Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüten - Hanami)

As Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüten - Hanami) begins, Trudi is surprised when she learns her husband is dying of an unnamed condition.

Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüten - Hanami)

Director: #246;rrie
Cast: Elmar Wepper, Hannelore Elsner, Aya Irizuki, Maximilian Brückner, Nadja Uhl
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Strand Releasing
Display Artist: Doris Dörrie
First date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2009-04-03 (Limited release)
US Release Date: 2009-01-16 (Limited release)

"My husband hates adventures," complains Trudi (Hannelore Elsner). "He'd prefer it if nothing changed, ever." As she describes his routine, you see it: Rudi (Elmar Wepper) rides the train to work each day, he shares the newspaper with a coworker, swapping sections on beat. The head of waste management in Bavaria, he remains healthy, she assumes, because she puts an apple in his sack lunch every day. Here the image diverges from her narration, as Rudi tosses his apple to his coworker. This part of his routine, you see, is unknown to her.

And so, as Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüten - Hanami) begins, she is surprised when she learns her husband is dying of an unnamed condition. She determines, rather oddly, not to tell Rudi what the doctor has told her, a decision that serves as a first step into Doris Dörrie's partly improvisational, mostly contemplative fantasy, wherein the couple learns their grown children are preoccupied with their routines and their own lives are slipping away -- beyond planning or comprehension. Trudi urges Rudi to break routine, to take "a trip, something a little adventurous." Specifically, she's hoping to go to Japan, where she hopes to see Mt. Fuji. Rudi's not so keen on that big a shift, and so they settle: they'll visit the kids.

This decision leads to conventional revelations and tensions. After Trudi packs their bags (including a box of pills in daily-slots and handkerchiefs she has ironed for persnickety Rudi), they travel by train to Berlin, a fly on the window capturing the camera's close-up attention (read: details matter). In Berlin, they discover that their children have their own lives and routines and make little pretense of welcoming the intrusion embodied by their parents. Klaus (Felix Eitner) and his wife Emma (Floriane Daniel), distracted by their own young children (who keep focused on their GameBoys, universal sign of "next generational distraction"), barely make time for visiting or sightseeing. Karolin (Birgit Minichmayr) is similarly busy wither BlackBerry, but her girlfriend Franzi (Nadja Uhl) takes a liking to her in-laws, asking earnest questions about what they like to do. She's the one who discovers Trudi's longstanding interest in Butoh dance (an interest reinforced by dreamish sequences of Trudi in white face paint performing tragically), which begins to explain her desire to see Japan.

When at last Rudi states the obvious -- "I think I want to go home, the kids don't have any time for us" -- the film shifts gears. At first a seemingly lightweight family melodrama, it becomes an investigation of time per se, filtered through assorted individuals' use and misunderstanding of it, a theme and mode explicitly evoking Ozu's Tokyo Story (as well as that film's 1937 inspiration, Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow). While Rudi seeks order and repetition, Trudi invests in the "exotic," namely, butoh, which appears here as a formal staging of time, as acts, that is, ritual movements and passionate expressions of regret and desire. As she watches, she is transported, her rapture represented in her tears. Rudi misses this clue to his mystifying wife, whoever, waiting outside the theater, glancing at graffiti and doing his best not to ponder anything beyond the train schedule back to Berlin.

Rudi's sense of time will shift radically following this missed performance. Pursuing his own ends, he ends up taking that trip to Japan, where he's baffled by the language, the speed, and of course, the rituals that are not his. Here time is different, and Rudi comes to appreciate it almost despite himself. He's helped in this effort by his son Karl (Maximilian Brückner), now an executive in Tokyo. Trudi's favorite (a point remarked derisively by his siblings back in Germany), Karl appears to work hard not to accommodate his father: his apartment is small, and yet they rarely share space; their schedules arranged so they rarely see one another even as, the film shows by matching compositions, father and son are very much alike.

Left mostly on his own, Rudi befriends a homeless butoh dancer, in whom he sees his wife's desires as well as his own just-awakening sense of adventure. Here the film turns a little soft and silly, Rudi's sense of self-transformation rendered in slow-motion dance sequences, as he takes on the makeup and moves so beloved by bys wife. It's not a little heavy-handed that he and the dancer can only communicate in broken English, such that her name, Yu (Aya Irizuki), occasions a brief Abbot-and-Costelloish moment. When he asks her name, she negotiates some tumbling wordplay then insists, "I am Yu." Ah yes, Rudi, once confused, is now enlightened.

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