©2018 SAKURA GUARDIAN IN THE NORTH Production Committee
Acting legend Sayuri Yoshinaga in her 120th film
A mother and her son struggle to survive in Japan’s northland
Shooting on Sayuri Yoshinaga’s 120th motion picture, the third in a ‘northern trilogy’ that includes Year One in the North (05) and A Chorus of Angels (2012), began filming in February of 2017. A mother and son, who have struggled through hunger, poverty and cold as postwar refugees on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, reunite for the first time 15 years after the son has left home.
Now they set out on a journey to revisit the mother’s fading memories. Yoshinaga plays Tetsu Ezure, the firm but loving mother, while Masato Sakai plays Shujiro, who overcomes the struggles of his childhood, succeeds in business in the United States, and returns to be with his mother as she moves into old age. This is the first time the two actors have starred together in a live-action film.
Appearing with them as Shujiro’s wife is Ryoko Shinohara, while Koichi Sato handles the role of Shinji Sugawara, a postwar dealer in black-market rice who helps Tetsu and Shujiro through their darkest hours. Hiroshi Abe plays Tokujiro Ezure, Tetsu’s husband, while a supporting cast of Japan’s best-known film faces includes Reiko Takashima, Masatoshi Nakamura, Tsurube Shofukutei, and Ittoku Kishibe.
Directing Yoshinaga for the first time is Yojiro Takita, whose Academy Award-winning Departures (08) was a world-wide hit. The script is by Machiko Nasu, who also wrote the first two films in this ‘northern trilogy’.
Keralino Sandrovich directs the stage sequences that illustrate Tetsu’s interior mental state. The rest of the production team are also leaders in their fields, with music by Kei Ogula and Katz Hoshi, and photography by Takeshi Hamada.
2018 is the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Hokkaido, the setting of the story, as a prefecture of Japan, and to mark this milestone the film features vistas from around the island photographed in all four seasons of the year. Combining the efforts of Japan’s best in terms of cast and production staff, this story of a mother and child reunion is set for release in March of 2018.
“North, the two of them went, and north again, towards a lost time”
In the spring of 1945, cherry blossoms flower in southern Sakhalin. For Tetsu Ezure and her sons, they symbolize hope. But the following August, the Soviet Union invades and they flee from Sakhalin. Barely managing to make it across the strait to Hokkaido, they make their way down the coast to Abashiri. Awaiting the battered family there is a life so harsh as to strain the imagination: cold and hunger through which they must struggle to survive.
In 1971 the younger son, Shujiro, now grown, has succeeded in the U.S., and returns to Japan as president of a chain of hotdog outlets. He returns to Abashiri for the first time in 15 years to find his older brother gone and his elderly mother living alone in poverty, still waiting for her husband to return. Shujiro decides to take her to Sapporo and care for her there.
There Tetsu, however, insists on cooking rice over an open fire, taking onions from the greengrocer without paying, and generally making a nuisance of herself to the neighborhood. While the war is long over, she still suffers post-traumatic stress disorder. She also gradually realizes that something is wrong with her.
Then one day she disappears. Not wishing to cause problems for her successful son, she is going back to Abashiri. But her house there has been demolished; she has nowhere to go back to. Shujiro, in an effort to reach out, decides to accompany her, and the two set out around the vast plains of Hokkaido on a journey into the past. The journey, however, opens the door to some long-buried memories.