Love Letter (1995) was Japanese director, Shunji Iwai's theatrical debut and I am nothing if not astounded by this. If I was able to call a film as wondrous as this one 'my first attempt' at a feature film I think I would never stop smiling, I would be the proudest of myself that a person has ever been!
I found out about this film from a music video by K-pop girl group, TWICE, about 2 years ago and I've been wanting to watch it ever since. For context, the music video is called 'What is love?' and it features references to various romance films (such as Romeo + Juliet, The Princess Diaries and La La Land) and one of these films that the girls of TWICE pay homage to is Love Letter. It stuck out to me due to the gorgeous white snow in one scene and I thought, from the very little I had picked up about it, that it would be a pretty film with a cute love story. I was not prepared for the delicate honesty and bittersweet heartbreak I would get to follow along with.
I'm clutching at adjectives right now to be perfectly honest with you to try to describe the 'weighty-melancholy-into-hot-water-bottle-and-duvet-bringing-warmth-to my-soul' kind of thing that this film does to you but I hope it can be enough to convey how incredible the experience I had watching this really was.
Iwai also wrote the script that lies at the very heart of the film, pumping out charm through every vein. It's so intimate and real and the character's thoughts and struggles are so raw and heart breaking that you'll be blinking away tears more than once, I promise.
In terms of the films talent of sharing the characters innermost thoughts with you, it stretches far beyond the script too. There were a few scenes that I remembered where I was so moved without a single word being spoken, the colour palette is misty and faded like a whisper of a memory-- so very fitting as the power of our recollections of the past is what drives the narrative-- and the ambient noise of 'homely whirring' or 'the city in the night below' cuts out any distance between you and Hiriko so that not a word has to be uttered before human empathy does it's thing.
Miho Nakayama plays both lead characters, Hiriko Watanabe and (Female) Itsuki Fujii, and she knows just how to portray them. It's a difficult feat-- the two characters are meant to be similar and have a lot in common while, obviously, not being the same copy-paste character-- and, without a visual staple to set the two apart (they don't dress too dissimilar from each other, they both have the same short haircut, etc.) I quickly came to notice the nuances that made them two separate and well-constructed characters through Nakayama's acting alone.
I can't seem to pluck a thing out from the movie that I would have wanted to be different and that's how I know that I'm very excited to watch more of Shunji Iwai's films.