If still waters run deep, then Maborosi (1995), the feature debut of Hirokazu Koreeda, is an ocean: a glassy, gorgeous surface concealing an unfathomable depth.
Maborosi (the title loosely translates to “illusion” or “mirage”) is the story of the loss that young mother and widow Yumiko (Makiko Esumi) endures after the sudden death – a possible suicide – of her seemingly happy husband Ikuo (Tadanobu Asano). She mourns and remarries, relocating from her grungy urban apartment in Osaka to the beautiful home of a gentle widower (Takashi Naito) in a remote coastal town. An older man, he accepts her and her young son unconditionally, and her energetic young son thrives in the new environment, full of endless fields and rolling hills and beautiful beachside vistas. But Yumiko continues to be haunted by the loss of Ikuo and the questions left behind after his death – did he kill himself, and if so why did he choose to leave her and their son?
Koreeda paints his world in light and shadow, creating an easy naturalism from delicate images and privileged moments, which he shoots at a remove. He sets his camera back to observe the characters in their environments in long shots that play out in long, placid takes with little or no dialogue, noting the way they share space and emotions and interact with the naturalness of lived-in intimacy. When the film moves from the city to the seaside, Koreeda uses the natural light to suggest the serenity of life there, giving the scenes a painterly quality as the quality of light suggests both the passing of time and the eternal world.