My love letter to Iwai Shunji's Love Letter
I wrote this on Facebook last month, after watching Iwai Shunji's Love Letter at the Tokyo International Film Festival. I have seen this film countless times in various forms, on VCD, on DVD, on digital file, either on TV or on computer, but never on the big screen, so that particular screening in Tokyo left me overwhelmed, and of course, nostalgic.
Here's my love letter to the film Love Letter:
I saw Iwai Shunji's Love Letter (2005) on the big screen today. Sometimes you see a film at the right time, at the right age, so you fall in love with it in ways you cannot imagine.
It was 1998. I was 14 when I first saw Love Letter, I think this might be the film that made me fell in love with Japanese cinema, the emotional impact it left me was immense. The lyricism, the romanticism, the pain of unspoken love and the melancholy of memories, I was intoxicated by these vivid feelings through this film. I loved a little more, contemplated a little more, daydreamed a little more, became more obsessed with the snow. Films can do these things to you, when you see it at the right time, at the right age.
After that I tried to get many people to watch the film too. At that time, all I had was a VCD in a special box set from Hong Kong, with a beautiful booklet containing essays about the film. Friends, family, relatives, classmates, secondary school crushes, I wanted them to watch the film too so they could feel what I felt when I first watched the film. Some shared my enthusiasm, some didn't, it was then that I realized that your love for a film can be unique, private, personal. I was 14. Even the soundtrack I bought not long after that became a cherished treasure.
Many images stayed with me until now. The opening of Hiroko lying on the snow, the chance meeting between Fujii Itsuki and Hiroko which was interrupted by pedestrians, Hiroko wondering whether "Love at First Sight" was a lie, the extended high school flashback of the two Fujii Itsukis, male Fujii Itsuki disappearing briefly behind swaying curtains as he is reading a book whilst female Fujii Itsuki watches, the tearful "o genki desu ka?" on top of the mountain, and finally, that, transcendent, sublime ending.
I have seen the film many times, from my teens to my early years in Perth, I was always watching a few scenes from Love Letter before I was shooting my student shorts, I watched it again when I first moved to Tokyo, because I was about to make Japanese films and I wanted to find the film that influenced me all these years ago.
But I have never seen the film on the big screen, until today. And what an emotional experience it was. I smiled at certain scenes, as if I was revisiting an old friend. It had been quite a few years since I saw Love Letter. When the film ended, my eyes were wet again, I wonder whether I was moved by the film, or whether I was reminded of the 14-year-old me who first saw the film. Maybe, I was also reminded of the 20-year-old me in Perth who was watching this film while having silly dreams of becoming a filmmaker.
It was a remembrance of things past.
After the screening, Ando-sensei had a talk with director Iwai Shunji and actress Nakayama Miho. My professor from my Waseda University years, moderating a talk session with the director and actress of a film that left a mark in my early teens? Unbelievable.
As they talked about a film shoot that happened more than 20 years ago. I realized this was a film that had remained with me for 18 years. Because I saw it at the right time, at the right age, so I loved it in ways impossible to describe.