Cherry Blossoms, a contemplative film from German director Doris Dorrie, is a fusion of West and East as strange and weirdly satisfying as stuffed-cabbage sushi rolls.
In cinematic shorthand: Imagine Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Cherry Blossoms is both austere and garish, simultaneously dry and sentimental, tightly repressed and extravagantly expressive, bourgeois and bohemian. It's a seesaw, but Dorrie finds the balance.
This film that spans the Bavarian Alps and Mount Fuji is a portrait of spousal relations and its effect on the couple's grown children, one of whom has moved from Germany to Japan.
Trudi and Rudi (exquisitely focused Hannelore Elsner and comically detached Elmar Wepper) are a long-married German couple. When the doctor tells one that the other is terminally ill, he prescribes this medicine: "Go have a last adventure."
The spouse entrusted with the prognosis keeps it a secret and suggests a trip to see the kids and grandkids in Berlin, a bustling capital a few hours and a few billion light-years from their provincial village.
For Trudi and Rudi's spawn, the visitors are an intrusion. Not to mention a reproach to generational expectations: Shouldn't parents be taking care of their children and not the reverse? Trudi and Rudi are intimidated by the subway, the crowds, and the hurry of Berlin.
Dorrie, best known in this country from her droll movie Men, episodically shows how the older couple respond to new situations. Patient Trudi tries to connect with others and adapt while impatient Rudi gets flustered and further isolated. He just wants the familiarity of home.
Trudi, an amateur Japanist, cannot get Rudi or the children to take her to a concert of Butoh, the performance art that's a fusion of Kabuki with modern dance. Only her daughter's live-in lover is sensitive to the older couple, escorting Trudi to the recital and taking her in-laws sightseeing.
Sensing how their presence puts a strain on their children and inconveniences their grandchildren (who are surgically attached to Game Boys), Trudi and Rudi beat a hasty retreat from Berlin and head toward the Baltic.
In a tone that runs the gamut from slapstick to elegiac, Cherry Blossoms meditates on three questions. Can a spouse know his/her spouse's inner life? Can a child understand his/her parent? And, most moving, how do we grieve?
The film's second half takes place almost entirely in Tokyo, a city even more intimidating, crowded, and hurried than Berlin. And a city where a chance encounter with a homeless Butoh dancer, Yu (Aya Irizuki), provides a graceful answer to the last.