Taking a more gentle approach to comedy, Japanese production The Woodsman and the Rain shows just how much better a slow building character piece can be when compared to the gross out comedies that are regularly seen and seldom enjoyed.
When a film crew arrives at his rural mountain village, lumberjack Katsu (Kôji Yakusho)’s solitary world is turned upside down as he is roped in to help the crew around the area using his immense local knowledge. As production gets underway, an unlikely friendship forms between the recently bereaved woodsman and the young, shy director, Koichi (Shun Oguri).
This traditional tale of a meeting of generations, young and old, and the bond that slowly joins the two is handled with care and warmth in this beautifully shot and meaningful comedy. At first, Katsu’s begrudging attitude towards those responsible for the interruption of his sedate and ordered life results in both humour and the development of his character, as we learn of his wife’s passing and the poor relationship with his son. Traditional values are clearly important to Katsu, with his insistence that the young should help those who are older, and it is this belief that creates the first interactions with Koichi, the 25 year old, mild-mannered director of the film about “zombies swarming and doing stuff”. These first meetings slowly introduce the two, and as their relationship builds, the benefits of such a friendship are revealed. Whilst these first scenes are bordering on sluggish, it is certainly worth sticking with them for the eventual rewards.
The true delight of The Woodsman and the Rain is its preoccupation with a simple love of film itself. Before Koichi and his crew arrive, Katsu is shut down to most things outside of his daily routine, with very little knowledge of anything else. However, as his involvement in Koichi’s film grows, his excitement, fascination and amazement with the creative process is infectious, to both Koichi, who seems disillusioned by his work, but also to the audience.
It is these two characters on which the film is forged, a fact that is ensured by the fine performances of the two leads. Veteran actor Kôji Yakusho plays Katsu in an understated, almost simplistic, manner that is in fact perfect for the character. The comic sensibilities he brings to such a pinned down role are surprisingly effective, making for an extremely amusing central performance. Similarly, Shun Oguri’s Koichi is well formed as a shy and insecure screen presence. Occasionally, his shuffling and mumbling nature could test anyone’s patience, but as his character grows, so does Oguri’s performance, resulting in a disarmingly warm character.
Shuichi Okita’s crisp and clean direction fills the screen with a low-key but beautiful atmosphere within which the narrative plays out. So often are international audiences confronted with the vast cityscapes and hectic urban living of Japan and so to see natural beauty and calming environments is a welcome change, and one that suits the film down to the core.
With a light-hearted warmth, enjoyable characters and hilarious moments peppered throughout, The Woodsman and the Rain is a genuine and truly enjoyable film. Yakusho and Oguri route the film in an engaging naturalism which one cannot help but enjoy and are truly a pleasure to watch. Whilst the story hardly defies convention, it is handled adeptly to great effect. The instants of laughter never override the narrative, and are instead placed well within it to cleanly keep the film moving forward with joy and humour. It may be slow going at first, but this soon turns into a glowing example of a true feel-good picture.