Sayuri Yoshinaga is the last star of Japan's postwar studio era to still be a box-office force. Playing a pure-hearted teen in films for Nikkatsu in the 1960s, she attracted a huge, mainly male, following known as "Sayurists."

Now 73 and appearing in her 120th film, "Sakura Guardian in the North," the ageless Yoshinaga shows no sign of slowing down. In this third installment of her "North" trilogy of films set in Hokkaido — the other two are "A Chorus of Angels" (2012) and "Year One in the North" (2005) — she wades into a frigid sea and hauls herself by rope up a long flight of stone steps to a mountaintop shrine. In other words, she's as doughty and disciplined as ever.

But the film is also an illustration of why Yoshinaga, an icon at home, is still little known abroad. Directed by Yojiro Takita, best known overseas for the Oscar-winning "Departures" (2008), this melodrama about the travails of a war widow (Yoshinaga) in postwar Hokkaido strenuously jerks tears and shamelessly exploits core values, particularly motherly self-sacrifice and endurance in the face of suffering.