There is a surprising wealth of fiction about the dispossessed dead returning to help the living through the grieving process, and supernatural love story Journey to the Shore is a welcome addition.
The film, from Japanese auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa, tells the simple story of heartbroken and quietly grieving Mizuki, who’s husband Yusuke drowned three years before while working at sea. Yusuke returns home suddenly and unannounced, behaving like he is still hale and hearty having simply been away on a short jaunt. Mizuki’s concept of life naturally broadens enormously. The pair go on their own journey to the shore of existence. A shore on which Yusuke must return when his purpose is fulfilled. It’s a world where the living and the dead co-exist cheek by jowl, sometimes aware of one another and sometimes not.
In this respect the world of the film recalls both Anthony Minghella’s film Truly, Madly, Deeply and Will Self’s satirical novel How The Dead Live. In Truly, Madly, Deeply a ghostly Alan Rickman comes back to allow his grieving partner played by Juliet Stephenson to move on, whereas in How The Dead Live the recently deceased are moved to previously unheard of boroughs on the edge of London, but still hold down jobs and live curiously normal lives. Journey to the Shore is like a cross between these two ideas – the dead living unnoticed among and all around us, and guiding those who have been devastated by their passing.
The journey within Journey to the Shore follows Yusuke and Mizuki as he travels meeting those who helped him on his way back to find his wife. Some of the relationships they encounter are painfully myopic, with refusals to accept the truth of the death they have faced, whereas others are more co-operative.
What becomes slowly and heartbreakingly apparent is that this journey to the shore is essentially a long goodbye, the path to saying farewell forever and leaving life to be lived by the living and in the memory of those left behind. It is a love story told backwards, with two characters heading away from each other.
In this respect the film is a great success. The performances of Tabanobu Asano as Yusuke and Eri Fukatsu as Mizuki are beautifully delicate, with all the emotion almost entirely unspoken but hanging between them like a cloud heavy with rain. It is very skilled work. Journey to the Shore is also very beautiful, the colours and cinematography giving extra heft to the emotional story being played out. The special and visual effects also play with reality with real purpose.
With that in mind then it is a shame that the pace of the film is sometimes achingly slow. The inevitable conclusion, when the end of the journey is reached, is no less devastating for all of the speed it has taken to reach though. A simple and quietly heartbreaking story Journey to the Shore is for the most part a beautiful piece of storytelling.
Journey to the Shore is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.