Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Koji Yakusho retrospective at Japan Cuts 2012 (Woodsman and the Rain & Chroncle of my Mother)
As part of Japan Cuts they are looking back at the work of Koji Yakusho who is going to be there all next weekend talking about the 6 films they are running.
Yakusho is one of my favorite actors. He's someone who's name I can never keep straight, but who's presence makes me smile at every time I see him on screen. His body of work is incredible. He's the sort of guy who manages to do a wide variety of films and manages to more or less hit it out of the box every time.
This year they are running the wonderful Shall We Dance, which was remade as an okay Richard Gere film; Cure a murder mystery which is really good (and really needs a write up); and 13 Assassins which I have talked way too much about simply because I love it so much.
They are also running two of his recent films, both of which I saw in advance of the festival
The Woodsman and the Rain is the most recent film. It's screening Friday at a sold out out gala performance.
The film concerns a logger who crosses paths with a film crew (making a zombie film). The film crew needs a bit of help getting around and he provides it. He also takes an interest in a slacker amongst the bunch, who he doesn't realize is the director. The pair begin to bond as the woodsman finds joy in the filmmaking process while the director finds his backbone.
I find it hard to say more than I liked it. You'll forgive me some times a film doesn't really produce more than a comment of "it's good" you'll like it" no matter how good a film is. This is one of those times. This isn't to say that it's a bad film, rather it's a nice gentle film about life and filmmaking.
Screening Saturday is Chronicle of My Mother which is a film that shows you just how good Yakusho is. Here is a role that allows him to so completely disappear that I was waiting for him to show up, until I realized that he had been on screen the entire time.
Based on an autobiographical novel by Yasushi Inoue, Chronicle of My Mother covers the period just before the death of lead character Kosaku‘s father in 1960 until November 1973. As the film opens Kosaku played by Yakusho)is home visiting his parents.
His sisters are buzzing around him talking and preparing a meal. They are discussing the fateful day decades before when he was sent off to school. He is trying to remember details of that day.
When the meal is done he goes to see his father who recoils from his touch, there is no love loss between the men. Kosaku also speaks with his mother who wants to discuss her husband's impending funeral. A short time later as Kosaku is heading home he is stopped by his mother who wants to discuss the matter of the funeral again. Kosaku thinks its forgetfulness, it is in fact the beginning of the decline of his mother. From there we see the course of the lives of Kosaku and his family as they deal with each other, the past and the declining health of their matriarch.
Koji Yakusho is amazing. If you want to see why he is one of the best actors working today see this film. Watching him in the film I was, as I said, hard pressed to know where he was. Sure he was front and center, but it didn’t seem to be him. Sure he was made up and dressed to be Kosaku, but at the same time there was something more, his whole being seemed to be different. He moved and held himself very differently than in any other film I had ever seen before. It was as if someone else has inhabited his body and took over. I suspect that you think I’m nuts but it’s true. If you watch any, or all, of the films the Japan Society is running in the retrospective of his films you’ll understand what I mean. Sure Yakusho is good in all of them, but there is something special about his performance here, it’s a performance that takes his acting to another level, which considering how good he is I would have thought was impossible.
Compared favorably to the works of Ozu (whose work, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never seen) this is drama operating on any number of levels. We have the examination of how we deal with our aging parents; there is the attempt to find out why things happened in the past; and we have the domestic drama as the patriarchal and somewhat tyrannical Kasuko has to deal with his daughters who are having a hard time balancing what he has told them with the collision of modern society and the the revelations that the man is not the absolute pillar they took him to be. It’s a complex mix that some how manages to all come together into something really special.
Full disclosure here, I freely admit that part of my reaction to the film is that the film connected to bits and pieces of things that I experienced with my mom before she died. Little moments here and there connected to things that had happened with my mom. At the same time the film also connected with me in other ways that made the film feel as if it was more than from a novel, autobiographical or otherwise.
I really liked this film a great deal and when it was over I found that I had been moved by it’s story.
This film is a winner and I want to thank the Japan Society and Japan Cuts for shining a spotlight on it. As good as all the film in the serious are, this is the one where you truly understand what a treasure Koji Yakusho is.