Yamazakura, The Cherry Tree in the Hills and Endings that Just Stop

Currently, I’m nearly at the end of my week at the Japanese film festival.

I was puzzled by the ending of tonight’s movie: ‘The Cherry Tree in the Hills’ or ‘Yamazakura’. I’m going to spoil this horribly so I can talk about, so here’s a handy cut…

It’s a period samurai drama. Noe is out visiting her maiden aunt’s grave when she pauses to pluck a sprig of cherry blossom. She can’t reach it, but then a voice interupts her: “Can I help you with that?” It’s a handsome samurai, who deftly cuts Noe a sprig of cherry blossoms to take with her. They talk; it turns out that the samurai is Yaichiro who originally proposed to Noe, but she turned him down. He wishes her happiness in her current life and goes off to visit his father’s grave.

We follow Noe around and learn that her first husband has died and that she’s staying with her in-laws, where, in Cinderella-like fashion, she’s worked hard and treated with disapproval. Her sleazy brother-in-law is trying to crack onto her, too. The family she’s married into and now trapped by, the Isomuras, are obsessed by money. Noe’s father-in-law is a greedy councillor, and involved in a dodgy real-estate scheme to pull existing peasants off their land so they can clear the swamp to make new rice paddies.

Complaints and civil unrest ensues, but no one can stand up to Mr Isomura, because he’s good with the money and key bribes. Meanwhile, the peasants can’t work their original fields as they have to work on the new ones, and have less rice to live off.

There’s a subplot where Yaichiro makes friends with a little peasant girl who dies of starvation a few scenes later. So, Yaichiro corners Mr Isomura on the castle ground, beats his bodyguard of samurai senseless and cuts down Isomura. The duel is over quickly; and you can see the look of terror on Isomura’s face as his sword wobbles in front of Yaichiro’s. Let me put my thematic hat on for a few seconds – my take is that that Yaichiro is standing in for the proper virtues of a samurai, whereas Isomura, who’s little more than official, stands in as a corruption of samurai values – he’s a money-driven bureaucrat and his swords are mostly for show. But since it comes down for sword against sword, Yaichiro prevails.

After the execution, Yaichiro turns himself in, where gets thrown in jail. We have to wait four month until the lord returns from Edo to make a judgement on the case.

Meanwhile, Noe is kicked out of her in-laws house and they refuse to refund her dowry. She goes back home, but has little flashbacks of Yaichiro constantly, as she thinks of what her life would have been like had she married him. She’s worried about being like her maiden aunt.

Noe visits Yachiro’s mother, who turns out be rather sweet. There’s a scene of them cooking together. And then there’s a shot of the lord returning to the castle, where Yaichiro waits for his judgement.

And then the movie ends.

What?

This was incredibly irritating. Damn you, Japanese ‘white space’ storytelling – I just want to know what happens next! Gah! My brain has been trained by Western media for stuff with a definitive sense of closure.

I didn’t find it a good movie – I found the storytelling slow and ponderous. And that lack of an ending… For whatever reason, it’s stuck in my head. I figure there are two, binary endings. If Yachiro is pardoned by the lord, he’ll go home, probably and probably marry Noe and they’ll live happily ever after. If Yachiro is executed instead, Noe will probably still visit the mother in law and help her out, probably move in with her and be the ‘maiden aunt’ she thought she was.

Interestingly, it’s also the same point that Noe would have been at had she married Yachiro in the first place. He would have still killed Isomura, been arrested, and Yachiro would still be waiting to hear of his fate, while helping her mother in law cook. It’s this ‘fixed point’ in time, to rip off a Doctor Who reference, with everything looping back to it.

I usually hate those endings where the director says, “I want to leave it up to the audience to make up their own ending” and just stops the movie, aborting a satisfying storytelling experience. With Yamazakura, I had to write this friggin’ essay just get a sense of closure from the movie. But now I have this essay, I’ve read all of this time loop crap into the ending, which I find rather interesting and cool. (Mind you, half the players in my old ‘Nights of Our Lives’ campaign would strangle me if another time loop was ever forthcoming in a future game.) But there was /no/ time loop – the movie just ended and this is just my brain making sense of it.

Really, the movie just stopped.

Something else I’ve just thought of – the French movie, Hidden, just stops. In fact, the ending only make sense on another plane of existence, where the movie is a metaphor for France’s treatment of Algeria. That’s great, but who was sending the bloody video tapes???

Aargh!

3 thoughts on “Yamazakura, The Cherry Tree in the Hills and Endings that Just Stop”

  1. ending

    ok so here’s what happened. when noe stopped by the cherry tree at the beginning and yaichiro stops by to help her, she was just recollecting. so from that point on the movie was a retelling of events past. then when she visited the mother of yaichiro it caught us back up sort of. the mother said “since that happened” noone has come to see me. the “that” that she was talking about was his seppuku. you absolutely can’t draw your sword in the castle. even if you are morally correct. anyway, i’d have to watch some parts of it again with this viewpoint in mind but that is the japanese way to end this film. hmmm?

  2. i also the same. really wait for the good ending, where yaichiro would marry noe. yet suddenly the movie stop. Please..

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