Screened at the 2012 Terracotta Far East Film Festival.
“The Woodsman and the Rain” is a warm hearted comedy with an appealingly offbeat premise, following the relationship between a young director and a gruff lumberjack during the shooting of a zombie film in picturesque rural Japan. The film was directed by Shuichi Okita, last responsible for the popular cooking comedy “The Chef of South Polar”, and interestingly enough features a script by Fumiyo Moriya, who recently wrote the amazing Kappa sex pinku outing “Underwater Love”. Starring acclaimed veteran actor Koji Yakusho (“The Eel”, “13 Assassins”) and former television heartthrob Shun Oguri (“Boys over Flowers”) in the two lead roles, the film has been enjoying a successful run, winning the Special Jury Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
The film begins with Koji Yakusho as Katsu, a 60 year-old lumberjack living in the peaceful mountain village of Yamamura, who is interrupted one day while cutting down a tree by the production assistant of a zombie film, asking him to keep things quiet while they are shooting nearby. Although he knows nothing about films or film making, Katsu gradually finds himself getting more and more involved, helping to organise locations and even playing a zombie extra. In the process, he forms a bond with the awkward, insecure 25 year old director Koichi (Shun Oguri), and their friendship gives them both a new lease of life.
“The Woodsman and the Rain” sees Shuichi Okita successfully mixing the quirky idiosyncrasy of recent Japanese indie comedies with something a little more heart warming and down to earth, and in the process managing to come up with the best of both worlds. The film is funny in an offbeat fashion, with a marvellously dry and laidback wit that combines well with a few touches of near surrealism. Without ever resorting to anything too obvious, the film has a number of very amusing comic set pieces, as the villagers all pile in and get involved in the making of the film, shooting some wacky pitched battle scenes and going about their daily business with zombie makeup on. At the same time, the laughs are never allowed to venture too far into zaniness, and the film wins points for avoiding the kind of obvious comedy oddball supporting cast who might have detracted from its sense of everyday realism.
Where Shuichi Okita really impresses is in the way he manages to mix the humour with some genuinely well-crafted story telling, and the film is as engagingly humanistic as it is funny. The relationship between Katsu and Koichi is obviously at the centre of the film, and it’s an effective and moving one, the two men hesitantly forming a surrogate father-son dynamic that believably helps them both. Okita does a superb job of bringing the two together without too much fuss or melodrama, and thanks to fine performances from both Koji Yakusho and Shun Oguri the film makes for richly emotional viewing, the two showing an endearingly shy embracing of happiness and newfound confidence. Though the film steers clear of anything too dramatic, its portrayal of generations coming together despite differences in both age and culture is in its own way very powerful, and this also helps to distract from the fact that the story itself is fairly predictable.
This also allows it to build nicely as a quietly impassioned ode to the joy of film, depicting cinema as something with the power to bring communities together, and which can help open peoples’ eyes to the beauty and marvels of life. As well as making the most of the gorgeous rural scenery and woods, Okita shows an exquisite eye for detail throughout, and the film is fantastically observational, finding magic and warmth even in low budget zombie nonsense, with a sense of wonder that at times gives it the feel almost of a live action, more adult Ghibli film. Although rather long, with a running time of over two hours, and with an anecdotal plot that meanders at will, the film almost drifts by in an extremely pleasant manner, its charming characters and relationships more than holding the interest.
“The Woodsman and the Rain” really is quite a delightful film, and is both one of the funniest and moving, not to mention most likeable Japanese comedies of the last couple of years. Rich in detail and lovingly cinematic, it’s a film guaranteed to put a smile on the viewer’s face, and will hopefully find a wider audience around the world and more admirers for the talented Shuichi Okita.
XXX (director) / Shûichi Okita (novel), Fumio Moriya, Shûichi Okita (screenplay)
CAST: Kôji Yakusho … Katsuhiko
Shun Oguri … Koichi