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Year: 2011
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Director: Okita Shuichi
Screenplay: Okita Shuichi, Moriya Fumio
Cinematography: Tsukinaga Yuta
Cast: Oguri Shun, Yakusho Koji, Kora Kengo, Furutachi Kanji
Runtime: 129 min
Film’s official website: kitsutstsuki-rain.jp (in Japanese/日本語)
UK Distributor: Third Window Films

Trailer:

Seen at the film’s European premiere at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival in London.

Oguri Shun fans be warned: if you intend to watch Kitsutsuki to Ame for the eye candy, you might find yourself somewhat disappointed. Portraying a rookie film director that is so shy that he would rather disappear off the face of the earth (or sneak away to Tokyo behind everyone’s backs on the last night train) than be the central point on the set of the film he is directing, Oguri puts out a performance that is very much defined by his withdrawn physical composure: cowering, face turned away and permanently hidden behind chin-length, dishevelled hair, stammering out no more than a few words (if that).

It is however a performance that highlights Oguri’s wonderful versatility as an actor. Oguri (born in 1982) has been in the business since age 11, acting first in children’s theatre and then progressing to television two years later with a part in 「八代将軍吉宗 / 八代将軍 吉宗」 (Hachidai Shogun Yoshimune, 1995). However, it was his role as the introverted and sensitive yet princely Hanazawa Rui in the immensely popular manga-to-dorama-to-film adaptations of 「花より男子」 (Hana Yori Dango/Boys over Flowers, 2005) that made him a household name. As one of the flower boys, Oguri could easily have ended up as a pretty face on the screen. Having watched the dorama 「スマイル」 (Sumairu/Smile, 2009), in which Oguri played a delinquent bully by the name of Hayashi Seiji and brought terror to the screen the moment his hair appeared in a shot, I already knew better, but Kitsutsuki to Ame only proves it further.

Oguri of your nightmares (as the villain in the dorama 「スマイル」/Sumairu/Smile)

His character in Kitsutsuki to Ame, Tanabe Koichi, is very much at another end of the personality spectrum as he essentially lives in fear of everyone around him. Although he has written a script and is directing the movie for it, the people involved in the project all seem to steamroll over him: the lead actress constantly questions her lines, while set assistant Torii (Furutachi Kanji) takes charge of everything and shoos Koichi away whenever he does try to do something, leaving the young director sitting, motionless and blank-faced, in the car much of the time or otherwise inconspicuously trailing behind everyone.

Overwhelmed rookie director in state of disbelief (after a successful take).

No wonder then that Katsuhiko Kishi (Yakusho Koji, who truly lives his role), a local woodsman in the small village where the movie is being filmed and the other lead opposite Oguri’s Koichi, mistakes the young director as merely a helper on the set, telling Torii that he’d better fire this “loser”. Katsuhiko’s frankness is typical for his rather peculiar character. However, in his annoyance with Koichi’s passivity he becomes the first one to really take notice of him and even offers recognition of his talents once they become apparent. He is genuinely fascinated by Koichi’s film script – for a zombie movie -, something that leaves the self-doubting rookie director in disbelief (“You find this interesting? Really?”). He does. In fact, Katsuhiko likes the script so much that he drums people from town together when more extras are needed on the set and takes on the role of gofer, stopping noisy cars that might interfere with the filming and coercing a reluctant work colleague to have his toddler float down the river as a zombie child.

Katsuhiko and Koichi’s unexpected friendship however isn’t a one-sided affair of benefits. Self-assured though he may appear, Katsuhiko has his own set of problems at home, the relationship with his adult son (Kora Kengo), coincidentally also named Koichi, being on the rocks, ever since – it seems – the death of his wife and son’s mother two years prior. Communications between father and child are strained to the point that when words are exchanged they end in a physical scuffle. With this background, the friendship of Katsuhiko and Oguri’s Koichi comes as a relief. Being strangers, without any baggage to burden their relationship (no expectations, no disappointments), they find it easier to open up to one another and tackle personal conflicts. The shared name of Oguri’s and Kora’s characters becomes a symbolic mirror as Tanabe Koichi’s troubles are also rooted with his family and, more specifically, his father (the person who first gave him a camera but who Koichi believes must be thoroughly disappointed in him now – Katsuhiko convincing him otherwise, only to realise the doubts his own son must be having).

Warning: Lumberjack Zombie.

With one lead shy and lacking self-confidence, the other boisterous and outspoken, Koichi and Katsuhiko are opposites of one another, the comedy of their interactions carrying much of the film although several, more minor characters (including the aforementioned Torii and a trio of Katsuhiko’s fellow woodsmen) also contribute. Humour is wonderfully Japanese-style – no in-the-face comedy, no you-have-to-laugh-now slapstick, no overly insistent punchlines – but quirky behaviours that elicit chuckles from the minute the film opens with Katsuhiko’s multiply repeated 「はい!」(“Hai!”, a confirmative “yes” which would more accurately translate as “So what?” in this case) when requested to stop cutting down trees to Koichi inconspicuously (not) edging away from Katsuhiko who gets just a little bit to close for comfort when the two run into each other in a public bath. And then there is the movie within the movie: being all about zombies, it makes the perfect vehicle for comedy. It’s obvious – from the scenes we glimpse – that it is so atrociously bad that it is hilarious, even more with Katsuhiko’s adoration for the story. Although the rest of the town needs to be dragged onto the set, they soon are lured by the zombie movie’s appeal, adding unexpected but well-timed moments of ingenious zombie fun to Kitsutuski to Ame, for example when everyone walks around town with the set make-up still on. Indeed, that particular scene illustrates Okita’s sensivity and skill in filmmaking wonderfully. Its point of view is superbly chosen and the comedy in it could have easily been over- or underdone, but somehow Okita nails it, giving us a minute or two that is essentially irrelevant to the overall storyline but delightfully funny in a manner exemplary of the humour in the film: subtle, but genuine.

Kitsutsuki to Ame had its world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival back in October 2011, where it received the Special Jury Prize. It wasn’t an absolute winner with everyone, with Edward R. Pressman, one of the judges, remarking that the jury was “divided among three films, some liked The Woodsman and the Rain but it was too light” (quote source).  I can’t quite agree – Kitsutsuki to Ame never set out to be profound: it is a comedy after all. And yet, it isn’t meaningless, it doesn’t exist purely for the sake of entertainment but gently tackles serious issues of broken relationships and crippling self-doubt, neither denying the hurdles we face in life, nor letting them overwhelm the film. Furthermore, there is also the friendship between Koichi and Katsuhiko. Their bond is untypical – they are strangers, there is a significant age gap and they have strikingly different personalities – but consequential and touching. It’s not just the older, ‘wiser’ man that has things to teach to the younger, less life-experienced one, but Koichi has an equally deep-reaching impact on Katsuhiko’s existence. Though the two men may lose contact in the future (despite fully embracing the zombie-movie-making, Katsuhiko goes back to being just a woodsman in the end), the few weeks they spend together allow them to overcome major problems that would have otherwise continued to fester and could easily have taken the worst of turns (e.g. permanent family estrangement). And that, even if there’s lots of laughter thrown in between, I would say, is not ‘too light’.

Overall Verdict: Delightfully funny but not meaninglessly so, Kitsutsuki to Ame offers a comedy that tackles the difficulties we face in life – whatever they might be -, with Oguri Shun and Yakusho Koji both shining in the roles of two rather different individuals in an untypical, but significant friendship with one another.

Rating: 9.5/10

Bonus bits:

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