In the early 1990s, happier times for his company, Samuel Goldwyn Jr. made a practice of bringing many of his latest and greatest art-house finds--think Luc Besson's "La Femme Nikita" and Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V"--up to Santa Barbara, and although Goldwyn is now gone this Toho co-production ably carried on that proud tradition of presenting superior specialized filmmaking at the fest. Based on the writing of Hiroyuki Itsuki, which Toho says "moved the hearts of 2,000,000" (like "Love Story" again), this Seijiro Koyama ("Gujo-Ikki") film has at its center a romance between a young Tokyo art seller named Yukiko ("Last Song's" Narumi Yasuda), who on a trip to Moscow meets a handsome trumpet player, Nikolai (Sergei Nakariakov), seeking a symphony chair; although back in her hometown Yukiko has a longtime friend, Shoji ("Inugami's" Atsuro Watabe), that all expect her to marry, she begins to fall in love with the musician. However, Yukiko's father, Shinichiro ("Ikitai's" Rentaro Mijuni), a post office operator, is diagnosed with cancer; given he has only six months to live, Yukiko returns home, to try to patch their troubled relationship. Her romantic quandary is deepened when an opening for a trumpeter develops at the local symphony, and Nikolai arrives. Throughout the film, the three main players chisel both absorbing and consistent characterizations.
Although it in a sense derails the narrative, an unexpected connection between Yukiko's dying father and the young Nikolai, two men of distant generations and distant lands, makes a visit to a Kyoto hot spring the film's centerpiece: It consists of a song played by Nikolai's trumpet, the singing of Russian soldiers on Japanese lands in 1945, the loss of Nikolai's gentle father in the Afghan war, and unspoken but evident musing on life and death. Helmer Seijiro Koyama and screenwriter Kaneto Shindo manage, however, to make it meld into the story's natural flow and, like water flowing over soil, deepens the passage. Thus put in life context, the eventual outcome of Yukiko's romantic turmoil is enveloped with all the more charge and meaning. Starring Narumi Yasuda, Atsuro Watabe, Mitsuko Baisho, Sergei Nakariakov and Rentauro Mikuni. Directed by Seijiro Koyama. Written by Kaneto Shindo. Produced by Akifumi Takuma and Keita Kodama. A Fuji/Gentosha/Imagica/Pony Canyon/Dentsu/Toho production; no distributor set. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 113 min.