Review: The Woodsman and the Rain / Cert: 12 / Director: Shuichi Okita / Screenplay: Shuichi Okita, Fumio Moriya / Starring: Koji Yakusho, Shun Oguri, Tsutomu Yamazaki / Release Date: January 28th
If Ken Loach were ever to abandon the dear old UK for the tranquil mountaintops of Japan, this is probably the kind of film that would result. It's the tale of Katsu (Yakusho), a 60 year-old lumberjack, a lonely figure roaming the woods in a beige boiler suit, hard hat and ear protectors. Recently widowed, he's grumpy and distant with his son, colleagues and fellow mountain villagers. You'd think nothing could impinge on his splendid isolation. But then a film crew roll up intent on making a low-budget zombie movie, and guess who they turn to for help.
In short order, the taciturn woodsman finds himself roped into scouting for locations, then having a go at being a zombie extra – all against his better judgement. Before long, though, he catches the filmmaking bug, and also strikes up an unlikely friendship with Koichi (Ogun), the movie's tyro director, a shaggy-haired, 25 year-old introvert who is crippled by the suspicion that he's the least competent person on set.
Soon, following Katsu's lead, more villagers get in on the action. What ensues is a gentle comedy of colliding cultures in the heartwarming vein of Local Hero, only with best boys and focus pullers replacing Texan oilmen. Director/co-writer Shuichi Okita is quickly gaining a rep as one of Japan's rising talents, and his approach is low-key but accessibly brisk. His stock-in-trade is a kind of deadpan visual humour, slow-burning gags played against a static lens. Allied to this is a relaxed (very Loach-like) naturalism. He makes, for instance, no attempt to prettify or sentimentalize the rural setting. The village is a place of hard graft, where things (houses, trucks, people) tend to be functional and plain. The mountains are simply there. But for Western viewers who don't think of Japan as having a countryside, it's a backdrop of wonderful charm and novelty.
As the shoe-gazing Koichi, Ogun shows he's more than just the pouting pretty boy of the Crows Zero films, and there are a number of well-played ensemble scenes (including a very funny sequence where a veteran actor is brought in for a day's shooting, only to have his rousing cameo hampered by an excruciating case of piles). But it's Yakusho (of 13 Assassins fame) who roots The Woodsman and the Rain in human emotion. His performance is flawless, and it's a delight to watch this wintry tree of a character slowly thawing out and putting forth green shoots. True, the storyline is somewhat slight and fanciful, but it's handled in such a refined way, you're sure to be won over, and all in all this is a glowingly feelgood movie. With zombies.
Extras: Trailers/ Deleted scenes / Interviews with director, cast and crew