In 1937, when accepting his Best Director Oscar for the classic screwball comedy The Awful Truth, Leo McCarey graciously thanked the Academy before bluntly telling them, “You’ve given it to me for the wrong film.” He was referring to the other film he directed that year – his labor of love, Make Way for Tomorrow. In a cruel twist of fate, the film so inspired Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu that he essentially remade it in his own Tokyo Story, now considered an all-time great film, while McCarey’s -- the better of the two in my estimation -- remains unreleased on DVD, floating around on poor-quality bootlegs. I mention this not only because Doris Dorrie’s Cherry Blossoms is clearly in dialogue with Tokyo Story, or perhaps to give props to McCarey’s lost masterpiece, but also because the sense of something special getting lost and forgotten over time is an overarching theme that links all three films.
Like its aforementioned predecessors, Cherry Blossoms begins with a happy, old couple who, upon visiting their grown children, begin to recognize the seemingly unbridgeable gap that has formed between them and their offspring, who have become increasingly selfish and callous. With one son working in Tokyo and the other two children busy with their own lives in Berlin, Rudi and Trudi have only their love for one another and the promise of fulfilling Trudi‘s dream of traveling to Japan. After a first act that sets up this generational disconnection, the film uses Trudi's sudden, unexpected death to branch off in a completely different direction, moving away from the dysfunctional family angle and towards a more intimate character study. As interesting as this particular structural conceit may seem on paper, Cherry Blossoms simply cannot keep its end of the bargain, leaving narrative threads hanging as it meanders through its more intimate, yet frustratingly obtuse, second half.
Finally summoning the courage to visit his son in Tokyo once Trudi has passed on, Rudi wanders aimlessly around the city, and the film slowly grinds to a halt. He attempts to fulfill his deceased wife’s dream of immersing herself in Japanese culture, particularly Butoh-style dance, but the burgeoning relationship he eventually develops with an 18-year-old street dancer leads to nothing but shallow revelations about his own feelings of loss and regret. Everything that transpired in the first half is essentially left in the dust, as the film uses a series of either inept (the young girl as surrogate for his “second chance”) or thuddingly obvious (a character literally explaining to Rudi the symbolic meaning of the cherry blossoms) metaphors to convey the simplistic sentiment that life waits for no one.
I am in favor of films remaining enigmatic or having an air of mystery about them, but Cherry Blossoms crosses the line into aimlessness, confusing its uniqueness for profundity and rendering much of its setup useless in the process. Despite its inability to reveal anything of depth in regard to Rudi’s post-tragedy experiences and mostly silly May-December romance, however, the film has a remarkably authentic feel: Many of the family scenes and subsequent private conversations and confessionals ring painfully true. If only Dorrie backed this up with some thematic congruence and cohesion, these scenes might actually resonate.