Shinobu Yaguchi delivers another winning comedy, dropping a clueless city boy deep into the mystical forests of rural Japan.
Images ©2014 WJ!PC
Wood Job! (2014)
Written and directed by Shinobu Yaguchi
Starring Shota Sometani, Hideaki Ito and Masami Nagasawa
Based on the novel by Shion Miura
Motivated by a pretty girl on a promotional pamphlet, 18-year-old Yuki Hirano travels to rural Japan to pursue the lumberjack life knowing little of the challenges that lie ahead.
“Charming rom-com delivers laughs alongside a strong environment message.”
The Japan Foundation, Toronto is bringing an impressive series of free screenings to the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in January, with a lineup including Isshin Inudo and Shinji Higuchi’s The Floating Castle, Yasuhiro Yoshida’s Leaving on the 15th Spring, Shuichi Okita’s A Story of Yonosuke and, arguably the best of the bunch, Shinobu Yaguchi’s Wood Job!
Yaguchi, director of critical and box office hits like Adrenaline Drive and Robo-G, is one of Japan’s most consistently entertaining directors. A typical Yaguchi film finds the determined young hero(es) facing down the challenges of some new and unlikely pursuit such as: big band music (Swing Girls), synchronized swimming (WaterBoys) or bank robbery (My Secret Cache). Far outside their comfort zone, these awkward protagonists follow a zero- to-hero arc, finding laughter, friendship and purpose along the way. Wood Job! adheres closely and successfully to this winning pattern.
Based on Shion Miura’s bestselling novel, Wood Job! is the bittersweet coming-of-age tale of Yuki Hirano (Shota Sometani), a typical sad-sack 18-year-old high school graduate who has just flunked his university entrance exams. Finding himself without a job or anything much in the way of career prospects, he abruptly decides to leave the city life behind to pursue a one-year forestry program. His motivation, however, is not a love of the lumberjack life but the attractive young woman on the promotional brochure.
Hirano soon arrives in the tiny, mountain-locked hamlet of Kumasari and is horrified to find he has lost his all-important smartphone connection. He decides to flee, but circumstance intervenes and he soon finds himself in full lumberjack gear and under the strict tutelage of Yoki Iida (Hideaki Ito). Iida—tough, serious and possibly a little mad—takes great pleasure in humiliating the soft city boy on a daily basis. Hirano stays, initially because there is simply no transportation out, then due to the fact the girl in the brochure is the local schoolteacher (Masami Nagasawa), and finally because alongside Iida he recognizes a depth and quality in this remote, Thoreau-like lifestyle that was absent from life in the city.
Like Yaguchi’s other films, Wood Job! is earnest, funny and sincere in its affection for its characters; he also effectively slips in a powerful environmental message. Yaguchi’s forests are not seen as simply a resource; they are alive with legend, spirits and mysticism as well as people who repay the livelihood that the trees bestow upon them with an abiding respect and understanding of the need to protect and nurture the forest.
The performances are strong across the board. Sometani—winner of the Best New Young Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival in 2011—plays the first act a little too broadly but soon settles in and reminds us why he is Japan’s go-to thesp for portrayals of callow and conflicted young men. Ito, who was nominated for a Japan Academy Prize for his role, is great fun, and Nagasawa’s charm leaves little doubt as to why Hirano is so willing to throw himself in harm’s way in his obsessive pursuit.
Wood Job! won the 2015 Toronto Japanese Film Festival’s Kobayashi Audience Choice Award and its final act—with dozens of fundoshi-clad men, young and old, launching an ancient tree down the mountainside as part of the fertility festival—is an absolutely hilarious and totally bonkers scene that singlehandedly makes the film worth seeing. Watch it!
Wood Job! will be shown at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, at 3 pm. For more info, visit jftor.org.