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HAVING BEEN raised by my dad on a macho movie diet of samurai and wuxia (martial arts) films, I was immune to female- centric weepies – until Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World came along.

I was living in Japan in 2004 when my friends dragged me to see a new hit that had attracted over six million viewers. Directed by Isao Yukisada, it was advertised as a hanky-soaking experience.

The film segues from present to past and back, as Tokyo salaryman Saku

( Takao Ozawa) returns to his hometown in Shikoku – read more about this region on p34 – and becomes overwhelmed with memories of his first love, Aki (Masami Nagasawa). Their courtship, set in Ehime prefecture and painted in a sun-kissed palette, not only fuels 1980s nostalgia but evokes an age of innocence.

Few nations’ artists beautify death and glorify youth with such aesthetic finesse as the Japanese. That spirit runs deep in Crying, which is dotted with scenes and metaphors of memento mori. The young lovers – with teenage Saku played by Mirai Moriyama – are at one point marooned on an island and find refuge in an abandoned hotel that looks like the Garden of Eden. When Aki spreads her arms on the edge of a cliff, the ecstasy (and impending doom) is akin to Jack and Rose at the prow of the Titanic.

Even as tragedy closes in on the protagonists, a bittersweet tone prevails thanks to Nagasawa’s angelic serenity and Moriyama’s gawky charm. I kept my composure throughout their struggles, but when a secret about Ritsuko (Kou Shibasaki), Saku’s fiancée, is revealed, the irony of fate hit with such force that my tear ducts surrendered.

A rhapsodic evocation of first love and an epitome of Japanese cinema’s take on the ‘pure love’ genre, Crying recalls Shunji Iwai’s ’90s classic Love Letter. That’s not surprising, considering that Yukisada was Iwai’s protégé and worked as assistant director on that timeless romance.

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