1. Sweet Bean (2015)
Director: Naomi Kawase
Naomi Kawase is a filmmaker closely associated with rapturous depictions of nature. Her 2015 film Sweet Bean expresses the pleasures of transience, as evoked in the gentle presence of cherry blossoms. These colour the world with joy and beauty yet fall just as quickly as they bloom.
2. Our Little Sister (2015)
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Hirokazu Koreeda is also no stranger to cherry blossom imagery, as seen here in the joyful family drama Our Little Sister. The heroine begins to rediscover a sense of joy and contentment in being alive during a bike ride through a tunnel of cherry blossom flowers in full bloom.
3. April Story (1998)
Director: Shunji Iwai
Suffused with cherry blossom imagery, Shunji Iwai’s charming coming-of-age drama follows its young heroine through a transitional spring as she leaves her snow-covered home town in the north for university in Tokyo. Here the sakura are already in full bloom, just as she too begins to blossom with life’s infinite possibilities.
4. Dolls (2002)
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Among the more formally composed of Takeshi Kitano’s films, this seasonal tale of frustrated love moves from spring to winter. We follow a pair of wounded lovers bound by tragedy as they wander beneath the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
5. Let Me Eat Your Pancreas (2017)
Director: Sho Tsukikawa
In many ways a throwback to the ‘junai’ or pure love movies of the mid-2000s, Let Me Eat Your Pancreas also owes a significant debt to Shunji Iwai’s mid-90s masterpiece Love Letter. It makes full use of the cherry blossom motif both in its poignant association with the end of the school year and the heroine’s desire to live her life to the fullest while contending with terminal illness.
6. Late Spring (1949)
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Although Yasujiro Ozu generally avoids cherry blossom imagery, they are thematically suited to his 1949 masterwork as the heroine finds herself in the ‘late spring’ of her life. By getting married, she opens a new chapter, even if this is also a kind of death. She transitions from daughter to wife, leaving her father alone as if bereaved.
7. The Cherry Orchard (1990)
Director: Shun Nakahara
Shun Nakahara’s The Cherry Orchard was inspired by Akimi Yoshida’s shojo manga – a comic aimed at teenage girls. A collection of young women at an all-girls school contend with a series of crises while rehearsing for the Chekhov play of the same name. As they prepare for graduation, each of the characters comes to new realisations about themselves and others – blossoming under the cherry trees in full bloom.
8. Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (1975)
Director: Masahiro Shinoda
A much darker take on the cherry blossom theme, Masahiro Shinoda’s grim fairytale repurposes the joy and celebration often associated with the season. It suggests that life in the shadow of death is akin to madness, as a bandit discovers after kidnapping a noblewoman and forcing her to become his wife. Once betrothed, he’s faced with his inability to satiate her bizarre desire for fresh severed heads.
9. The Makioka Sisters (1983)
Director: Kon Ichikawa
The original Japanese title of The Makioka Sisters (and the novel by Junichiro Tanizaki that it’s based on) is ‘Sasameyuki’, which means light snow but is itself a poetic evocation of falling cherry blossoms. In the course of Kon Ichikawa’s film, these both mark the passage of time and evoke a sense of transience in the continual decline of the once noble Makioka family.
10. Miss Oyu (1951)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Adapting Junichiro Tanizaki’s story The Reed Cutter, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Miss Oyu also casts the cherry blossoms in an ambivalent light. They mark time, but they’re also tinged with melancholic nostalgia and a sense of futility for the tragic, impossible love between a widow and the man who marries her sister only to be close to her.
11. Uzumasa Limelight (2014)
Director: Ken Ochiai
Drawing inspiration from Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight (1952), Ken Ochiai’s elegy for a declining industry plays with a persistent chanbara (samurai movie) motif of death among the cherry blossoms. Yet, where many chanbara see young warriors cut down in their prime, his hero is a man who spent his life dying on screen only to see his skills rendered obsolete by changing times.
12. Eros + Massacre (1969)
Director: Yoshishige Yoshida
Evoking the themes of the title, the cherry blossoms of Eros + Massacre become potent symbols of the doomed loved of the feminist Noe Ito and the anarchist Sakae Osugi. Equally, however, they suggest the frustrated revolutions they will ultimately fail to enact.
13. Gohatto (1999)
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Nagisa Oshima once said that his hatred of Japanese cinema extended to absolutely all of it. His final feature, however, is suffused with classical Japanese imagery in its tale of destructive beauty and the end of eras. Takeshi Kitano’s conflicted authority figure takes a sword to a cherry tree in full bloom, as the beautiful source of his confusion perishes off screen.