Wood Job! (Wood Job! Kamusari Naa Naa Nichijo)

Japan (2014) Dir. Shinobu Yaguchi

Fish out of water stories are always good for a laugh but there is something a little disconcerting when the fish is out of water in his own country! Then again it is indicative of the regional divides which appear across many a nation so perhaps it is just as well films like Wood Job! exists to help educate us on how the other half live so to speak.

Based on the novel Kamusari Naa Naa Nichijo by Shion Miura we meet slacker Yuki Hirano (Shota Sometani) who fails his university entrance exams, and is subsequently left behind by all his friends. This also extends to Yuki’s girlfriend Reina (Nana Seino) who is a little too happy to move on to her further education without Yuki. Thinking he can drift along for a year before retaking the exam Yuki looks forward to a lazy life when he sees a brochure with an attractive girl on the cover accompanied by the legend “Come Work With Us”.

This pretty face is enough to encourage Yuki to sign up and soon he is on his way to a remote village in the country where he will undergo a thirty day training programme for forestry work training which will lead to a one year apprenticeship. After the initial culture shock Yuki is ready to give up but when he meets the girl in the poster, Naoki (Masami Nagasawa), he decides to stick it out for the whole year. But can he?

It’s a fairly conventional plot and one can pretty much predict the developments before they occur but that doesn’t stop this from being a gentle and fun little coming-of-age film. Like The Woodsman & The Rain we are treated to a rare look at the bucolic side of Japan and the daily lives of lumberjacks, who are presented less as plaid wearing hulks but more of a rag tag of quirky but proud traditionalist working men. Being a pampered city boy Yuki is the least likely forester you’ll ever see.

Yuki’s city life takes up the first three minutes of this film otherwise the majority of the film is set in the picturesque verdant landscapes of the mountains of Mie Prefecture. Despite a rocky start Yuki is taken under the wing of Yoki Iido (Hideaki Ito), a brash alpha male who takes his work seriously and sees through Yuki’s obvious weakness. While Yoki is kicking his young protégé into shape he is also beholden to the demands of his wife Miki (Yuka) with whom he is trying to have a baby on a strict schedule.

Along with this and other side stories of local domestic silliness we are privy to witness the inner workings and procedures of forestry and lumberjack work. Shinobu Yaguchi has done his homework and made sure that the scenes of the tree cutting and related jobs are as authentic as possible and the cast immerse themselves in the activities to complete the illusion. It may be laborious hard work, as Yuki quickly finds out, but there is a skill and finesse to cutting down trees and tending to the leafy environment which may not be known to most of us and as quaint as it seems, it is taken very seriously.

As fascinating as this is to watch we also learn of the traditions these rural folk adhere to, some of which are related to their day jobs, in the form of the annual festival which is naturally where Yuki is to earn his stripes and the respect of his peers. Japan is a very traditional country thus it shouldn’t be a surprise to see that it is out in the countryside that these traditions are held extremely dear and still adhered to, not in the least due to the lack of corruption of mod cons such as TV, mobile phones and the internet.

Much of the humour is born out of Yuki’s bewilderment of the simplicity of his humble surroundings and the ways of the people, which is painted in fairly broad strokes, taking in childish antics mixed in with good humoured banter. One particular sight gag involving leeches and Yuki’s backside will probably put people off visiting the mountains for life but it makes for a good giggle. What makes the film is the engaging and infectious personalities of the village folk, who appear “typical” without succumbing to lazy caricature.

The outcome of the story isn’t really in question as suggested earlier leaving little in the way of surprises to be found in how it plays out, which is a slight shame but neither Shion Miura or Yagichi seemed intent on delivering anything other than simple and unchallenging entertainment. This isn’t a complaint as the end product is wholly satisfying and well made and rather welcome in the wake of some of the more extreme examples of Asian cinema of late. While the likes of anime legend Hayao Miyazaki choose to send their environmental messages through fantasy concepts this film, sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan, shows that the direct approach is equally as effective.

After being emotionally destroyed by Sion Sono and slaughtered by Takashi Miike it must have been a treat for Shota Sometani to make this film, although he is still subject to all the physical mishaps which occur. He make the jump to comedy extremely well, as does Hideaki Ito, usually found in more action packed and darker roles. Masami Nagasawa is a great foil for Yuki as Naoki, proving to be a quite the spitfire behind her alluring smile. And the kids in the film are a fabulous comic treat too.

Perhaps not an overly ambitious film but Wood Job! succeeds to engage the audience through its gentle charm, simple if familiar storytelling and wonderfully observed characters, all set against the gorgeous backdrop of the well photographed location. Informative and  entertaining – a rare achievement indeed.