The TIFF Japan Now section brought back Shunji Iwai’s first feature film, Love Letter. Hiroko (Miho Nakayama) writes a letter to her dearly departed Itsuki at his childhood address. By an odd twist of fate, she receives a response from a woman with the same name, who’s compelled to keep writing.
Filmed in blustery, slushy weather, the outdoor scenes have a tangible dampness. Bluish tones and overcast skies are the setting in an otherwise warm tale. There are sad moments, but these are not overplayed. They serve more as a backdrop to the warmth between friends and family.
Iwai has always expressed things in a delicate and musical way even from the early days of his career. He seems very particular about who he casts, and the result is usually an actor who can bring out that soft side without making things mushy and melodramatic.
Miho Nakayama’s portrayal of two separate characters is understated enough that at first, the two women only bear a passing resemblance. As the penpals’ bond deepens, their faces, hair, and expressions are almost interchangeable. This isn’t achieve through makeup or any remarkable wardrobe differences, but rather Nakayama’s acting skills. Iwai no doubt had a hand in this too, as director and visionary of the story’s aesthetics, emotions and rhythm.
Hiroko appears to be the main character, but as the two women’s stories unfurl, the focus shifts to (the female) Itsuki. This puts into question who (the male) Itsuki was really in love with. Perhaps it was his fiancée Hiroko. Maybe it was his namesake. And most likely, it was both.
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