I have a friend who says he can imagine nothing more depressing than an old married couple sitting opposite one another and having nothing to say. They've been together too long and know everything about the other. They simply can't surprise or interest each other anymore, so they sit in silence. The only reason they're still together is because they know no alternative. They've become too enmeshed in the ruts of their lives and trying to change anything at this point is simply too difficult.
I've found something more depressing still: a couple which has spent decades together and yet one still fails to begin to understand their spouse. That is the beginning of Cherry Blossoms - Hanami. Rudi and Trudi have raised three children together and shared their lives for years. In this time, Rudi has become comfortable with his life, comfortable to the point of resisting any change or deviation, even visiting his grown children and their families in Berlin. His wife's love for Japan and its culture, especially the butoh dance, is completely outside his comprehension, so he ignores it. It's not that he doesn't love her. He very much does. It's just that Japan is too different, too far from his Bavarian home.
Still, people, even those as unyielding as Rudi, are capable of change, of understanding. It may take a death to propel Rudi into regions unknown, but it is still possible. Cherry Blossoms - Hanami is, in fact, driven by death. Rudi's impending death is announced by two doctors at the beginning of the film, and it is Trudi's death that drives the final half of the movie. Suddenly without the wife he depends upon for so much, Rudi realizes how little he knew her, how much he had missed, and makes a trip to Japan to see the cherry blossoms and Mt. Fuji and all those things Trudi only dreamt of visiting herself. He is terrified of the foreign land at first, its lights and rush and press of people, but given time, he becomes more certain in his ventures outside the apartment. With the help of a young orphan girl, he begins to discover the beauty his wife saw in the culture and land.
It all drives to a single scene and dance of perfect beauty. To try and describe it would make it sound ridiculous or sentimental, but it is neither of these things. DiCaprio and Winslet on the door in the Atlantic in weren't this intimate. McGregor and Kidman singing "Come What May" to end Moulin Rouge! weren't this tender. In a word, the scene is perfect.
Beside the already heavy themes of love and death, Cherry Blossoms - Hanami touches upon family as well. Rudi and Trudi's family is not a perfectly happy one. The children have their own lives and want to be free to live them without their parents' interference. There is resentment against Rudi, and none of their children are willing to do much more than fulfill their most basic responsibilities to their parents. There is compassion and love there, too though. They are complex relationships, and I think it's a sure sign of this film's brilliance and the dedicated work of all involved that none of these scenes rings false. Not one feels less than authentic.
Yu, the orphan girl, is the only part of this film that bothers me. Society's misfit who reveals the greatest truths of life in their simple ways? It's a type that irritates me. Then again, I may just be too into philosophy which insists on describing life and death and all that in its own dense, complex language. Yu and Rudi's relationship does reveal one great truth, though. What language do the German grandfather and Japanese teenager share? The same one the young German and Turkish women share in Auf der Anderen Seite: English.
2 years ago