On revisiting Love Letter
After 18 years and I was finally going to Otaru, the little harbour town in Hokkaido where Shunji Iwaii’s Love Letter was set. 18 years! I was not even 18 when I first watched this film, and decided it would be my life’s love. Just like all first loves.
Of course at that time I was most touched by the love story between the young Fujii Itsukis, and all other beautiful threads of the story were lost to me. I remember being a little puzzled when I saw in an interview where Shunji Iwaii said that the film was about treasuring the present. To me Love Letter had always been about the bitter sweet beauty of a lost love, memories through softened lens. Yet as years go by, whenever I revisit this classic of Japanese love cinema, and unlike all the Japanese love movies that came after it and which tried hard to imitate it (lost love, regrets… all the same formula), I discover something new – and this is the best thing a film can do, to surprise you every time you watch it.
While I was sitting on a bench, my legs crossed, trying to make myself as comfortable as possible for a night in the airport, I brought out my tablet and revisited Love Letter, in the dead silence of a lone corridor of Narita Airport. I wanted to revisit one more time this first love of mine before embarking on my first journey to Hokkaido.
When Hiroko found the address on the graduation album she started up, searching for a pen, and the music came in – this is always where I begin to cry. But not as indulgently as I used to be, quietly I watched – observed – through the film silently this time. And at the end I think, after 18 years of many lost loves and regrets, I have finally come to understand the film as Shunji Iwaii had intended it to convey. Love Letter is not about that last library book – Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. It is not about digging into the past and trying to recover things lost to us forever. It is about finding out a way in between remembering and forgetting, holding on and letting go, in order that we may live in the present and treasure what we have now before they become another regret. In the film there are people who are forgetful – almost too much so. On the other hand there are people, such as Hiroko, who remembers too much, and that makes her incapable to live on. Just the right amount of remembrance and forgetfulness. Accept that all things begin and end gracefully, as such is our fate as mortal beings. And this is what makes Love Letter much more powerful than those melodramatic imitations that only focus on the lost love romance.