Doris Dörrie Clowns without borders

Doris Dörrie’s “Grüße aus Fukushima”
Doris Dörrie’s “Grüße aus Fukushima” | Photo: Mathias Bothor © Majestic

The German director Doris Dörrie returns to Japan for “Grüße aus Fukushima”.

Doris Dörrie has already made two other films in Japan with considerable success: Erleuchtung garantiert (Enlightenment Guaranteed) and Kirschblüten – Hanami (Cherry Blossoms – Hanami). She claims nonetheless that it is only now that she really knows the country. Grüße aus Fukushima (Fukushima, mon amour) came about as a result of Dörrie’s direct engagement with the triple catastrophe – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident – that occurred in 2011. A young woman called Marie (Rosalie Thomass) travels to Fukushima on behalf of the fictitious organization Clowns4Help in order to give the remaining survivors in their emergency accommodation something else to think about. It is a stupid idea, and perhaps the best thing about the film is that Dörrie is well aware of this. Marie recognizes that the plan serves only herself. After a few attempts at clowning which go horribly wrong, she is ready to leave again when she suddenly meets Satori (Kaori Momoi) – supposedly Japan’s “last geisha”. The gnarled old woman has decided to pick up her destroyed life in the “forbidden zone” around Fukushima again.

No differences, merely misunderstandings

Dörrie’s films have regularly drawn the crowds, ever since her 1985 debut film Männer (Men). She combines art and commerce like no-one else – no easy feat in Germany. Why is Grüße aus Fukushima not competing at the festival? One has to know the festival very well in order to understand why. It is her first black-and-white film which benefits from two great actresses in the starring roles and Hanno Lentz’s wonderful camera work. Numerous shots are reminiscent of the old Japanese masters, including Ozu Yasujirō‘s famous “tatami shot”. Ozu’s films, for example his Floating Weeds from 1959, not infrequently depict families that have been torn apart or itinerant actors. Although she cannot resist including a few exoticisms, Dörrie succeeds in creating a harmonious link between classical Japanese imagery and her own. Satori’s aesthetic sophistication – she really knows how to put on a show, as she demonstrates during a tea ceremony – is contrasted time and again with Marie’s coarseness. “You are an elephant”, she says, “too big for my house!”. Ultimately, however, intercultural communication in Dörrie’s films is quite straightforward, which is something she has in common with other fans of Japan such as Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders: there are no differences, merely misunderstandings. Presenting oppressive images of the disaster-stricken landscape, populated only by the ghosts of the dead, she proves that she is also a master of the more gentle approach.

A genuine auteur film

The Berlinale and Doris Dörrie are probably a bit like the two women – they do not necessarily need one another, but together they look amazing. It is also not difficult to realize that the 60-year-old filmmaker sees herself in both characters: the wise old lady and the young woman who can still learn something. That is the definition of an auteur film, something that has become a rarity even at international festivals.