|Sakuran © 2007 Sakuran Film Committee © Moyoco Anno/Kodansha.|
Where: Japan Society
333 East 47th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues, NYC
Sakuran is a gorgeously shot period drama based on a manga by Moyoco Anno that originally ran from 2001 to 2003. It tells the story of Kiyoha, who as a young girl is sold to a brothel in the Yoshiwara pleasure district, the Las Vegas of Edo (later Tokyo) Japan. Spunky and rebellious, she is unsuccessful in her attempt to run away, and learns that one gets out only by having her contract redeemed by a wealthy patron.
A few years later she becomes an oiran, the highly coveted head prostitute of the brothel, and assumes the new name Higurashi. Through her many trials and tribulations, Seiji, the Head Clerk of the house where she works, has stood by her. It was he who brought her back when she first ran away, promising that when a barren cherry tree within the quarter blooms he would take her away.
This is the first film directed by Mika Ninagawa. The daughter of Japanese stage director Yukio Ninagawa, she is a famous and best-selling art photographer in her own right. She is clearly someone who can be expected to produce more remarkable films in the future, if she choses to continue to work in the medium. I certainly hope she will.
Anna Tsuchiya (Kamikaze Girls, The Taste of Tea) stars as Kiyoha/Higurashi. Born in 1984, Tsuchiya is the daughter of a Japanese mother and a Russian-American father. Her exotic looks make her a perfect choice for the role of a highly coveted courtesan, at least in contemporary terms. That might not have been the case, if such a genetic blend were even available, at the time that the action takes place. So on the surface there may be a bit of an anachronism going on here.
(Just so there's no confusion, although Tsuchiya is obviously Eurasian, the character herself is depicted as a pure Japanese. There's no reference at all to her being a "half," as those of mixed decent are often described.)
More important than her looks, however, is the fact that she demonstrates great range, covering the gamut from aggressive feistiness to abject grief and vulnerability. Tsuchiya was a successful model and singer before she began appearing in films.
ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 star rating, highly recommended.
Sakuran is one of the films shown in the series As Cherry Blossoms Fall, which is presented in association with the Japan Foundation and runs through April 14, 2012. Series information here. The film series is part of Sakura — Spring Renews, Beauty Blooms.