Yoshida’s first film after a thirteen-year hiatus attempts a difficult and uncompromising subject. The plot, initially suggesting a murder mystery with the police inquiring into the death of an old woman, soon develops into something quite different and disturbing. In a long and unannounced flashback, it becomes clear that no one in the woman’s family really wanted her to go on living, not her children, her husband, or herself.
Yoshida moves beyond the obvious, albeit painful, subject of euthanasia to make a more profound statement on contemporary Japan. His theme is that today the ceremonial rites of death have lost their meaning, making it impossible to prepare for and, ultimately, accept loss. The startling proposition of A Promise is that contemporary Japan has become a vacuum which, in the absence of tradition, is filled with shame, disrespect and, above all, guilt. Yoshida is single-minded in his determination, neither forgiving his characters nor sentimentalizing their situation. His mise-en-scene combines the ancient and modern relics of Oriental values and tokens of Western modernity. The prolonged flashback finally returns, climactically, to the moment of the old woman’s death.
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