Director Shuichi Okita | Japan 2011 | 127:00 | Canadian Premiere
Saturday Nov 17, 4:00 PM | Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts
Between the director of a zombie film and a lumberjack, the only commonality they share is the threat of rain to their work. Shûichi Okita‘s third directorial feature, The Woodsman and the Rain, centers on the theme of difference in terms of cultural, economic, and even linguistic factors. Although unassuming at first, the two-hour film moves beyond simple misunderstandings, and takes a humanistic approach to its vastly divergent characters.
The film follows Katsu, a quiet lumberjack living and working in a small mountainous village. He lives a life of solitude and adheres to a formulaic routine that revolves around eating and working. His wife passed away two years ago, and as a result Katsu lives alone with his son who refuses to work. His mundane life is swiftly interrupted by the arrival of a film crew who almost immediately request his assistance. Katsu, at first reluctant, scopes out their shooting location and even puts on zombie makeup to fill-in for missing extras. His hostility towards the crew and specifically Koichi, the sheepish director, is transformed when he watches a scene from the previous day’s shoot.
What transpires within Katsu is a growing love affair with the process of working in the film industry. Fed up with his deadbeat son, and saddened by the upcoming anniversary of his wife’s death, Katsu finds pleasure in the creative process alongside Koichi. Koichi too, evolves throughout the film. At first he is depicted as a useless intern who barely responds to simple questions. Katsu’s interest in the movie prompts Koichi to reveal he wrote the script, and he too becomes reinvigorated with the help of Katsu’s guidance.
The performances of the two protagonists are spectacular, and their chemistry on-screen is undeniable. Katsu, played by Kôji Yakusho (13 Assassins), navigates beautifully from the role of a stone-face lumberjack, to a more impassioned and cheerful fan boy of sorts. Contrastingly, Koichi, played by Shun Oguri, is exceedingly shy and wimpish when interacting with other people. He also suffers from what appears to be an obsessive-compulsive disorder that disallows him to be in charge of any situation. Katsu and Koichi’s differences are highlighted throughout the film effectively, and this is usually where the humor arises. One example is during a rehearsal scene; Katsu keeps pronouncing “brother” in a rural dialect, and Koichi has to train him to do it repeatedly while they are both dressed in towels at a hot spring.
A thematic motif of difference is evident, but especially so with the depiction of the countryside in contrast to Tokyo. The city, which is never shown, is regarded as a space the “film people” occupy. It as well becomes a place of contention for Katsu when his son declares he is moving to Tokyo in hopes of finding work there. The city then becomes a space that is unreachable and strange in its distance. The rural space however, occupies a vastly different community—one that centers on closeness. The townsfolk know everything about everyone else’s business, and are willing to come through for each other. As well, they constitute a hilarious group of zombies when Katsu asks them to help fill-in.
The reflexive nature of a film about the filmic process is successful through both its aesthetic and thematic approaches. The cinematography by Yuta Tsukinaga gorgeously captures the mountainous landscape of rural Japan, emphasizing its importance. Contemplation of nature is seen through dialogue but also through Tsukinaga’s camera work; Katsu’s career in forestry is a result of his passion for trees, and this is expressed through the shots. Whilst the pacing is arguably slow, Okita is deliberate in his narrative flow and ultimately the film will take you on a journey if you allow it to. Although The Woodsman and the Rain is categorized as a comedy, it is not a laugh out loud romp in the woods, but it does have laugh out loud moments. At its essence, the film is a quiet, sweet, and emotive rendering that will aim to make you fall in love with movies as much as Katsu does.
Lindsay Blair is a lover of gritty cinema and all things gross. Lady behind Cinefemale.com, reviewer at @HorrorNewsNet, clerk at @QueenVideo, and current slave to academia. Lindsay is based in Toronto, ON.