you’re wondering where Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones’ fifty-plus mojo went,
it’s been in Japan with Kôji Yakusho.
While American audiences might know him best as the salaryman who cuts a
rug in Shall We Dance?, nobody
working in film today is more credible as a middle-aged man you do not want to
mess with. His hardnosed everyman charm
is also perfectly suited to the gently humanistic comedy of Shȗichi Okita’s The Woodsman and the Rain (trailer here), which screens
as the centerpiece of this year’s Japan Cuts and a key selection of their Focus on Kôji Yakusho retrospective
you have seen Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins, you know what a dynamic presence Yakusho can be in an
action-driven film. If you haven’t, the
Japan Society will give you an opportunity this Saturday. It’s kind of awesome, but Woodsman is too, in a very different
way. Here Yakusho plays a sixty year-old
lumberjack and you would not want to be a tree in his sites. He is not a superhero though. Having survived a health scare, Yatsuhiko
Kishi (Yatsu-san) can no longer eat sweets.
The widower’s relationship with his slacker son Koichi is strained at
best. However, he can now predict
precipitation with uncanny accuracy.
Given the title, this ability will obviously come into play at some
point, but wisely nobody in the film belabors it.
is pretty set in his routine, until a film crew comes to town. Much to his own surprise, he finds himself
shuttling about a nervous assistant director and a socially awkward
twenty-something in search of locations for their zombie film. That quiet kid turns out to be Koichi Tanabe,
the first time director with massive confidence issues. Yes, he has the same first name as Kishi’s
son, but Okita never overplays that card either.
you know it, Kishi is deeply involved in the shooting of Tanabe’s dubious
b-movie. Many of these scenes are essentially
played for laughs, but in an earthy, understated way. Still, for genre film fans, how can you
resist a film about lumberjacks and movie-zombies?
Woodsman is a perfect
film to anchor the Yakusho showcase. His
performance is rich, nuanced, and deeply felt.
He is a good sport, willing to look slightly ridiculous at times, yet he
always maintains his dignified bearing.
As the Koichis, both Shun Oguri and Kengo Kora grow on viewers, subtly
but convincingly showing their characters grow up as the film progresses.
Not exactly bittersweet, but certainly not
compulsively cheerful either, Woodsman is
ultimately wholly satisfying, in a rugged, down-to-earth way. It is a great example of Yakusho’s powerful
screen presence as well as a wistfully wise bit of storytelling. Very highly recommended, The Woodsman and the Rain screens this Saturday at the Japan
Society as this year’s Japan Cuts centerpiece (featuring an intro and Q&A
with the man himself), but good luck getting in. It is already sold out, so if you do not have your
ticket booked, you’re flying stand-by.
Also very highly recommended, tickets for 13 Assassins and Shall We
Dance? are currently available on Saturday (7/21).
Labels: Japan Cuts '12, Japanese Cinema, Koji Yakusho