16 April 2012

Terracotta 2012 Review: The Woodsman and The Rain


I’d like to start this review with an apology. To all those also on the plane and sitting within earshot, I apologise for the disturbance. I apologise for the litany of strangled grunts, weird giggles and barked guffaws. I assure you, I was not having some sort of comedic fit. Those are just the noises I make when I am experiencing so much joy, I can’t really decide what to do with it. But, if I were to beg your indulgence, I would ask one thing. Don’t blame me. Blame The Woodsman and The Rain.

This disturber of the peace is a story about the unlikely friendship of two men. One is Katsuhiko Kishi (Koji Yakusho), a lumberjack in a small mountain village. The other is Koichi Tanabe (Shun Oguri), the cripplingly shy Writer/Director of a low-budget zombie movie being shot in that village. After a chance encounter leads to Katsu getting involved in the shoot (and giving the greatest zombie performance ever recorded on film), he gets hooked on filmmaking. This enthusiasm becomes the foundation of his relationship with Koichi.

Rather like Katsu, it didn’t take much to get me hooked on this film. It began from the moment I read the word ‘comedy’ in the context of the Far East: a lot of funny things come from that neck of the woods. And if that weren’t enough, this is also a film about filmmaking (always a treat for us critical types), brimming over with whimsy. Suffice it to say, I went into The Woodsman with high expectations. Well, the opening scene not only lived up to those expectations: it went beyond them. Our first scene involves Katsu being asked by Producer Torii (Kanji Furutachi) to stop sawing down a tree, to provide some quiet for the shoot. What then follows is a beautiful exchange of comedic bafflement, as two men try to communicate across the gulf separating their worlds.

This opening is the first of many sequences that display The Woodsman’s mastery of deadpan humour. It is a mastery that begins at script level. Writer Fumio Moriya and Writer/Director Shuichi Otaka have taken a stripped-down approach, crafting a film of few words, but very meaningful silences. This design, complemented by Omu Tone’s unobtrusive score, creates a stereotypically quiet, small-town atmosphere, perfectly contrasting with the oddity of events. Timing in The Woodsman is also note perfect, with direction, cinematography, editing and acting making sure everything is seen, said and done at exactly the right time. The result is like watching a toddler trying, without much luck, to hold back the giggles: a wonderfully tense and infectious kind of funny.

But The Woodsman is more than simply funny. It is also marvellously well observed. Koichi’s doubt, self-consciousness and complete embarrassment are too perfectly conveyed to be based in anything but personal experience. I should know: they certainly reflected mine. Indeed, my favourite scene is one where Katsu gets Koichi to tell him the story of the film. Koichi’s complete disbelief that anyone would be interested in his story is something I feel every time I talk about what I write, as is his shock at finding a willing audience.

But in the end, what really makes The Woodsman a great film, even more than the great humour, and the filmmaker fanservice, is its sheer joyfulness. In a way it reminds me of Scorcese’s Hugo. Hugo might approach the wonder of film from the audience’s perspective, while The Woodsman does so from that of the filmmakers’. But like Hugo, The Woodsman truly earns the joy it inspires, through comedic moments both true-to-life and impeccably constructed. And that is why, in a metal tube soaring over the Atlantic, there was a gangly student, his twitching leg heavily irritating nearby siblings, and for two hours grinning fit to burst.

- Adam Brodie

Rating: tbc
Release Date: Tbc (UK)
Cast: Kôji Yakusho, Shun Oguri, Tsutomu Yamazaki
Watched at Terracotta Film Festival 2012, london

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