25 May 2005 | wshelley
The title of the film comes from a Japanese word that loosely translates into "illusory light". A maborosi is an inexplicable mirage that sporadically unveils itself along the waves of the sea, leading many curious sailors to their impending doom. Nobody questions where this mysterious light originates from; nobody wonders why so many men are lured by the maborosi's false promises of otherworldly beauty. The answers are patently unexplainable, leaving no feasible alternative but submissive acceptance and temperate remembrance. There are many aspects of this world whose origins are rationally indecipherable; perpetual mysteries as perplexing as the shifting of the tides or the changing of the seasons, the rising of the sun or the positioning of the stars, the birth of a son or the death of a father. The lesson of the maborosi is quite comforting in its reductive simplicity; there are some tragedies in life that cannot be readily understood or accounted for, but these setbacks should always be treated with a tacit acceptance of the unalterable past, and an unbroken willingness to overcome.
Yumiko is confronted with such a confounding loss following the unanticipated death of her husband, Ikuo, an otherwise cheerful individual occasionally prone to brief interludes of somberness and incredulity. As the film opens, we are shown passing indicators of the memories that will continue to haunt Yumiko long after her husband has departed: the stolen bicycle that the couple re-painted together, the intrusively endless loop of train-tracks that entangle the neighborhood, the dark empty hallways of a home encompassed by unfulfilled hopes and abandoned promises. These are the lingering images of a time long since passed, but never forgotten; the remaining links to a previous era divided by enigmatic fate, replacing the comforts of life's certainties with an encircling string of unanswerable inquiries. As Yumiko struggles to combat her own doubts and insecurities, her regrets and reservations, she is forced to reconcile the unaccountable cause for her grief with the prospect of an eventual regeneration of love and companionship. While Yumiko cannot escape from the memories of her past, she can still find hope in embracing an unforeseen direction, discovering solace and comfort in the arms of another man. But even the blissful serenity of the ocean's archaic blue cannot remove the painful memorials from the deepest recesses of Yumiko's imagination. The crashing of the offshore waves does not represent the progressive cleansing of the past, but the uninterrupted calamity of the storm, suggesting that Yumiko's thoughts are just as violently conflicted as the impartial forces of her surroundings.
Yumiko's struggle to assimilate her ways into an unfamiliar terrain is further compounded by the insolvable puzzle echoing throughout the barren corners of her new home, reverberating off the timeless waves of the indifferent sea. In spite of this continuous anxiety, there are many fleeting moments that would indicate a sense of personal advancement: images of a family finding comfort in each other's tragedy, reciprocally seeking to forge new identities out of an identical past. Some of the film's most memorable scenes occur with Yumiko's new found source of compassion, as Koreeda primarily focuses on the more joyful, celebratory moments of a strengthening bond between intimate strangers. However, a return visit to the city of Osaka brings back a flood of painful reminders, returning Yumiko to her previous state of inescapable depression. The journey further complicates the delicate situation unfolding within the confounding confines of her deepening psychological turmoil, exacerbating the tensity of her gradual acclimatization. Yumiko's inability to fully commit herself to her second husband is a direct consequence of her inability to comprehend the destabilizing effects of her innermost fixation; a persistent uncertainty concerning the nature of death, and a refusal to receptively acknowledge that which we cannot control.
Koreeda's transcendent depiction of the esoteric natural beauty of Yumiko's rural environment is a calculated effort to further reinforce the principle message of the film, which is simply the message of the maborosi. Why does Yumiko's husband selfishly succumb to the unfathomable temptations of the mystic light beyond the horizon? Why does the maborosi indiscriminately engulf the souls of its unwarranted victims? These are questions without answers, frustratingly enlightening reminders of the limits of our mortality, and the fragility of our most basic human certainties. The point of the film, however, is not to mock or ridicule our rational sensibilities, nor does Koreeda intend to paint an exceedingly bleak portrait of untenable despair and incomprehensible misfortune. Rather, the lesson of the maborosi is an alleviating reaffirmation of hope and anticipation, providing an acceptable resolution to an inconclusive affliction, dispensing clues to the solution of one of life's greatest riddles. The maborosi fable teaches us that closure cannot begin without acceptance, and that acceptance is ultimately earned through procession.