Iida is a forester and he’s okay. Yuki Hirano is a forestry-trainee and he’s a
mess. Trees will chopped, fish will be out of water, and lessons will be gently
learned in Shinobu Yaguchi’s Wood Job! (trailer here), which screens as
a joint presentation of the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts.
failing his university entrance exams and getting dumped by his girlfriend,
Hirano does what any slacker would do. He applies for a “green job.” His real
motivation is the pretty girl on the cover of the forestry brochure. However,
it turns out forestry involves real work—something Hirano was never any good
at. Yet, just when he is primed to desert, he runs into Naoki Ishii, the
forestry covergirl. Evidently, she was never a student, but she once dated one.
Frankly, she is rather annoyed to see her picture still in circulation and
thinks even less of scammers like Hirano, who enroll hoping to put the moves on
Ishii’s telling off has a perversely motivating effect on Hirano. He sticks out
the training program and accepts a yearlong apprenticeship in her remote lumber
village. Of course, Hirano still has a lot to learn about the forest. His boss,
the gruff but gruff Iida is not very impressed, but the mismatched mentor and protégé
slowly start to grow on each other.
honest, hearty country living finally win over Hirano? Will he ever win over
Ishii? Do you want to see grown men wearing a thong-sash during their Burning
Man forest rituals? If you answered yes to that last one, Wood Job is definitely the film for you.
writer-director Yamaguchi follows a pretty well established formula. One could
consider it Japan’s teenage/early adult Northern
Exposure with lumber. Nevertheless, his mastery of mood and keen visual
sense elevates it well above standard Doc
Hollywood terrain. While mostly grounded, there is one particularly striking
excursion into magical realism Yamaguchi executes with graceful understatement.
He also gives viewers very practical instructions in proper tree-chopping
technique. Seriously, you will think you can actually do this stuff after
seeing the film.
Sometani’s Hirano is a bit of a goof and a goon, but he portrays his maturation
with a fair degree of subtlety. As Ishii, Masami Nagasawa brings some healthy
verve and attitude, while developing nice Fleischman-O’Connell chemistry with
Hirano. In contrast, Hideaki Ito is pure mountain man as Iida.
Yamaguchi is able to convey the sensation of that crisp mountain air. He is not
afraid of a little sentiment either—and why should he, anyway? It is all quite
a sweet, sure-footed, ax-wielding coming of age film that gets steadily more
inviting as it progresses. Recommended for fans of bittersweet romantic comedies,
Wood Job! screens tomorrow (7/13) at
the Japan Society, as a joint selection of this year’s NYAFF and Japan Cuts:
the New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Film.
Labels: Coming of age films, Japan Cuts '14, Japanese Cinema, NYAFF '14