The Woodsman & The Rain

 

The Japanese film industry is in a state of instability now, many of the old masters have passed on and the more fashionable names are proving to be inconsistent at best. There a few new names emerging in your Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Sion Sono or Yoshihiro Nakamura’s who have only come to prominence in the UK Market over the past few years but they are few among many. Where once upon a time the country was known for its Yakuza and Samurai-led ballets of bloodshed, a new voice of Japanese cinema has emerged of late through comedic dramas. One of the more successful examples is Shûichi Okita’s The Woodsman and the Rain.

Katsuhiko (Yakusho) is an elderly woodsman who spends his evenings at home coming to blows with his son and his days working the wood trade in his small Japanese village, when he comes into contact with a man who demands he stops working so his film crew can shoot a scene. That chance encounter brings together Katsu and Koichi (Shun Oguri). When they first meet the titular Woodsman believes Koichi is a slacker, little realising the young Koichi is the director but the more time the two spend together the closer they get. Between helping the crew find an ideal location for a river scene to stepping in as a zombie, the two men come of age in very different ways. Katsu falls in love with cinema, helping the young director come to turns with himself and he learns how to deal with his son. The younger half of this friendship comes out of his shell and grows into the director he always wanted to be.

The Woodsman & the Rain is a slight film and outside of the first act there is little conflict, which could easily be interpreted as a negative. It may not be the most cinematic way of composing a narrative, but this is life, everyday life is not a series of melodramatic incidents stringed together by contrivance, its quiet and leisurely. This is where Okita’s film excels. The comedy is light, but of the kind where anybody could approach it and have fun. A principal example of this is the villagers being alien to the demands of movie making. With the biggest laugh coming from Katsu helps pick a good river for a scene, his choices range from a babbling brook where all the actors “should stand in a line” to an expansive river that’s right in front of an extravagant hotel.

The other hand of that drama and comedy contrast is the drama which depicts a certain community spirit that has been lost outside of royal celebrations. Much of the film follows one of two paths, the first sees the village community coming together to achieve a common goal. To see a director who is two minutes away from abandoning his film having the support of a town, making his project a runaway success, you will quickly find yourself with a beaming grim decorating your face. The other angle which adds more substance is the growth that the two leads go through.

Like any comedic drama it is all sold on the performances, and beside Oguri and Yakusho you have a huge ensemble on board. The film breathes with an atmosphere of a crew turning up (in Ena & Nakatsugawa) and turning the camera on the villagers, it’s underplayed to such a degree that all potential artificial is completely negated leaving a real Japanese village and two star actors. Both of which are brilliantly cast, Koji Yakusho is an elder statesman of Japanese film, there is no role that he cannot turn his hand to and in Katsu he steals every scene of the film. While Oguri does play an archetype of Japanese media in the introverted youngster, but he does it in such a way that he still stands out from the crowd. Through his polite utterings and incessant apologies, you come to understand his feelings as a young director.

While the film may prove to be a little cutesy and twee for some, and long for others (it runs for over 2 hours), this is a wonderful film that is accessible for the family. The ability to craft an introduction to something alien is no mean feat and in The Woodman and The Rain, director Shûichi Okita has done just that. He has made a perfectly charming, heart-warming introduction to Japanese cinema for all those who have found their films a tad too daunting or extreme. This is first grade feel good cinema.

 

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