Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Woodsman and the Rain Review

Released in Japan back in 2011, The Woodsman and the Rain took the Special Jury Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival, and was well-received by the critics. However Japanese drama isn’t a genre that has garnered the same reaction from Western audiences as the likes of Battle Royale or Spirited Away. While Yasujiro Ozu’s and Akira Kurosawa’s work during the 1950/60s have become classics in International Cinema, the modern additions to the genre have been relatively slim. The likes of Hirokazu Koreeda and the late Shohei Imamura have shown the nation’s potential to produce sophisticated and heartfelt cinema. However whether it’s the inability to balance the right emotional tones with the right drama, or the genuine difficulty the genre presents, Japan’s modern attempts haven’t gained the recognition they deserve. 

Directed and co-written by Shuichi Okita, the film follows Katsuhiko (Koji Yakusho), a lumberjack who has recently lost his wife and fathers a unenthusiastic and distant son. Lonely roaming around the woods, he is soon embroiled in Koichi’s (Sun Oguri), an unsettled young filmmaker, low-budget apocalyptic/ zombie film set in the local area. Over the course of the filming schedule, the two form an unlikely friendship that gradually acts as a “remedy” to their troubled lives. The film’s drama is a simplistic affair that never strays too far away from the tropes of the genre. The beautiful, rural landscapes and the close-knit communities create a alluring backdrop that suits the rather tranquil nature of the characters and the film’s atmosphere. Meanwhile the zombie B-Movie element not only serves as the source of the film’s comedy but adds a level of charm that slowly unravels the film’s characters. 

Again, as I discussed in my review of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Woodsman offers a commentary on Japan’s divided sense of principles and ideologies between its youth, traditional and “mature” groups. Similarly Woodsman paints a picture on Japan’s rural vs urban discussion that is highlighted by the fictional filmmaker’s snobbery and disassociation with anything outside the city landscapes that have come to symbolise Japan’s modernity. It’s definitely an interesting element that, in itself, offers a strong character study for the film to really build on. However the typical conventions of the “feel-good” drama start to seep into the final act.  While the bubbling sentimentally doesn’t hurt the film, it’s an annoyance that prevails into the “whimsical/ magical” ending.

Koji Yakusho offers his usual sterling performance that manages to convey both the tragedy that his character clings onto, and the childhood intrigue which returns through his involvement in the filming process and the friendship with Koichi. Sun Oguri himself gives a minimalist portrayal of an anxious and rather clueless young director that steadily gains his confidence. It’s a solid performance, but one that doesn’t have the narrative dimensions and written depth to particularly stand out. Meanwhile the rest of the cast do relatively well in their rather painfully insignificant roles. It’s clear that the film is focused on its two leads, and for the most part there is strong effort to create a chemistry that is charming and natural. 

Overall The Woodsman and the Rain offers a feel-good drama that has plenty of appeal and a clever sense of humour that remains subtle and fitting in its approach. Shuichi Okita is a rising talent that seems to clearly understand the genre in a sophistication manner, and while Woodsman isn’t a “tour-de-force” its a notable and enjoyable release that will most likely leave you with a smile. 


No comments:

Post a Comment