Director: Shinobi Yaguchi
Yuki Hirano has just failed his university entrance exams, and been dumped by his girlfriend. After a drunken night out with his college bound friends he stumbles upon a flyer for a one year forestry course. In no small way encouraged by a picture of a pretty girl on the front, he signs up, and leaves the busy metropolis for rural Japan on a succession of smaller and smaller trains. The first intimation of disaster comes at journey’s end, when he realises there is no cellphone signal at his destination shortly before his first encounter with a pit viper…
We follow him though a month’s training, and several failed escape attempts, until he takes an apprenticeship that turns out to be under Iida-san, the toughest of his instructors and the one with least patience for pampered city boys. Even when he finds the model from the pamphlet cover she is scornful, believing he will head back to Tokyo as soon as he can. It’s probably no great surprise to say that as the year progresses he becomes more enamoured of the rural life, and begins to integrate with the village, but the pleasure is in the well drawn characters and the warmth and good humour Yaguchi-san spreads throughout the movie. This is that thing Hollywood seems to be able to produce only very rarely, a feel good film that isn’t schmaltzy or unbelievable. The best comparison might be a fish out of water TV series like Northern Exposure.
In the West, we’re used to depictions of Japan as a concrete and neon urban sprawl, but this film hymns the praises of the countryside (much like My Neighbour Totoro or Wolf Children did in the animated genre). There are notes of mysticism and Japanese mythology throughout that pay off in a spectacular ending, and it is consistently beautiful, funny and warm hearted throughout. Very highly recommended.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
the aforementioned Northern Exposure, walking in the woods, dreaming of escape from the city