Katsu (Koji Yakusho), a simple woodsman, is going about his work felling a tree when a nebbish man in a suit stumbles through the underbrush to request that he lower the noise until a scene is finished being filmed for a movie shooting nearby. The aged lumberjack widower acquiesces and we follow his daily routine where the orderliness with which he prepares his meals and conducts himself with his co-workers is emphasised by an ever-stationary camera.
This passive, immobile perspective also relates to his dismissive attitude towards his aimless slackerson, a subplot that is mostly present for thematic cohesion. Nudging him out of his rut of grief, the film's producer and director rope Katsu into helping out with their movie, first as a location consultant, then as a zombie extra.
A disrespectful crew and the young director Koichi's indecisiveness puts Katsu off at first but after his involvement in the production elicits the rap attention of his work buddies he begins to recognize the appeal of movie magic. As he gets more invested in the film, practicing his zombie walk and calling in sick to work so that he can spend more time on set, Katsu's despondency lifts and he forms a bond with Koichi (Shun Oguri, Crows Zero).
Feeling helpless—unsure of his creative instincts—and overwhelmed by responsibility, the amateur director benefits from Katsu's impartial interest in the film's actual plot rather than just surface details and the sobering influence of the paternal figure'scalm outlook on life. The duo forms a feedback loop of positive reinforcement, which invigorates the entire crew and gives them all the confidence to enter into the collaboration process.
At a key moment, the director of photography asks permission to shoot on a dolly, and Okita's camera moves for the first time to mirror this evolution of his subject's ambition. The shift in tone is so subtle that it's hard to notice when internal score first makes an appearance and The Woodsman and the Rain blossoms into an inspiring drama about having the self-confidence to seize the moment while retaining the sense of detachment to recognize just how fleeting those moments of triumph can be.
It's a beautifully constructed tale that should speak to anyone who's ever felt like a passenger in their own life.
The Woodsman and the Rain screens on Saturday November 17th at 4pm at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. (Kadokawa Pictures)