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Japan, 1980 (MIFF 1981)

Director: Yoji Yamada

In the vast, sparsely populated area of central Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, there is a small town where a young widow. Tamiko Kazami. is desperately trying to make a living by running a small dairy farm with only her small son to help her.

Her life begins to change when a man suddenly appears at her door on a stormy night, asking for a place to stay. She lets him sleep in the barn. During the night when one of the cows begins calving, he helps her with the birth. When morning comes, he thanks her and leaves.

Tamiko finds herself busy from dawn to dusk every day, trying to manage the farm. Then the man returns again and when he asks for work she hires him out of desperation. She learns only that the man's name is Kosaku Tajima. but nothing about his past He is a very quiet man, but a very hard worker. Her son, Takeshi, strikes up an instant friendship with the stranger...

"Yoji Yamada's A Distant Cry from Spring is a far cry from the costumed past and as far from samurai swords as the John Deere farm machines which figure in the story.

The time is now. the place the farm country of the island of Hokkaido which here looks very much like parts of Nebraska and. what with the Little League baseball gloves and the blue jeans, could as well be western Nebraska. The Datsuns, of course, look right at home.

The mixture of cultural similarities and cultural differences in this glimpse of contemporary Japan make Yamada s gentle, warming and often funny film engrossing even beyond the dramatic interest of the story.

A Distant Cry from Spring is beautifully observant, for want of another word, and is aware of silence as well as speech, and of the dramatic importance of events that may not in themselves seem dramatic — a visit from a young cousin and his wife, on holiday and very much in love. Their evident love forces, or induces, the widow and her farmhand to confront what is happening to them. But first they have to confront it individually, and we know they are. although there may be no more proof of it than a door slammed or a meeting avoided.

The characters may exist in a mundane farm setting whose routines and aromas are universal, but the Japanese cinema's gift for superb images is preserved in the beautiful attention to the changing seasons, the changing light, dawn and dusk, storm and calm.

Not least among the universalities of Yamada's story is the struggle of the young widow to be an independent woman whose place is wherever she wants it to be. free of the tethering and limiting definitions from the past on what her roie is. The family feelings are quite clear, behind the kindness.

The pleasure of the company of these believable and sympathetic characters (wonderfully, naturally enacted) can hardly be overestimated, or the pleasure of witnessing masterful work by a civilized, sensitive and thoughtful craftsman in serene command of his art."

Charles Champlin Los Angeles Times

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