For many years there’s has been a glut of gaijin in Japan films, from Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” to Doris Dorrie’s “Enlightenment Guaranteed”. In films after film Japan has served as an exotic place of wonder, culture clash and confusion where foreign travelers discover more about themselves than they do about the country they’re visiting. Don’t get me wrong, I like these two films a lot, but so many of this specific type have been made that it’s had me wishing for something more. It’s for this reason that Kamal Tabrizi’s 2003 film “The Wind Carpet” came as such a pleasant surprise. Not only does it take the stranger in a strange land formula and reverse it by having Japanese travelers contend with a foreign culture, but it does so in a very charming and touching way.
The Nagai family shares one dream: to have their own custom woven Persian carpet to contribute to a festival taking place in their hometown in Takayama. Mother Kinue (Youki Kudoh) has spent hours drafting the pattern of the carpet and her husband Makoto (Takaaki Enoki) has used his business contacts in Iran to place an order with a master weaver. Meanwhile, their 11-year-old daughter Sakura (Miyu Yagyu) spends her time folding 100 paper cranes to ensure good luck for this special project, that and for another reason. Kinue is battling a serious illness, so Sakura hopes that her origami cranes will serve a dual purpose and aid her mother’s return to health. Life doesn’t always work out the way we wish it will though and during a shopping trip Kinue is hit by a car and killed. How can the family recover from such a tragedy? Makoto and Sakura know there is only one way to properly honour their deceased wife/ mother: to go to Iran to pick up the carpet and fulfill Kinue’s dream.
Upon their arrival the father and daughter must navigate a world that’s as culturally distant as the thousands of kilometers that separate Japan and Iran . Makoto’s business contact and old friend Acbal (Reza Kianian) is boisterous and emotional and his beautiful wife greets little Sakura with a big hug and kiss on the cheek, something that would never happen between strangers in Japan, but the real cultural difference comes when Acbal takes Makoto to pick up his carpet. The weaver admits that he did receive the order and payment, but that he’d simply forgotten to start work on the carpet. “You have this one problem, but I have thousands,” he tells the shocked Makoto and promises that he’ll begin work on the carpet as soon as possible and that it will be completed in about 3 months.
I remember asking my Japanese language tutor what the biggest shock he had when he first arrived in Canada . He told me about riding the bus in Toronto and having the driver pull over and go into a coffee shop to get something to eat leaving the passengers to wait until he returned. Pit stops like this happen fairly regularly, so I was confused why this would be so shocking. “I don’t think you appreciate time,” was his answer, explaining that in Japan this would never be done because it would make everyone late. I was reminded of this as I watched Makoto reel at the thought of having to return to home without the carpet and try and explain this substantial delay to the festival organizer (a cameo by veteran actor Rentaro Mikuni). It would be unthinkable, but if there is one message at the heart of “The Wind Carpet” it is that there is no obstacle that can’t be overcome. A plan is hatched to weave the carpet in an astounding 20 days during which time each culture learns a bit from the other and the meeting between Iran and Japan is symbolized by the puppy love experienced between Sakura and Acbal’s young coach driver Roozbeh.
“The Wind Carpet”, co-produced by star Youki Kudoh, could have been an overly saccharine affair, but screenwriters Masako Imai and Mohammed Soleymani treat the story of loss and learning with great restraint, so that I never felt as if I was being manipulated; and director Tabrizi and his cinematographer Hassan Pooya fill the screen with sumptuous imagery. This film although hard to find comes highly recommended.