Shuichi Okita is not a director like Noboru Iguchi or Yoshihiro Nishimura, he doesn’t fit in the sexy, filthy and splatter world of the Japanese horror new wave, but surely he’s been influenced by the industry and its mechanism of production, so, maybe, that’s why – and how – “The Woodsman and the Rain” is born. Splatter flicks gained a special treatment in the U.S. and European midnight screenings, both in festivals and not, something that helped Okita in the process of shaping his second main character Koichi, Shun Oguri in real life, a young director at his first experiences who gets to direct a film called “Utopia”. It’s a low budget zombie centered movie about a woman who saw her loved ones killed by the living dead and now seeks revenge on the plague that infected the whole world. The story of the production is told through Katsuhiko’s eyes, played by the well known and appreciated Koji Yakusho, a lumberjack who lives in an unknown village in the mountains chosen as set of the movie, whose producers start asking more and more to the humble man because of his knowledge of the places.
They “hire” him as head and only member of the location scouting team, but his inexperience in the cinematic field and his rough manners (he recently lost his wife) aren’t exactly one of the requirements needed for this kind of job, and that’s how a series of funny scenes take place. Request after request, like asking him to play a zombie (laughs assured), Katsuhiko starts to feel and share the same film crew’s passion for “Utopia” and when they make him watch the dailies, he falls in love with Cinema. That’s how the friendship begins, between the shy and scared director Koichi, who feels uncomfortable because of “Utopia” awful script and for the terrible work conditions, and Katsuhiko, surely not the greatest dad of all time (Kora Kengo plays the role of his son). It’s the lumberjack’s wisdom that will help Koichi to finally find the self confidence he needs to keep on doing what he thought he was meant to do.
«At least 100 years have to pass before a tree will finally reach its maturity». That’s what the extraordinary Koji Yakusho’s character says in one of the key scenes: “The Woodsman and the Rain” is a tale about distances, both in time and space; elder men get closer to the youngsters, often finding themselves forced to face what is farthest from what they are, but it’s Cinema which creates the proper atmosphere by cutting the world in frames able to connect the desperate souls to the previously empty bodies. This process needs time, to be precise it needs 129 minutes filled with hilarious scenes and powerful moments of stillness and silence, but strong as a tree trunk.
Okita’s directing builds a smooth and light representation of distance, he puts his characters at the two extremes of the screen in various occasions, getting them nearer to the center of it only when negative (the fight between father and son at the beginning) and positive (an apparently unusual happy ending) debates take place. If there’s love in “The Woodsman and the Rain” it’s all for The Cinema, in all its shapes, from the worst movie ever to the best ones. A not to invasive work of quoting reminds us of the distant, but always important, past, like the Mizoguchi river, selected for one of the shots of the movie inside the movie, a bow to the directors whose work forged the way movies are done today, something that cannot be disregarded and, maybe, Shuichi Okita in a not to distant future, might become one of them.