Dearest is a feature that can be described as being genuinely nice, even the atmosphere of the prison where Eiji Shimakura (Ken Takakura) originally works, possessing a climate free from negativity. Despite his wife Yoko (Yuko Tanaka) having recently passed, even this does not deter the pleasantness, Eiji resolving to continue work, until been informed of his wife's wishes: to have her ashes scattered into the ocean, off the coast of Nagasaki, where she was born, a request that was never once mentioned while she were alive. In this sense, Dearest conveys how, to know a person, is to accept surprises brought upon us when we learn secrets we didn't know existed, Eiji using the trip that requires undertaking to fulfill his wife's final endeavors, as a way to complete a promise he made to her when they were together.
Visually, the film expresses how Japan is potentially constructed of two souls: the metropolis reflects the influence of western civilization, while the city's outer-limits and countryside are comprised of establishments and locations that significantly represent the more traditional heritage of the people. The soundtrack helps lure the viewer into the story, however it is the sounds of the environments that really captivate the viewer: the bustling crowds, the retracting tides; the gusting breeze - all of this assists in establishing the setting.
Rather than the romance between Eiji and Yoko beginning when both characters are young, they are middle aged upon committing to a relationship, Yoko having worked as a singer, who occasionally visited the prison in her role as a performer, her occupation being further developed over the course of the feature. Instead of being constructed chronologically, as Eiji travels across the country, he is often reminded of the times he spent with his wife, alongside meeting others who find themselves in situations that Eiji is capable of relating to.
Additional characters include Yuji (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) and Shinichi (Koichi Sato), who tour Japan for long durations, selling sea food; Teruo (Takeshi Kitano), a widower, who has discovered non-stereotypical methods of dealing with his grief; Takuya (Takahiro Miyra), a young man who experiences difficulty in trying to appease his fiancé; and Naoko (Haruka Aysae), who works at a restaurant with her mother (Kimiko Yo), who continues to struggle emotionally with the loss of her husband. The ensuing sub-plots illustrate how different people adapt to loss and change, while advocating the depths of the human heart, as individuals compassionately assist one another, without ulterior motive.
Traditions of honor and respect are well encapsulated, alongside compassion, which beautifully reveal traditional Japanese social behavior, this being especially emphasized by the likable characters. Affection between characters, and the same goes for Eiji and Yoko, is often depicted through action, gesture and facial expression, direct dialogue rarely used to structure this particular component, Mr Takakura and Ms Tanaka being especially brilliant in using these techniques. Despite a sub-plot revealing the pending marriage between two of the characters in the feature, we never actually see the marriage of Eiji and Yoko, nor is there a fulfilled back-story of how these characters fell in love. Although the feature is able to impressively convey aspects of their romantic connection with subtly and charm, this particular segment of the feature appears very interpretative, as though it is expected the audience shall fill in the blanks, and though further developing this story on screen would have caused the film to go well over two hours, I thoroughly believe it would have been worth it.
Moreover, the end, though conclusive in its endeavors to close the plots developed during the narrative, may leave the viewer with a feeling of lacking completion, as though a more definitive end could have been made for Eiji's character. Despite this uncertainty, the revelation he receives pleasantly makes the entirety of the feature worth-while, and though criticisms regarding its slow pace could be emphasized, Dearest is a film that feels rewarding, both entertainingly and morally, with the life lessons it presents.