Sakura, Japan’s cherry blossoms, are more than just beautiful for the Japanese. With a cultural significance dating back hundreds of years, sakura is a symbol of the arrival of spring, the beginning of a new life, and the birth of new hope. In bloom for a mere two weeks, sakura with their short, yet, beautiful existence, often symbolize life’s profound but fleeting moments and therefore, in the essence of the Japanese culture, act as a reminder of how precious but precarious life can be.
The following four movies have different themes and backgrounds but are all presented in parallel with the charm of sakura, its cultural significance and its short, yet alluring life. The movies have been filmed in four regions in Japan, all of which can in fact be visited by travelers who wish to experience the magic of sakura firsthand.
1.Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, 夕凪の街 桜の国 (Hiroshima)
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (2007) is one of the most popular and powerful works of art in relation to the Hiroshima bombings. Based on Fumiyo Kono’s 2003 comic, internationally praised for its beautiful artwork and compassionate anti-war message, the heartbreaking film follows the story of those who initially survived the first 1945 U.S. atomic bombing and their descendants’ lives in modern times. Jumping between the two time frames, the film explores themes of love and loss depicted through vulnerable based-on-real-life stories. Though often incredibly heart-wrenching, the film in parallel follows the stunning spring sights of blooming sakura, here used as a symbol of hope and peace. As you watch, you will travel through some of the most significant and beautiful locations in Hiroshima, including the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the Peace Memorial Park, and the beautiful Ota River running through the city.
Main cast: Kumiko Aso, Rena Tanaka Director: Kiyoshi Sasabe
2.Hana no Ato, 花のあと (Yamagata)
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Hana no Ato (literally, “After the Flowers”) is a forbidden love story set in the Edo period based on a book by popular Japanese novelist Shuhei Fujisawa. Ito, daughter of a clan official and a master female swordsman, is enjoying the cherry blossoms at a sakura festival where she sets eyes on Magoshiro Eguchi, a swordsman she instantly falls in love with. The two reunite for a sword match and the love between them sparks. However, Ito is arranged to marry another man, Saisuke Katagiri, and her new love, Magoshiro, is from a clan that is not on par with hers. The movie develops as Ito learns that Magoshiro has taken his own life and she is determined to know the reason behind his decision to perish. A tragic drama of a true, but short-lived love set against the backdrop of fleeting sakura, Hana no Ato is a movie that will touch your heart and stay in your memory — just as will the beautiful scenery of Yamagata Prefecture’s romantic Tsuruoka Park, a location central to the movie.
Main cast: Keiko Kitagawa, Shuntaro Miyao Director: Kenji Nakanishi
3.Let me eat your pancreas, 君の膵臓をたべたい (Kyoto)
Romantic drama Let Me Eat Your Pancreas is one of the more upbeat films on the list, though still definitely a tearjerker. Geeky unnamed protagonist (Takumi Kitamura)’s high school crush, Sakura Yamauchi, is dying from a failing pancreas. However, Sakura, beautiful and fragile just after the flower she was named after, is outwardly very jolly and positive. It is this quality that the protagonist falls in love with and cannot fully let go after her death. The second half of the film jumps forward twelve years where the protagonist is now a high school teacher at the same school he and Sakura once attended. Unable to let go of the past and the pain, the film, through the gorgeous symbolic scenes of sakura, explores life’s very fleeting nature. The main scene in this movie is set in Kyoto’s iconic Fushimideai Bridge, a stunning location which offers one of Japan’s best views of the sakura in spring.
Main Cast: Minami Hamabe, Takumi Kitamura, Shun Oguri, Keiko Kitagawa Director: Sho Tsukikawa
4.Yoko The Cherry Blossom/陽光桜 (Ehime)
Written and directed by Gen Takahashi, Yoko The Cherry Blossom is based on the inspiring true story of Masaaki Takaoka, a retired school teacher and devoted campaigner for the end to all wars, who lived in a rural Japanese village in Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku. Hoping for a long-awaited peace and the end of lives lost to merciless wars, Takaoka vows to plant a cherry blossom tree that is resilient and able to thrive in wildly diverse climates. The sakura represents Takaoka’s hope that the new tree might serve as a statement of peace and understanding among all people. Filled with picturesque scenes of the Japanese countryside, vibrant colors, and a gripping storyline, Yoko The Cherry Blossom is a movie about dedication, hope, and internal peace. In addition to the charming sakura-filled scenes, a most notable aspect of the film is the extremely likable protagonist. One will feel two things after finishing this film: admiration for Takaoka’s character, and a strong desire to travel to Ehime.
Main Cast: Koji Matoba, Maki Miyamoto, Yuki Kazamatsuri, Naomi Hase Director: Gen Takahashi
As evident through the four above films, sakura is much more than simply beautiful flowers in Japanese culture. Each film, with different themes and backgrounds, clearly portrays the blossoms’ profound symbolism of love, life, death, and rebirth. The alluring sakura-filled scenes we get to witness on screen take the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster through life changes we all share regardless of where we were born and raised.