Rice Ball

By Yusuke Oishi | Drama
A father and son return from the mother's funeral. The rice balls aren't big and round.

A wife and mother has passed away, and after her funeral, the son and father of the family return to the home, carrying her ashes. Facing the now empty house, the pair need comfort, so the dad attempts to make the simple Japanese snack, onigiri -- rice formed into a round shape that makes it easy to eat.

But the father's rice balls are all wrong: they're too big and the rice isn't cooked and seasoned properly, the way that mom did it. As they debate over what went wrong, their grief and pain over the absence of their beloved family matriarch also begin to take shape as they reckon with their loss.

Written and directed by Yusuke Oishi, who also plays the role of the son, this short drama is both emotionally intense and yet gentle, making for a heartfelt, honest and deep exploration of loss, death and grief. Its visuals and storytelling are unadorned in their ordinariness, yet they're chosen and crafted with such quiet care that they convey the luminous melancholy of everyday life. In such a seemingly modest, domestic setting, death is a profound event that resonates in even the smallest corners of a home and family.

The film is undeniably deliberate and meditative in its tenor and execution, reflecting the emotional state of two men who are dazed and shell-shocked after the funeral of the wife and mother of their family. Accordingly, their dialogue is spare yet concrete, focused on the material details of the activity in front of them.

Both Oishi and actor Hideo Kurihara play son and father with both connection and distance, conveying their deep familiarity and comfort with one another, but also a difficulty in communicating their deepest emotions. Instead, they stick to talking about the failure of dad's rice balls. But it is a testament to the richness and honesty of the writing and performances that even this simple conversation cannot avoid the grief that has seeped into this quiet world. As both realize that their favorite food will never be made in the same way again, they both finally face the enormity of their loss.

Minimal in execution but rich in feeling, "Rice Ball" ends with as gentle outpouring of grief that both father and son have tried to stymie. But in allowing the expression of their pain, they also help one another through the shadows of their suffering. But the story's deepest emotional wisdom seems to come from its understanding of how our lost loved ones remain with us after they pass and how we connect to them through the simple act of nourishing one another. When they are gone, we both celebrate their memory and assuage their absence through the ordinary yet important rituals that make up a home and a family.

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