Saturday, May 5, 2012

NIPPON CONNECTION ’12 REVIEW: The Woodsman and the Rain

キツツキと雨 (Kitsutsuki to ame)

Released: 2011

Director: Shûichi Okita

Kôji Yakusho
Shun Oguri
Kengo Kora
Asami Usuda
Kanji Furutachi

Running time: 129 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

We first see the woodsman hard at work felling a tree. In fact, we hear him first, his chainsaw buzzing away in an otherwise peaceful, sun-lit forest. However, he is eventually interrupted by a bespectacled man who emerges from the wilderness and, after nearly getting crushed by a falling tree, timidly asks him to stop working. He explains that a film crew is shooting nearby, and they need quiet for the scene. The woodsman gruffly complies. Little does he know that this will in fact be the first occasion of many in which the film crew will ask for his assistance, the next one involving tracking down the perfect river for a scene.

Played by Kôji Yakusho, the woodsman, Katsu, lives a quiet and simple life in the mountain town of Yamamura. The two-year anniversary of his wife’s death is nearing, and he lives alone with his teenage son (Kengo Kora), whose laziness and difficulties in finding a new job have caused some tension to arise between them. Katsu’s steady routine of neatly preparing meals for himself, interacting with his three work buddies and cutting down and moving timber is gradually overturned by the arrival of the film crew. The location scout for the river, wherein Katsu’s sincere attempts to find the crew a “pretty” spot are initially rejected for being too impractical for the shoot’s requirements, eventually leads to another, totally unexpected request: for Katsu to don a wig and ghoulish makeup and play a menacing zombie for the movie! Afterwards, he is invited to see the dailies with the rest of the crew, which really sparks his curiosity and begins to turn his impatience with the demanding moviemakers into genuine excitement.

As he first begins to help the film crew, Katsu notices – and actually berates – a young man with an untidy mop of hair and a sweatshirt who seems all but paralyzed by shyness, hindering any possibility of being useful to the rest of the team. He turns out to be Koichi Tanabe (Shun Oguri), the terribly inexperienced writer and director of the zombie film, which is entitled “Utopia.” He unsuccessfully attempts to flee from his duties at a train station and is forced to return to the set the next day, where he is daunted by the many questions and demands thrown at him by his actors and technicians. Yet Katsu compulsively returns to the film set and proves to be a source of comfort and reassurance for the flustered director. One of the nicest scenes between the two very different men is a lunchtime conversation in which Katsu points out two pine trees – one twenty-five years old, one sixty, matching Koichi and Katsu’s respective ages – and says that it takes one hundred years for a pine to fully mature, suggesting that they naturally both still have some growing up to do.

“The Woodsman and the Rain” mainly chronicles Koichi’s steady acceptance of his role as director while Katsu all but pounces on new ways of helping out the production. He soon starts getting the whole town involved, recruiting its inhabitants to play pale-skinned zombies and members of an all-female, bamboo spear-wielding army. The infectious joy and enthusiasm the townsfolk give off as they devote themselves to the shoot highlight filmmaking as a truly collaborative event. As in François Truffaut’s classic tribute to the craft, “Day for Night,” filmmaking helps bring people together in a spirit of fun and productivity. Notably, there are two occasions when Katsu demonstrates his talent for predicting the weather: first near the beginning, when a rainstorm halts the logging crew’s efforts, then later on when another torrential downpour halt the filming of a crucial sequence. Such scenes, indicating the woodsman’s instinctive bond with the rain (hence the film’s title), are perhaps meant to show how the duties of a lumberjack aren’t that different from those of a filmmaker: both involve hard work and dedication, and are ultimately at the mercy of such larger forces as nature and circumstance.

Through the warm bond that forms between Katsu and Koichi, “The Woodsman and the Rain” illustrates the universal process of discovering and seizing our true callings in life. This can involve summoning hidden reserves of courage and confidence, as Koichi hesitatingly experiences, or learning how to manage pre-existing commitments to family, as both Katsu and his son discover. But such worries can become so small and insignificant compared to the spiritual nourishment offered by clear sensations of purpose and passion – whether they come from cutting down trees or making the next great Japanese zombie movie.


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