At the beginning of Doris Dorrie's remarkable "Cherry Blossoms," Trudi Angermeier (Hannelore Elsner) is heard saying how she always wanted to go to Japan to see Mt. Fuji and the cherry blossoms with her husband -- and that she couldn't imagine going alone. As it happens, her husband Rudi (Elmar Wepper) is the one who goes there alone.
The Angermeiers are a middle-aged couple living comfortably in a small Bavarian town from which Rudi commutes by train to his job in a nearby city where he directs a waste management program. Trudi is a devoted wife who has raised their three children. When she suggests they vacation in Japan where their son works in Tokyo, Rudi dismisses Mt. Fuji as being just like any other mountain and points out that it would be cheaper if their son came to visit them. Without complaint, Trudi agrees to visit their daughter and other son in Berlin and then proceeds to a seaside resort. None of their children really has time for them.
Trudi's wholly unexpected death in her sleep at the resort forces the devastated Rudi to realize that he never really knew her. He never paid any attention to her fascination with Japan and its culture, especially the highly stylized, expressionistic Butoh dancers. Overwhelmed by loss and loneliness, Rudi at last embarks on his Japan odyssey in hope of discovering Trudi -- and perhaps his true self as well.
The film is suffused with a very Japanese sense of the transitory nature of life, in which the cherry blossom is regarded as the most beautiful symbol of impermanence. "Cherry Blossoms" itself is a most beautiful film; it's also a daring one in the sense that Dorrie risks folly -- in Rudi's convenient encounter with a sweet young Butoh dancer (Aya Irizuki) -- to reach for the sublime. Yet so committed and sustained is Dorrie's vision and so inspired are Wepper and Elsner and their supporting players that "Cherry Blossoms" is a stunning reminder of the omnipresence of mortality.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Language: In English and German with English subtitles
Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; Laemmle's Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811; and Edwards Westpark 8, 3755 Alton Parkway, Irvine, (949) 622-8609