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The Woodsman and the Rain – Review

by Dane Benko

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Rookie movie director Koichi and his crew travel to the mountain village of Yamamura to film his next movie. The villagers are eventually enlisted to help film the movie and, in particular, 60-year-old lumberjack Katsuhiko helps against his will.

The English translation of the film’s title refers to the two forces of nature that affect the production of a zombie movie named Utopia being shot in an unnamed rural area of Japan: rain, and a woodsman named Katsuhiko Kishi who inevitably gets deeply involved in the production when he embarks on a sweet friendship with the movie’s young director, Koichi Tinabe. Kishi ultimately becomes the natural force that moves the production toward its completion, including a subtle but enthusiastic ability to find the right place, time, and people, culminating in an almost supernatural knowledge of the changes of the weather.

Interestingly enough, there are several parallels between the 25-year-old director and Mr. Kishi’s own son, one of them being the name Koichi. Though no character acknowledges these similarities, it is Mr. Kishi’s gradual growing warmth and empathy for Mr. Tinabe that allows him to overcome some of his traditional comforts and enjoy his life on his own terms. His character arc is defined as much by how he treats his son as his work and eating habits. Visually, The Woodsman and the Rain moves from slower compositions of his everyday minutia to wider compositions containing ever more glorious pictures of the countryside and the people who get involved in the film-within-a-film production. Such is the process of watching the movie. Initially the static and formal compositions have us watch the passionless interactions of the characters from a distance until they increasingly warm to each other, at which point the The Woodsman and the Rain becomes a lovingly rendered comedy.

One interesting aspect of the meta element of the movie is how the movie we are watching elegantly composes both the action that is being shot and the people who are shooting. Most movies that show film production purposefully make the off-frame set always look like a chaotic mess, which to be fair they typically do look like in real life. The Woodsman and the Rain makes the set itself as neatly composed as Katsuhiko’s bento box dinner, without losing the business and movement. One shot in particular tracks down an indoor court filled with women warrior extras; the Utopia production camera tracks on the other side of the court at the same speed. The shot we see is thus a mirror of what the production would see. Later on, Katsuhiko and Koichi are blocking out a shot at an onsai, and Koichi informs Katsuhiko that he needs to come in from the other side. “But this movement is more natural,” Katsuhiko explains. “Right but we’re shooting from—“ Koichi begins before Katsuhiko interjects, “Oh, the camera!” And from then the blocking is mirrored.

Hence the production becomes in some sense Katsuhiko looking at his life from the other side; significant since it’s called ‘Utopia.’ His involvement brings Koichi to the other side as well. For most of the first act, neither Katsuhiko nor we the audience are even aware that Koichi is the director. He looks miserable and lazy to Katsuhiko, and all the talk goes through the show’s producer. But once Katsuhiko gets involved, Koichi gains more control of his own vision and starts to enjoy himself, and the two collaborators make the movie a wonderful experience for everyone involved as the countryside gets increasingly zombified. After all, they already live inside a movie – locations inside the movie are called things like Kurosawa Inn and Mizoguchi Stream. And for what it’s worth, the movie kind of has its cake and eats it too considering the ridiculous zombie movie at its core gets to play out some of its more awesomely kitsch scenes but the audience gets to enjoy the fun and personal triumph of it from the filmmaking perspective without having to rely on the b-movie.

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Author: Dane Benko

Dane is an independent filmmaker and freelancer in Albuquerque, NM. Japanese cinema is a particular fascination of his.

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