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​NYFF reviews: On ghosts and dreams

A young Japanese widow, living a placid life in Tokyo, is visited by the spirit of her deceased husband three years after he drowned at sea. The dead man is hungry, warm to the touch, and seems to make no pretense of leaving any time soon.

In the three years since his death he had been helped by others -- some alive, some not -- and so he invites his widow on a journey through the towns and villages he passed through on his trip back from the shoreline where he took his own life. It's a trip during which Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu) reevaluates her love and their shared past, including his secrets about an affair.

"Journey to the Shore,"
which has its U.S. premiere today at the New York Film Festival, is a tender and romantic walk among the dead, in which the death of the spirit is portrayed as a separate and no less traumatic event as the death of the physical body.

Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano) is visible to all, but the world into which he leads Mizuki is but a shadow of the past -- her mind clouded to see it as it once was. Is this her own wish-fulfillment at being reunited with her dead lover? And is she eager to join him in the afterlife?

In "Journey to the Shore" (based on a novel by Kazumi Yumoto), director Kiyoshi Kurosawa examines the difficult emotional journey of those at the bedside of the dying, and transposes it onto a romantic idyll lasting days or weeks.

Kurosawa has blurred genre boundaries in the past; his films include the supernatural-environmental mystery "Charisma," the horror-thrillers "Cure," "Pulse" and "Retribution," and the family drama "Tokyo Sonata." For "Journey to the Shore" he won the Best Director prize at the Un Certain Regard sidebar of this year's Cannes Film Festival.

"Journey to the Shore," in Japanese with English subtitles, is not rated. 127 mins. Distributed in the U.S. by A24 (release date TBA).

To watch a trailer click on the video player below.

In 2010, Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the top prize at Cannes for the magical-realist "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," in which the supernatural coexists with humanity in a time-shifted present day. His latest work, "Cemetery of Splendour" (which has its U.S. premiere September 30 at the New York Film Festival), is unfortunately lacking in similarly dramatic or visual invention in its tale of dreams and alternate consciousness.

Soldiers who have fallen ill with a sleeping sickness are being housed in a temporary hospital, monitored by a psychic who is prodded by relatives for personal insights into the sleeping patients' dreams or secrets.

From "Cemetery of Splendour." Strand Releasing

Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas), a volunteer at the hospital who cares for one of the sleeping patients, is herself visited by the dead -- the spirits of princesses from a Lao shrine -- who inform her that the sleeping soldiers' spirits are being used by a long-dead king to fight his battles. As the connection between the land and the stricken soldiers becomes more palpable, one patient, named Itt, becomes the conduit for the psychic and Jenjira to see a long-gone palace.

These visions, however, remain internal and mysterious. Indeed, the most interesting shot in the entire film -- a giant single-cell organism floating among the clouds -- comes after two hours of leisurely-paced views of the sleeping. Does that shot constitute one of their dreams? We can only guess.

"Cemetery of Splendour," in Thai with English subtitles, is not rated. 122 mins. Distributed by Strand Releasing. After playing at festivals across the U.S., the film will open commercially in March 2016.

To watch a trailer click on the video player below.

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