C. Love Letter – Scene Analysis

Love Letter directed by Shunji Iwai was released in 1995, and it has been a popular romantic drama mainly in East Asian countries. Iwai has made many TV drama and TV advertisements, but Love Letter was his first film. The story is about the correspondence between Hiroko Watanabe, a widow living in Kobe and Isuki Fujii who works at a small local library in Otaru. One day, Hiroko sends a letter to the place where her husband used to live although she knows nobody will answer it. However, she unexpectedly receives the letter from a woman whose name is Itsuki Fujii. She was a classmate of Hiroko’s husband in elementary school, and had the same name as Hiroko’s husband. Both Hiroko and Isuki look back at the memory of Hiroko’s husband through the correspondences, and Hiroko gradually accepts the death of her husband.

There is a scene where Hiroko finally overcomes the fear of facing the death of Itsuki by yelling to a mountain where he died. This scene tells how Hiroko changes her emotions towards the death of Itsuki by describing how she faces the mountain. Akiba, an old friend of Itsuki, has the desire to date Hiroko, and tries to make her forget the memories of Itsuki. One day, Akiba asks Hiroko if they can visit the mountain, and they stay at a mountain lodge run by Kaji, a member of the climbing team which Itsuki belonged to. Early the next morning, Akiba wakes Hiroko up and takes her to the outside to see dawn. Hiroko was feeling refreshed by seeing beautiful landscapes of the mountain. However, after Abe confesses that the mountain Hiroko is looking at is the one where Itsuki died, Hiroko cannot look at the mountain anymore. After a while, she runs towards the mountain across the cliff, and yells “How are you? I’m doing well.” to the mountain again and again. Her closed mind gradually gets opened by this interaction with the mountain which killed Itsuk because she finally got a chance to express her emotions by yelling to the mountain.

In this scene, various film techniques help the scene develop its unique atmosphere. First, background music brings out dark and heavy but positive emotions into this scene. When Hiroko and Akiba look at the mountain across the cliff, the sound begins slowly and vigorously. The sound makes the mountain look very solemn and calm. As the scene goes further, the music sound gradually gets bigger and helps the scene climax. The music strengthens Hiroko’s increasing emotions for Itsuki and produces the impressive atmosphere.

High angle shot of Hiroko running towards the mountain
High angle shot of Hiroko running towards the mountain

In addition, the camera movement and angle produce Hiroko’s different and changing emotions towards the mountain. When Hiroko began to run towards the mountain, the camera catches Hiroko from a very high angle. It makes Hiroko look very small on the huge snowy ground, and the image seems to reflect Hiroko’s tiny and uneasy heart. The camera moves from a low angle to eye level when Hiroko finally faces toward the mountain across the cliff. At this time, the camera movement makes Hiroko look bigger and stronger. The lonesome but independent image of Hiroko who faces and accepts the death of Itsuki is strengthened by these camera styles.

Psychological point of view is a very important key to understanding the theme of this scene and the theme of the movie. When Hiroko goes out with Akiba to see dawn, she looks at the mountain with refreshing emotions. However, after she knew that the mountain is the one where Itsuki died, she suddenly stops looking at the mountain and looks down at the ground. She looks very confused, and seems unable to face the mountain. After Akiba says, “Take a good look. Fujii (Itsuki) is there”, Hiroko tries to look at the mountain again slowly and cautiously. Her eyes catch the mountain as if she looks at Itsuki himself. For Hiroko, the mountain was the one who killed Itsuki, and it was very scary to face it because it means that she has to face the feelings about the death of Itsuki. Hiroko had been acting as if Itsuki were still alive because of her denial of Itsuki’s death.

Hiroko facing and yelling towards the mountain
Hiroko facing and yelling towards the mountain

However, when she runs towards the mountain across the cliff and yells to it, she looks at the mountain straightly with stronger emotions. These Hiroko’s perspective towards the mountain reflects her feelings towards Itsuki. The change of psychological point of view shows that Hiroko begins to accept the death of Itsuki step by step. She gradually accepts the fact that Itsuki actually died in the snowy and beautiful mountain across the cliff. The mountain works as a symbol which represents Itsuki, and the change in mental state towards the mountain represents that Hiroko’s emotion has been shifted from denial to acceptance of Itsuki’s death.

The film techniques emphasize the transition of Hiroko’s feelings towards Itsuki effectively. In the first half of the story, Hiroko could not accept the death of Itsuki, and this denial of loss was preventing her from moving on. Hiroko continued to exchange letters with Isuki (the woman in Otaru) to know her husband’s past. At this point, she has not fully accepted the death of Itsuki. However, facing the mountain became a chance to shift her minds from the denial to the acceptance of death.

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