Dir: Jim Choi | USA | 2014 | 60 minutes
Nov 7 2:00 pm | AGO Jackman Hall
On the cover, Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm appears to be a whimsical documentary about farming peaches in California. It is, however, far from its lighthearted trailer. Winner of the 2015 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival’s “Best Director of a Documentary Film Award”, Jim Choi explores the story behind growing these orange-red, organic stone fruits.
The film follows David “Mas” Masumoto, owner of Masumoto Farms, and his daughter Nikiko, as they embrace a new chapter in their lives. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Nikiko’s decision to return to home forms the premise of the documentary. Just as the peach does not fall far from the tree, Nikiko hopes to carry on the legacy of the Masumoto Farms. But spearheading the family business is no simple task. The film follows Mas as he helps Nikiko transition into her new life. When Nikiko accidentally cuts off a branch of a healthy peach tree, Mas cheekily remarks, “That all right: it’s your future — not mine.” While lighthearted in speech, Mas’s words echo through the film as Nikiko slowly adapts to the soil of her new environment. Despite being both hapa and gay, a misfit in the Central Valley, Nikiko is determined to plant her roots on the Masumoto Farm.
The stone fruit harvest, one of the highlights of the films, observes the last day of the harvest season on Masumoto Farms. As part of their unique adopt-a-tree program, the Masumotos invite their customers to pick their own peaches straight from the orchards. Using this lavish scene as a backdrop, Choi develops the theme of change and transition by placing the bountiful harvest midway through the film — a scene normally found at the end of a story to justify the hardship and long hours spent working the fields.
This narrative choice parallels the end of the season to Mas’s retirement, and effectively splits the film’s focus into two distinct, yet convincingly relatable, messages told through Nikiko and Mas. Filling her father’s shoes, Nikiko’s story of living and learning is one we know all too well: a story of growing up and finding independence. Changing Season makes no attempt to mask the fears and anxiety Nikiko faces. The film does, however, reassure the viewer through Nikiko’s resolve that independence doesn’t mean having the solution to every problem — it simply means having the courage to confront them.
Mas’s retirement and looming health issues serve to flesh out the equally as important, though rarely explored, idea of letting go. Perhaps it’s a taboo in the entertainment world to delve into a topic of losing control, but Changing Season captures it admirably. In the words of Mas as he gives his speech heralding the harvest, “As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize it’s not success that I want to leave behind; rather, it is significance.” Cognizant of his health and Nikiko’s dedication, Mas slowly, but surely, entrusts ownership of the farm to his daughter and the next generation of the Masumotos.
Changing Season: On the Masumoto Farm is a celebration of life’s beauty, both in growing up, and in growing old.