About Her Brother (2010)

Director:  Yoji Yamada 
Cast:  Yû AoiRyô KaseYuriko Ishida
Plot:  A story about the relationship between a widow and his good-for-nothing brother as seen from the perspective of the widow's daughter. 

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  - 
Runtime:  126min 
Rating:  PG 

In my review of Yoji Yamada’s previous film, Kabei: Our Mother (2009), I observed that the film returned “to an era of Japanese filmmaking…of traditionalism and conservatism best exemplified by the films of Yasujiro Ozu.” A scene in Yamada’s latest picture, About Her Brother, further illustrates the Ozu influence. The scene shows a woman peeling off the skin of an apple in a circular motion with a small cutter.

This triggers my memory of the final scene in Ozu’s Late Spring (1949) in which an old man uses a knife to slowly peel a circular layer off an apple skin, which then drops to the ground, signaling a chapter of life passed. In About Her Brother, it suggests the inevitability of death. Or perhaps to some, it may be read as “cause and effect”.

About Her Brother is a story on family relationships, in particular the brother-sister bond. Sayuri Yoshinaga plays a widow who has a daughter who is about to marry a rich doctor. During her daughter’s wedding, her heavily ostracized and unwanted brother (played by Tsurube Shofukutei) makes a drunken appearance, spoiling the grand occasion. 

The sister-brother bond is further strained in the course of the film, but the unconditional love of the sister for her brother becomes a huge factor in reconciliation. About Her Brother continues the trend of impressive output by one of Japan’s finest contemporary filmmakers. The film has a solid script, written with the astute knowledge of modern Japanese middle-class families. 

It also addresses social issues such as the plight of the poor, who live lonely lives at the fringes of an affluent society. However, in its core, the film asks of the question: Whose fault is it when a person is raised to be “a failure in life”? The family? The state? Or his/her own?

Starting out as funny in a serious kind of way (as the brother ruins the wedding), the film progresses into a powerful melodrama crafted with skill under the hands of Yamada. The direction is honest, especially in the capturing of the cast’s performances. Yamada goes into the heart of each character’s emotional state, delicately coercing the actors to not dominate the screen but to allow their emotions to play off each other naturalistically.

While the final thirty minutes of About My Brother is heart-wrenching, the most effective tearjerking scene (in my opinion) comes when the mother and her daughter share an intimate moment of hope – the latter tells her mother that she wishes to remarry – a brief moment that interrupts their worrying thoughts about life in which they both gladly accept and pause to embrace.

About Her Brother is an excellent picture by Yamada. The performances by the cast alone are worth the ticket price. This is restrained melodrama that works without being sappy or overly self-conscious of its aim to tug at our heartstrings. 

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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