A DISTANT CRY FROM SPRING (Yôji Yamada, 1980)

A fine, flavorful Japanese film that is somewhat reminiscent of two 1950s Hollywood films, the airy, schematic Shane (George Stevens, 1953) and the fuller, warmer Come Next Spring (R.G. Springsteen, 1955), Yôji Yamada’s Haruka naru yama no yobigoe is set on a small dairy farm in Hokkaido in northern Japan. Running the farm is Tamiko Kazami (Cheiko Baisho, wonderful—best actress, Japanese Academy and Hochi Film Awards, Mainichi Film Concours), a lonely though strong, plainspoken widow with a ten-year-old son, Takeshi. During a storm another lonely soul, wayfarer and stranger Kosaku Tajima, asks for a night’s lodging. He leaves the next morning, but returns, drawn by the fatherless boy. When Kosaku was ten, we discover, his father hanged himself. Young Kosaku learned to cope with life’s blows by showing strength, by not crying. Ironically, though, it is precisely his bottled-up feelings that triggered a subsequent event in adulthood—a part of his past that keeps dogging him.
     It is a long, slow process by which Tamiko and Kosaku, her new farmhand, reach out to one another, giving each a new lease on life. Their growing relationship, accompanied by Kosaku’s becoming a surrogate father to Takeshi, is folded into their life on the farm. The farm work is shown in great detail.
     Eventually, Kosaku must leave. The final passage finds Kosaku on a train; he is being escorted to prison. It is impossible to distinguish between subjective and objective elements in this part of the film, rendering it melancholy and problematic. (An unexpected meeting with Tamiko is, likely, wish-fulfillment fantasy.) But this much is for certain: Kosaku cries. This embrace of his “inner child” makes one hope that somehow, someday, he will be a “father” again—although it seems unlikely, perhaps to Takeshi.

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