Toronto Japanese Film Festival 2021: Our Review of ‘A Garden of Camellias’

Toronto Japanese Film Festival 2021: Our Review of ‘A Garden of Camellias’

This film is about a woman and her granddaughter. They live in a garden house on a hill next to a beach in southern Japan. The granddaughter, Nagisa (Shim Eun-Kyung), gives her grandmother, Kinuko (Sumiko Fuji) a sliced peach from their garden. The peach itself is a comment of the self control that these women have, their appetites more humble than the people from the West. Kinuko comments positively on the peacs, a sign that summer is coming. But both women know that this is their last summer in their home. Kinuko’s husband’s death means that they have to pay an inheritance tax, and the only way to pay that tax is to sell their house that’s becoming more difficult to maintain. They entrusted a realtor, Huang (Chang Chen) to sell the house. And he’s respectful enough, but that respect can’t take away from how painful this process can be.

The film calls itself A Garden of Camellias for a reason. It’s to show off the titular garden that Kinuko worked to perfect. Displaying it makes this one of the most painterly yet naturalistic films viewers have seen in recent memory. There is, however, that wish that it would pay as much attention to lighting some of its interior scenes. Although sure, it’s understandable that the darkness of those interiors reflect, if not too blatantly, the characters’ eventual sadness for departing the place. Some of the characters also treat Nagisa like she’s neuro atypical just because she’s half-Korean. Sure, she can be both half-Korean and neuro atypical, but the conflation here feels lacking. It does remind us of how Japan treats anyone with Korean blood as second class citizens. In fairness, the film gives her enough complexity as one half of a study of two strong, subtle female characters.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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