Friday, September 18, 2009

Bare Essence of Life

Showing at the Toronto Film Festival: Bare Essence of Life, directed by Satoko Yokohama

Synopsis from the TIFF website:

The darling of new Japanese cinema, Satoko Yokohama confirms her talent and brilliant originality with Bare Essence of Life, a satisfying tale of rural eccentricity that combines black humour and fantasy with romanticism and drama. Scripted and directed by Yokohama with self-assured grace, the film strays from both the commercial mainstream and the independent art-house cinema to find its own path.

An opening shot pans along a colourful world of disparate objects and several alarm clocks all about to ring and awaken Yojin (Kenichi Matsuyama) to another glorious morning. Following the offbeat pace of his strange thoughts and even stranger outbursts of vitality, the film chronicles the mentally challenged young farmer as he daily tends his grandmother's organic vegetable garden, putting all his effort into planting, ploughing and harvesting, with poor results. The real meanings of his actions somehow escape him.

Life with his grandmother is peaceful, until the day when an odd new feeling gets hold of Yojin. Out of the blue, a girl from Tokyo appears in the countryside. Machiko (Kumiko Aso) is a pretty nursery-school teacher who loves children. She has come here to escape her past, the death of her boyfriend in a car crash while he was with another lover. Something Yojin has never experienced before creeps into his heart, and his actions are taken over by a desperate need to be next to Machiko and liked by her. He has the sudden urge to control himself, a feeling that brings unexpected consequences.

Japanese superstar Kenichi Matsuyama is especially compelling as Yojin, finding a balance of strength and sensitivity in this portrait of an unusual farmer. Filmed with true empathy, Bare Essence of Life renders a vivid portrait of rural Japan. As the story unfolds its miracles and surprises, the audience follows the ups and downs of Yokohama's characters.

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