Tsunagu (Blu-ray release 2013-4-24) is a movie adaptation of an award winning Japanese novel.  It tells the story of an apprentice tsunagu, an intermediary who can let a living person meet a dead person via a supernatural power and a tool that are passed within his family.  He does that as a volunteer without getting money from the people he helps.  The rules are: every living person has only one chance to meet the dead in his/her whole life;  every dead person has only one chance to meet the living, but they cannot make the request – they can only wait for the living to call upon them.  So the living needs to choose carefully whom they want to meet, and the dead also needs to choose carefully whether to accept or decline a request.  The meeting, once accepted by both sides, takes place on a full moon in a hotel room until the break of dawn, by then the dead vanishes.

In this movie, the tsunagu helps three living people: a father who wants to meet his dead mother who died from illness, a student who wants to meet her best friend who died from a traffic accident, and a man who waited for his fiancee for 7 years after her mysterious disappearance.  The tsunagu’s father and mother died when he was still a child, but the real reason was never found.  He is also given a chance by his grandmother, the master tsunagu, to meet a dead person, so he may potentially find out the real reason should he desire to, before committing to become a master.  So the movie is well rounded – it covers family relationship, friendship and romantic relationship.

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Among these stories, I love the friendship story most.  Two school girls compete for the lead role in a drama.  After losing to her best friend, the protagonist becomes jealous, does something bad that seems to have caused the death of her friend.  She is not sure whether her friend knows what she did, and she does not want her friend telling others about it, so she seeks out the tsunagu, who studies in the same school.  In this story, the movie is actually better than the novel because it adds a level of complexity by showing the dead friend’s inner thoughts via her face and her hands.  This enriches the story without being unfaithful to the novel.

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As one may expect, this movie explores the issues of death and life.  It also asks questions about whether the dead people they meet using the power are real, or just created from the memory of the living.  I have always loved movies about such subjects.   It is emotionally satisfying to see people get closure by having one last chance to meet the dead.  (Assisted greatly by sentimental music, this movie is also a tearjerker.)  Since it is also well executed, I consider this to be the best movie I’ve watched recently.  I find it strange that such an exceptionally good movie is not released outside of Japan and Taiwan yet.

[SPOILER FOR THE NOVEL]

P.S. The novel contains an additional story about a woman who feels lost in her life, does not have any close friends, is distant from her family, and is contemplating suicide.  The only positive thing in her life is a female idol on TV, whom she considers to be inspiring.  She requests to meet the dead idol, and surprisingly the idol accepts.  However popular the idol might be, all her friends did not use their only chance to meet her, perhaps to save the chance for others who may become even more important in the future.  She encourages the protagonist to live a positive life and not to commit suicide.  I think the filmmakers made the right decision to exclude this part from the movie.

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