Given its bucolic title and a gentle tone, evident even from its promotional images, one can’t be blamed for not knowing that Shuichi Okita’s latest effort is, in fact, a zombie movie – and a terrific one at that. The Woodsman and the Rain (2011) may not ‘technically’ be a zombie movie, but it’s quite easily the best movie about zombie movies ever made. In addition, Okita’s new film isn’t one of those navel-gazing, backstage quasi-farces that seem to amuse themselves far more than the audience. Instead, the story is character-driven practically to a fault, and the zombie business running through it is more of a thematic support device, one that’s played subtly.
Indeed, the zombies here are a kind of shorthand for those who go through life on auto-pilot, essentially dead already. But that’s not simply because they have no emotions or have been destroyed in some way but rather, in existential terms, because they simply don’t seem to live as if they have anything besides a past. The future looks like just more of the same. Certainly, this description fits Koji Yashuko’s title character, Katsu. Going about his lumberjack duties amidst towering stillness and vast silences (music is used sparingly throughout, to strong effect), he is stoic with undercurrents of sadness and anger. His wife is gone, and his son is apparently a lost cause.
Of course, by the third act Katsu’s in a completely different place, largely as a result of his relationship with the character played by Shun Oguri (Crows Zero), who’s part of the film crew that’s come to town to shoot their so-serious-its-hilarious post-apocalyptic B-movie. The character arcs, then, will be fairly recognisable to those who enjoy warm-hearted, lightly contemplative comedies of this sort: lives on opposite trajectories intersect and in that moment of intersection an underlying, and empowering, truth is revealed. The climax, which validates the instincts of both men, is highly memorable.
The DVD package from Third Window Films is reliably solid. There’s an extended interview with the director and the two stars that has been cobbled together from different shorter segments, and consequently some of the material seems slightly repetitive; much of it consists of the subjects smiling and chuckling as they reminiscence about on-set experiences – but since all three are very likeable, this is not too objectionable.
The real bonus here, however, is to be found within the deleted scenes. With most video discs it’s usually clear why a particular scene has been omitted (it’s sub-par), but here, with a running time of two hours and some minor pacing issues, such decisions seem more like the product of triage: Okita’s smart, assured touch is as beguiling in these small out-takes as it’s been all along.