All but remaking the 1953 art-house classic Tokyo Story in its first third, Cherry Blossoms fortunately sidesteps rank mimicry in favor of wry homage and something more. Director-screenwriter Doris Dörrie, of 2007’s foodie doc How to Cook Your Life, applies Ozu’s pet themes (encroaching mortality) and symbols (trains abound) to her own concerns, notably a rumination on the confounding estrangement from self and spouse that can occur in even the longest-lived and most agreeable of marriages.
The film sends middle-aged, unspectacular Bavarian couple Rudi (Wepper) and Trudi (Elsner) on the road after she learns of his terminal illness (regimented, change-resistant Rudi is kept in the dark). Their destination is Japan, which intrigues Trudi, but they stop off in Berlin to visit their grown children and then move on to the Baltic for a seaside idyll. The story takes a sad and unexpected turn there, after which Rudi completes the couple’s trip alone. An indigent Butoh dancer (Irizuki) in Tokyo helps him channel something of his wife’s—and his own—coupledom-sequestered identity.It’s not as pat as it sounds. In the vein of Ozu, Dörrie finds grace and bittersweet humor in the muted pain and moot dignity of modern life, but the similarities end there: To my knowledge, the Japanese master’s leading men never donned their leading ladies’ clothes, nor would doing so have seemed as absurdly, movingly spot-on.