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DOLCE(director/writer: Aleksandr Sokurov; screenwriter: from the story by Toshio Shimao; cinematographer: Koshiro Otsu; editors: Alexei Jankowski/Sergei Ivanov; music: Back, Bogoslovsky; cast: Miho Shimao (Herself, Toshio Shimao’s Widow), Maya Shimao (Herself, Toshio Shimao’s Daughter), Aleksandr Sokurov (Narrator); Runtime: 61; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Yûji Kogure/Vladimir Persov; Medici Arts; 2000-Russia/Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“Haunting portrait of Miho Shimao, widow of the celebrated Japanese writer Toshio Shimao Dolce (1917-1986).”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Aleksandr Sokurov (“Taurus”/”Mother and Son”/”Moloch”), one of the world’s premiere filmmakers, directs this haunting portrait of Miho Shimao, widow of the celebrated Japanese writer Toshio Shimao Dolce (1917-1986). The inspired experimental documentary is part of his so-called Japanese series. Sokurov filmed it with a Japanese crew on a remote Japanese island in the south, and lets the 79-year-old widow, Miho Shimao, tell in her own words the real events of her family life and also how she tries to understand the strange twists in her life. Also present is her handicapped mute daughter Maya, who died one year before her mother passed away in 2006. The mournful meditation on the strong mother-daughter love is very moving.

There’s a voiceover by Sokurov that describes Shimao’s childhood literary talent; his survival as a 27-year-old kamikaze officer in WWII because the war ends; his marriage to pretty schoolteacher Miho, from a respected samurai family, who lived in the remote island village he was stationed at during wartime; their postwar years in Kobe, where he began a family publishing business for his literary works; and Shimao’s own near-madness when his wife has a breakdown and is institutionalized after reading in his diary that he loves another woman. When she’s released from the mental hospital, Shimao relocates the family to another island near Miho’s home, the insular island of Amami Oshima, hoping that will bring them once again closer together. Shimao has written his great books on this island, and the family has lived there permanently since Kobe. It ends with a sincere monologue by Miho, who expresses the pain she felt when her mother died (she died before Miho married).

Sokurov’s work is a gripping metaphor on the resilient family and their ability to bounce back from mental illness through their expressions of love and find harmony in their austere setting. The memorable work, one that only the great artists achieve, is rich in visuals and sound effects that create a deep poetical feeling, as Sokurov brilliantly uses the wind, the rain and the ocean along with Bach mood pieces.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”