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KokoroUltimately tragic Japanese films have
  much more to offer than an excuse
  for a good weep — a fine example is
  Kokoro, a film by the respected Kon
  Ichikawa, filmed in 1955 in black-and-
  white and now available on DVD

GIVEN THE MERIT OF JAPANESE FILMS whether vintage or modern we couldn't wait to review Kon Ichikawa's Kokoro, filmed in the middle of the last century and following the traditional and emotive storylines of Japanese literature.

Brimful of brooding psychological angst, Kokoro is vintage Kon Ichikawa (An Actor's Revenge, The Burmese Harp, Tokyo Olympiad) and is based on a novel written in 1914 by celebrated Japanese author Natsume Soseki, who is widely considered the foremost author of the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

The director foregrounds Kokoro's themes of isolation and social estrangement; most notably in a central protagonist stricken by existential demons and stranded by changing times. This is 1912, the 45th Year of the Meiji Era and the Emperor is ill and not expected to live for much longer.

From the moment Nobuchi (Masayuki Mori) and his wife Shizu (Michiyo Aratama) appear, it is obvious that things are not good between them. They live in Tokyo and have been married for thirteen years, but Shizu believes that her husband does not want to be seen with her — he never wants her to accompany him when he goes once a month to the grave of his close friend Kaji (Tatsuya Mihashi), who died in 1897 while they were still students. She has come to be suspicious and believes another woman is involved, distraught that he refuses to speak to her of Kaji.

Into their lives at an opportune moment comes 23-year-old University student Hioki (Shoji Yasui), who sees Nobuchi as a sensei, a mentor, and the two develop a mutually respectful friendship. Nobuchi begins to confide in the younger man but will not yet discuss his torment over Kaji — who was following a spiritual path and died suddenly before his graduation.

When Hioki asks why he treats his wife so badly, Nobuchi tells the student that he cares greatly for his wife and they should be the happiest couple in the world. Nobuchi was tricked out of his inheritance by his uncle and, as a result, there are few people he trusts. He has intentionally set himself apart from life.

Nobuchi regrets arguing with his wife but cannot bring himself to explain the terrible events around Kaji's death and the guilt he carries with him. Shizu was his landlady's daughter and she recalls his happiness in his student days. When she voices her regret about having no children, Nobuchi says it is "divine retribution".

What is the dreadful secret of a selfish act that Nobuchi is hiding from his wife that causes his soul to be so tortured; and why does he insist on visiting Kaji's grave alone? What makes Nobuchi believe love is a sin? And does Nobuchi's friendship with Hioki relate somehow to his life with Kaji? As the Meiji Era draws to a close with the Emperor's death and the suicide of General Nogi, a fateful tale of tainted love, failed friendship and redemptive honour unravels with tragic consequences.

Kokoro is Produced by Takagi Masayuki; Directed by Kon Ichikawa; Screenplay by Inomata Katsuhito and Hasebe Keiji; Cinematography by Ito Takeo; Art Direction by Koike Kazumi; and the dramatic Music is by Oki Masao. The film also features; Kitabayashi Tanie as Hioki's Mother; Tamura Akiko as Shizu's Mother; Tsurumaru Mutsuhiko as Hioki's Father; Shimomoto Tsutomu as Hioki's Brother; Shimojo Masami as the Employment Agent and Naraoka Tomoko as the maid, Kume. Finely acted and poignantly driven, Kokoro is beautifully filmed in black-and-white and tells the story of the folly of envy.

With the current attraction to Nichiren Buddhism [Nichiren-kei sho shuha is a branch of Buddhism based on the teachings of the 13th century Japanese monk Nichiren (1222-1282)], it is interesting to note the scene with Nobuchi and Kaji meeting a Nichiren Buddhist Priest, who is on his way to the Tanjo Temple at Kominato, the birthplace of Nichiren — who was renowned for his beautiful calligraphy. The day he was born, two sacred sea bream were landed on the beach there — now called Sea-Bream Beach.

Award-winning Japanese director Kon Ichikawa sadly passed away in February, 2008. Kokoro is part of a planned trio of his films in the Masters of Cinema Series — the other two are Alone Across The Pacific and The Burmese Harp.

Although sometimes overlooked in the director's impressive oeuvre, Kon Ichikawa's profoundly beautiful rendering of Soseki's novel is a considerable work of cinema in its own right. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Kokoro for home viewing in the UK for the very first time in any video format. The DVD is released on 23 February, 2009. Catalogue No: EKA40301 | Barcode: 5060000403015 | RRP: 19.99 | Certificate: 12 | Running Time: 121 Minutes | Format: B&W | Genre: World Cinema | Year: 1955 | Country: Japan.

The Special Edition includes: New high definition digital transfer | New and improved optional English subtitles | Lavish 48-page booklet with archival publicity stills | Newly-written essay by Tony Rayns (critic/curator of East Asian cinemas) | Extended interview with Kon Ichikawa by Yuki Mori (The Films of Kon Ichikawa) on the "Beginnings" of the director's involvement in cinema.

"Finely acted and poignantly driven, Kokoro is beautifully filmed in black-and-white and tells the story of the folly of envy" — Maggie Woods, MotorBar