Lovers on Borders ポルトの恋人たち時の記憶 Director: Atsushi Funahashi (2018)

Lovers on Borders   Lovers on Borders Film Poster

ポルトの恋人たち 時の記憶 「Poruto no koibitotachi toki no kioku

Release Date: November 10th, 2018

Running Time: 139 mins.

Director: Atsushi Funahashi

Writer: Atsushi Funahashi, Shigeru Murakoshi (Screenplay),

Starring: Tasuku Emoto, Yuta Nakano, Ana Moreira, Antonio Duraes, Flavio Hamilton, Alex Miranda, Miguel Monteiro, Valdemar Santos,

Website IMDB

Lovers on Borders is an international co-production between Japan and Portugal that was released in 2018. Based on an original script by writer Shigeru Murakoshi and director Atsushi Funahashi, it tells the story of a relationship between two lost souls that defies many lines of separation. Life and death, geographical distance, language, race, religion, social class, hatred, and ultimately time are traversed in a love story that takes nearly 300 years to reach fruition.

The film starts in Japan in 2021, a year after the Tokyo Olympic Games have successfully been held but have failed to revitalise the economy and ten years after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the effects of which continue to haunt the nation.

Feeling this depression quite sharply is the Japanese-Brazilian community in Hamamtsu whose main source of employment is an ailing factory. When the owners decide, through a combination of cold capitalism and xenophobia, that the best way to save the business is to cut the number of already overworked foreign staff, they send hapless executive Shuji Kase (Tasuku Emoto) to the shop floor to wield the axe. One of the victims is talented guitarist Koshiro (Yuta Nakano) whose unemployment puts his legal status and future plans in jeopardy. He commits suicide and leaves behind his devoted wife, a Portuguese woman named Marina (Ana Moreira) who loved to sing fado songs with accompaniment from Koshiro but is now left swearing vengeance on Shuji.

Intertwined and inter-cut into this narrative is a period drama, replete with historic locations and convincing costumes, but with a set-up that mirrors the present-tense narrative and whose conclusion offers a sense of foreboding.

We are taken to Portugal after the Great Lisbon earthquake and tsunami of 1755 strikes and we find another country brought to its knees by a natural disaster. Aristocrat Gaspar de Carvalho (Antonio Duraes) returns from Asia to oversee reconstruction of his family’s estate. With him are slaves including two Japanese, a mute man named Soji (Tasuku Emoto) and his friend Shiro (Yuta Nakano). They find themselves in a perilous situation as they are subject to racism and being worked to death by their cruel master.

However, at the point of despair, seeds of hope are planted as Soji meets and falls in love with Mariana (Ana Moreira), a peasant who lost her parents in the disaster and now works on Gaspar’s estate. Without words, through physical gestures alone, these two people from vastly different countries and social circumstances understand how each other feel but the aristocrat’s hatred of the Japanese tears the lovers apart before their romance can truly blossom and so Mariana enacts a shocking vengeance on Gaspar.

With so many echoes across timelines, tension is built, not so much from characters traversing traditional borders, but from the hope that people can break repetition which will lead to tragedy.

Foreshadowing plays a big part of the film as Marina sets her sights on avenging her husband in a similar fashion to Mariana, even though she and Shuji are effectively reincarnations of fated lovers. The looming shadow of a self-fulfilling prophecy cuts between time periods while raw human emotions are examined as Marina grapples with the idea that might just be able to love the man partially responsible for her beloved husband’s death. This leaves the audience on tenterhooks as to how things will end.

As Mariana/Marina, Ana Moreira is the axis around which the film revolves. She has a certain flinty attractiveness and slight gauntness that gives her a hard edge that makes her look credible as someone sucked into a whirlpool of loss due to a gaping wound in her heart and mind. She plays the sense of loss with dead-eyed conviction and it is something felt more acutely in the eerie sequences where Marina can see Koshiro’s form and feel his presence. It helps that she belts out the song, Fado Menor, which contains lyrics of everlasting love, with vigour that stirs the soul.

Yuta Nakano, speaking fluent (at least to this non-native speaker) Portuguese, is cemented convincingly as the perfect motivator for vengeance. His easygoing attitude makes him come across as her ideal through romantic flashbacks that show the first gleam of love as experienced through fado and the easy intimacy of life in Japan, and this helps Moreira sell the idea that her character is experiencing awful bleakness of being left behind when one partner in a relationship dies.

Playing Shuji/Soji, Tasuku Emoto uses his boyish good looks to emphatically show earnest integrity and love but there is a lack of intensity and physicality in the chemistry he shares with Moreira. Their behaviour is too well mannered to convince as timeless lovers linked by an eternal bond and more scenes between the two in the past to show a building of affection would have helped. What the two have between them is enough so that the tension of whether their romance can survive provides ample motivation.

What the film does best is to show how love blossoms in the harshest of circumstances and sometimes from situations marked by hatred. Whether it’s the violence of capitalism, colonialism or racism, seeing love transcend these borders is engaging and seeing it deployed in a well-executed and ambitious story is fascinating and it ultimately offers hope for the future which is much needed right now.

This contrasts between the cold and enervated Japan, the grey and messy and Portugal’s natural beauty are also apt metaphors for the film’s story of tragedy striking in the midst of happiness — and love blooming in the most improbable of circumstances.

My review was first posted on V-Cinema on October 01st

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