one of their considerable number of hardships, knockbacks and their few triumphs. The gritty determination of a continuously reducing number the sailors to return home, despite the passing of months leading to years, was a joy to behold.
I had the pleasure of being in the audience at the Japan Foundation to hear a talk about the author, Yasushi Inoue, before the screening of the film. Inoue was passionately concerned with bridging the gap between Japan and foreign countries, and this passion is forcefully expressed throughout the movie with respect to relations between Japan and Russia. Or rather, considering the story was set in the 1790s during the reign of Catherine The Great, the potential for relations. This period was perhaps the darkest days of Japans period of self-imposed isolation, and the feeling of opportunities lost looms large here.
This being a tale of sailors bearing hardships through a long journey inevitably draws comparison with Ulysses, as does the journey across Siberia to Doctor Zhivago, and the film comes up quite respectably in comparison.
In summary, this is an film epic in scale which also manages to show the humanity of the main characters as well, and equally well. Recommended.
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