The story takes place in feudal Japan, when any commerce with the rest of the world was strictly prohibited. An idealist suddenly appears in an isolated inn (the one that the title refers ... See full summary »
A love triangle develops between a benevolent student, his innocent girlfriend, and a cruel petty criminal, all as a point of diagnosis of a social disease that had Japan slowly succumbing to lawlessness during the post-War era.
The mother of a feudal lord's only heir is kidnapped away from her husband by the lord. The husband and his samurai father must decide whether to accept the unjust decision, or risk death to get her back.
When I saw this in its brief American release, I took the word of a Japanese-speaking guy at work, who didn't go to films but had seen the poster, that "kaseki" meant ashes. Heading a film that ends with a teary, agonized exclamation, it made sense; I took his word and never checked. "Ashes" carries a sense poetically similar to "fossil," and might have been subtler: ashes; tears; emotional entropy; fossil emotions. But my old dictionaries offer only "fossil," not even, I think, a homonym, though I could swear that somewhere on the poster was the four-stroke "hi" for fire. "Kaseki no mori," title of a Shinoda film two years earlier, means petrified forest. "Kaseki", which I've been desperate to re-see for 20 years or so is but didn't feel at all long, in crisp, if I recall, perfect color, fitting to the joy, yet ironic to the pall, cast by the story. The Paris sky may have been always or mostly overcast. (But see my mis-remembrance of the character Anne in "The Aviator's Wife".)
A by no means ancient, sixty-ish, businessman goes with a much younger subordinate to Paris on business. There he suffers an attack, diagnosed as terminal cancer. I can't recall whether before or after the diagnosis, he's attracted to the Japanese wife of a highly placed Frenchman, a striking woman who may be nearly as old as he is. The diagnosis gives him courage to befriend her. No one's likely to see this here, but I won't give away the shattering unguessable conclusion.
Actress Haruko Sugimura plays both the diplomat's wife and Death. Subiela's 1992 "El lado oscuro del corazón "is a touchpoint for "Kaseki "and I mention "Kaseki" in that review.
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