The Artist’s Beginnings

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Shido Nakamura and Emily Mortimer in a scene from “Leonie.”

Set in the early 20th century, “Leonie” is the true life story of Leonie Gilmour, an American editor and journalist, who fell in love with a famous Japanese poet, Yone Noguchi, and gave birth to a son, Isamu Noguchi, the world-renowned sculptor and architect.

Acclaimed director Hisako Matsui (“Yukie,” “Oriume”) found inspiration in Gilmour’s life story seven years ago, when she read Masayo Duus’ “The Life of Isamu Noguchi.” Determined to share the tale of this extraordinary woman with the world, Matsui spent several years working through 14 drafts of the screenplay.

The resulting film, shot on location all across Japan and the U.S., brought together an international ensemble of talented filmmakers, including director of photography Tetsuo Nagata (“La Vie en Rose,” “Blueberry”), actress Emily Mortimer (“Lars and the Real Girl,” “Young Adam”), and actor Shido Nakamura (“Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Red Cliff,” “Like Asura,” “Fearless”).

After graduating from Bryn Mawr, a conservative women’s university in Philadelphia, Gilmour is teaching at a girl’s high school despite her dream of becoming an editor. One day, she meets a charismatic young poet from Japan and begins editing his literary works.

With Gilmour’s help, Noguchi gains recognition for his novels and poems in the U.S. and Britain, while an intense romantic relationship develops between the two. However, he retreats to Japan when she reveals that she is pregnant with his child.

Gilmour journeys to California to be with her willful mother, Albiana, and gives birth to Isamu. Eventually, their peaceful life together is tainted by racial discrimination against Isamu influenced by the Russo-Japanese War, and against her mother’s wishes, Gilmour crosses the Pacific Ocean to improve her son’s life.

In Japan, Noguchi greets Gilmour and his child at the Yokohama port, and soon reveals that he has married a Japanese woman. Refusing to submit to a cultural tradition that would have her share a husband with someone else, Gilmour leaves Noguchi and faces absolute loneliness in a strange country.

She perseveres, and supports herself and her son by teaching English, while forming strong friendships with a generous group of Japanese people and nurturing Isamu’s budding interest in the arts. She eventually bears a second child — a daughter, Ailes. While she spoke of Ailes’ father with great fondness, Leonie never revealed his identity to anyone — not even to her daughter.

Soon, Japan enters into war again. Fearing that her son will be drafted by the Japanese army, Gilmour sends him to the U.S. for schooling. After years apart, mother and son reunite in New York, where she is shocked to discover that Isamu has abandoned his artistic ambitions for medical school. She demands that Isamu pursue the life of an artist, which she is certain is his true passion. This support and determination paved the way for the artist’s long and celebrated career.

The movie opens Friday, April 12, at Lammle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 478-3836 or visit www.laemmle.com/viewtheatre.php?thid=4.

On the Web (in Japanese): www.leoniethemovie.com/

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