The Woodsman And The Rain (Kitsutsuki to ame)
Japan (2012) Dir. Shûichi Okita
In the peaceful mountain village of Yamamura, 60 year-old lumberjack Katsuhiko Kishi (Koji Yakusho) and his colleagues have their work disrupted when a film crew arrives to shoot a zombie movie nearby. When the rain comes and interrupts the shoot, Katsuhiko ends up integrating with the crew, especially the film’s timid and easily bullied rookie director Koichi Tanabe (Shun Oguri). After the rain stops Katsuhiko is unwittingly drafted in as a zombie extra and as a result forms an unusual friendship with Koichi. When other problems begin to arise, thanks to Katsuhiko all the villages are getting a piece of the movie action.
This gentle Japanese comedy drama is based on director Shûichi Okita’s own novel and offers a serene but wry look not just at the film making business but at personal growth with the support of an unlikely source. This is not limited to Koichi whose confidence increases as Katsuhiko’s resourcefulness, knowledge of the local area and uncanny ability to read the weather helps move the film’s production forward; Katsuhiko experiences a new lease on life which sees hi grumpy old attitudes subdue in time for the second anniversary of his wife’s death, as well as helping him mend bridges with his estranged son also named Koichi (Kengo Kora).
Moving at a languid, almost soporific pace for the most part, Okita’s story may appear to be deeply buried under the lingering shots of the Gifu prefecture’s rural splendours and quotidian happenings but, with some cunning, it creeps up on the viewer and one is involved in the journey of the cast before they realise it. As a result the mutual growth of the two leads is exponential but perceptible, largely in Katsuhiko. His relationship with son Koichi is fraught to say the least, often resulting in terse but upsetting bouts of violence, largely stemming from Katsuhiko being a proud traditional working man, and Koichi having other, more modern aspirations. Gradually Katsuhiko’s time on the film set and his unravelling of director Koichi’s hang-ups mellows the old man.
As for the film maker, it’s hard to imagine why such an easily dominated person is helming a big project like this, with his older and more experienced crew bossing him around and calling the shots instead. His shyness and inability to speak up for himself hinders both himself and the production but he has a prize mentor in Katsuhiko, who, to his own eventual shame, shows more fatherly concern for this Koichi than he does his own Koichi, while saving the film shoot in the process.
Quite understandably it is the scenes involving the film shoot that provides the humour, born largely out of the urban vs rural dichotomy of all involved. It starts with Katsuhiko making an uncomfortable zombie but he improves by practising his moves in the onsen (hot spring bath) where he encounters Koichi and the bond begins. Soon Katsuhiko is playing a larger part in the film’s production and when trouble arises, such as a child cast member running away from the set or the team of female extras fail to show, he has the knack of being able to recruit the locals to join in. One amusing sight gag sees the zombie extras forgetting to remove their ghoulish make-up and carrying about their business frightening visitors in the process!
Clocking in at over two hours the meandering pace might be off putting for some viewers; the opening two minutes are devoted to showing Katsuhiko sawing a tree down. Not exactly riveting but oddly watchable nonetheless. This is followed by a gorgeously framed shot of our lumberjack high up in a tree while in the distance we see the film crew going about their business. Elsewhere in the final act as the crew are tidying up against a backdrop of a late afternoon shoreline is similarly exquisite and evocative to view. This Blu-ray release from Third Window Films does wonders for showing off the lush cinematography and the glorious vistas of the Japanese countryside.
For UK audiences, the two leads will be most familiar from recent roles under the aegis of the legendary Takashi Miike – Koji Yakusho would be known from 13 Assassins while Shun Oguri can be seen in the two Crows Zero films. As a result of stepping out from such testosterone defined roles, they are barely recognisable here but this is a testament to their acting abilities and devotion to their roles in this film.
Yakusho has that requisite world weary look suited to a man whose life is ingrained in the rural lifestyle, yet a softer inner presence is detectable and shines through in his early dead pan reactions to the film crew. His steady changes are charted via Yakusho’s nuanced performance; the same can be said of Oguri, who sheds his previous tough guy image and pin-up status to play an emotionally fragile emo-wimp. Koichi’s journey is the more prominent of the two and Oguri incorporates exudes a subtle physical indication of this as he takes his character from a hunched up mouse to a roaring lion standing tall.
A lilting and understated tale of finding one’s inner hero and the power of community spirit, The Woodsman And The Rain is a slow building but ultimately worthy and rewarding, feel good tale with an Asian twist for those with patience.