Of all the wonderful foreign "family films" that have never been distributed in the West, Ohikkoshi is the film whose neglect is most mystifying to me. It is almost certainly the best film ever made (to date) on the impact of divorce on a child. It manages to be both honest and yet still (ultimately) hopeful It is beautifully filmed -- and its star, twelve year-old Tomoko Tabata, gives one of the best performances by a child ever captured on film. In addition, it may be the only live-action film that seems to have both been inspired by the work of Ghibli Studios (particularly Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday) and provided a source of inspiration in return (to Miyazaki's Spirited Away).
Renko's parents both seem to be decent enough people and both love her well enough -- but they just can't stand living together any longer. At first, Renko seems (relatively) unflustered by her father's move to an apartment in another part of town. But she begins getting into trouble at school, and also starts dreaming up schemes to reunite her parents. The culmination of her efforts is a visit to Lake Biwa for a fire festival, an event she attended when she was younger (before her family life became troubled by parental discord). Initially a bit amused by her daughter's somewhat underhanded shenanigans, Renko's mother (former pop music star Junko Sakurada) gets extremely upset when she discovers her daughter has invited her father (Kiichi Nakai) as well. After being reassured by her father that he still loves her, she sets off for a solo odyssey. Along the way, she is temporarily "adopted" by an elderly couple she meets by chance. After a frantic search, her mother catches sight of her at nightfall -- only to be told "I'll see you tomorow morning" as Renko slips away again (after promising her protectors that she'd see them again next year). She spends the night at the fire festival, in a bamboo forest on a hill overlooking the festival site (where she prays to the moon), and then on the shore of Lake Biwa -- where she falls asleep and dreams. In the morning, as Renko warms herself over a little fire she made, she is greeted by her mother. Having finally confronted the reality of her situation, Renko is ready to return to school -- where she must make a speech about her family (which she had previously dreaded) and get ready for the passing from elementary school to middle school.
"Ohikkoshi" as used in the film's title literally means "moving" as in "moving from one place to another". Metaphorically, it stands for the heroine's from one situation (and state of mind) to another. As noted above. As with Miyazaki in Spirited Away (another film that centers around "moving"), the young heroine's process of growth and transformation is totally entwined with Shinto motifs and concepts. If this film were ever to appear on DVD in the West, a comprehensive primer on Shintoism and Shinto rites would probably enrich viewers' experience considerably.
Alas, at present, the film is only available as a barebones, unsubbed Japanese DVD of decent (but not superlative) quality. To complicate matters more, the film makes considerable use of Kansai dialects, so even students of Japanese might find some of the dialog rough going. On the other hand, most of the last 45 minutes of the film (which covers Renko's solo quest) are virtually wordless. I recently showed the film to a friend who doesn't understand Japanese, and he was nonetheless left in awe by it. Unfortunately, its creator Shinji Sômai died in 2001 at much too young an age (early 50s), so the film must depend on well-wishers to promote it (and Sômai's other important, but now-neglected films -- such as Typhoon Club). Surely, someday, some enterprising Western DVD company will belatedly discover this remarkable (and indispensable) film and make it available.