Melodramas have been a staple of Japanese film for decades, proving over and over the observation that Japanese audiences, more than anything else, love a good cry. I’ve gone to screenings where the women sitting around me take out their handkerchiefs even before the lights go down. The men start blubbing away too, but with nothing to stanch the tears.
Giants of the Golden Age — Ozu, Mizoguchi and Naruse — elevated melodramatic material to art, while winning overseas accolades, but in recent years directors capable of similar alchemy have been few. Some Japanese films with strong melodramatic elements, such as 2008’s Oscar-winning “Okuribito (Departures),” have appeared on the foreign festival circuit and reduced audiences to sobbing wrecks, but most are for the domestic market only.