While shadows and empty spaces pervade Naomi Kawase's search for her absent father in Embracing, the images in Katatsumori are tactile and suffused in light - a stark contrast that conveys Kawase's deep affection towards her 80 year old maternal great aunt and adoptive mother, Uno. In hindsight, the implied coldness of the film's preface - a shot of a letter written by Kawase's biological mother expressing birthday greetings, a reminder to be a dutiful daughter to her father at a time of crisis, and a token gift of spending money for the occasion - serves as a foil for the reverence and tenderness that would subsequently define Kawase's animated gaze. Indeed, in its collage of fragmentary snapshots of everyday life, chance conversations, and moments of levity, Katatsumori is the converse of the terse birthday note from mother to daughter that opens the film - a love letter from child to parent (whom Kawase calls "grandma") expressed through mundane images and quotidian observation. As in Embracing, Uno is often framed within the context of her garden, linking her love of gardening with her broader role in Kawase's life as kindred spirits, provider, and protector: a figurative connection between nature and nurture that is underscored in her playful request for Uno's next pea harvest (preserved from the previous year's crop) as her present, noting the coincidental convergence of her upcoming 25th birthday and the maturation of the planted seeds in the spring. Visually, Kawase illustrates their intimacy through repeated, often extreme close-ups of her great aunt, recording the idiosyncratic gestures and contours of Uno's face with the curiosity and fascination for a shared personal history: an implied connectedness (and continuity) that culminates in a shot of Kawase filming Uno while she picks peas from a garden following Uno's pensive recording over their evolving relationship. Moreover, Kawase introduces the idea of imprint as a reflection of personal legacy, initially, in a shot of Uno scrawling her name and age on a piece of clapboard, then subsequently, in the condensation of Kawase's handprint pressed against the window as she listens to a recorded message in her great aunt's absence. Juxtaposed against a shot of the pair playfully engaging in a naming game, the assignment of names represents Kawase's own journey towards her identity as well, where the arbitrariness of fate is reinforced by an act of mutual validation.
Naomi Kawase's Embracing is both an evocation of, and disjunction from, Jonas Mekas's diaristic memory films, a journey in search of a lost past through the empty spaces and resigned silence of an unreconciled - and incomplete - present. This sense of absence and longing is revealed in the film's opening sequence: the sight of a traditional Japanese domestic setting (and reinforced by a shot montage of meal preparation), prefaced by a lighted sign for a restaurant called "Bar Happiness", that is juxtaposed against an audio recording of Kawase's unseen maternal relative who expresses her resistance at Naomi's intention to search for her biological father who had abandoned the family, briefly alluding to Naomi's separation from her mother following her parents' divorce and adoption by her great uncle and aunt, Kaneishi and Uno Kawase. By framing her well-intentioned aunt's argument for the integrity of the extended family support system that has nurtured Naomi throughout her entire life (and the potential fissures that may unwittingly be introduced into that fragile network by dredging up the past) through the image association (and dissociation) of happiness, home, and absence, Kawase metaphorically illustrates her essential disconnection with a lost, untold history. Incorporating alternating images of nature - flowers in bloom, insects in the field, and verdant landscapes - with contemporary images of her adoptive mother as the two look for information on her father's identity through family archives and photo albums, Kawase introduces the idea of nature as an eternal, but mutable representation of human cycles. This intersection is further reinforced in a picture of Kawase's biological parents, Kiyonobu Yamashiro and Emiko Takeda as a young couple that cuts to a shot of a flower in bright sunlight, that is subsequently contrasted to the image of a similar row of flowers against the darkness of forming rain clouds as her great aunt remembers the unpleasantness of her parents' break-up. Moreover, using high contrast to frame an episode featuring a little girl playing with a tadpole in a puddle of water, Kawase not only illustrates this symbiotic relationship between nature and human history, but also conveys the sense of rupture intrinsic in the idyllic image - the apparent absence of the child's mother. Revisiting her biological father's life by tracing his residential registration records over the past twenty years, Kawase places corresponding photographs from her own childhood, initially, as a figurative bridge between past and present within a depopulated landscape, then subsequently, as a reflection of the physical and emotional separation between father and daughter (a distance that is also symbolized by the recurring images of shadows against the landscape). Restless, curious, and impulsive in its fractured images, Embracing becomes an integral representation of Kawase's own search for identity: told, not through loosely interrelated pieces of an obscured personal history, but in the unarticulated silence of a brief, but transformative connection with the living present.
(both articles from www.filmref.com)