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Wood Job!
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by Jay Seaver

"He's a lumberjack and he's okay!"
3 stars

I would have found "Wood Job!" to be a fairly enjoyable film if it didn't get a little screwy in the end, but maybe a forgettable one. It works from a standard fish-out-of-water template that the filmmakers really aren't interested in subverting at all, but the filmmakers are aware of that, letting the movie argue for pride in unglamorous work done well and against detached irony without making too big a thing about it. That it finishes kind of weird just helps it stick.

It opens with Yuki Hirano (Shota Sometani) discovering that he was not accepted to any of the universities to which he applied, leading his girlfriend Reina (Nana Seino) to break up with him as his friends almost immediately start planning to leave him behind. Not wanting to spend a year in cram-schools and reapplying, he impulsively answers an ad for a forestry program (a month of training and 11 of internship), only to find the training camp way out in the middle of nowhere and no-one like the cute girl on the recruitment poster anywhere in sight. But it turns out that she's not just a model - Naoki Ishii (Masami Nagasawa) lives in the small village of Kamusari, even further up in the mountains, and joining the lumber company that operates there means being hosted by Yoki Iida (Hideaki Ito), the toughest and gruffest of Yuki's trainers.

There's no particular doubt about where screenwriter/director Shinobu Yaguchi is going with this (working from a novel by Shiwon Miura), and he both knows what he's trying to do and that audiences have been watching variations of this story for a hundred years and that it's probably been told ever since people first started building cities. That familiarity is baked into the script from how it acknowledges that Yuki isn't the first city dweller whose eye Naoki has caught to the point when he literally throws someone looking at "Slow Life" cynically away, but there's a smart practicality to it: This internship program is necessary because places like Kamusari are shrinking, and it's worth noting that the makers of this film make the village messy and utilitarian rather than put together by detail-obsessed artisans. Also, there's a practical necessity to it; where a lot of films extolling country life don't make much more than an nostalgic argument, there's not much arguing when Nakamura Lumber namesake Seiichi (Ken Mitsuishi) points out that maintaining the sort of forest that regularly produces the sort of perfect, knotless timber that comes from 105-year-old trees without thinking on a generational scale.

It leads to the characters being fairly familiar types, but the cast handles it pretty well. Shota Sometani does a nice job of catching how Yuki is ignorant and initially soft but not actually dumb, never actually letting enough petulance in to make him unpleasant; Yuki's learning and growing and Sometani is able to communicate that without starting as a jerk. He complements Masami Nagasawa well, even if there's a sort of "well, who else is there?" feel to their pairing. Naoki's no-nonsense and independent but Nagasawa has her come across as part of this place rather than above it (even if a lot of Naoki's neighbors talk about her like she's some sort of spinster in her mid-twenties). They're fine, but it's kind of surprising that Hideaki is the only one who really gets to steal scenes as the broadly-played Iida; enough characters get distinctive looks and ways of talking that it's kind of surprising for them to be pushed so far into the background.

On the other hand, that might betray the method by which the movie takes a turn or two toward the peculiar later on, which is kind of clever: Yaguchi and all make jokes, but they're straightforward enough with the hows and whys of lumberjack work and admiring the natural beauty of the surrounding country that the audience absorbs it to the point that later talk of forest goddesses and over-the-top rituals involved in the worship thereof come about, a viewer can go for how gloriously tacky the event is without snickering at it so much as laughing at how Yuki is confused and manages to stumble in the most ridiculous possible way.

It's big and goofy enough to lodge in one's head even if the rest of the movie is basic simple-life material. Even without that final hook to make it memorable, it feels more realistic and generous than usual, upbeat, earnest, and well-executed enough to be an enjoyable couple hours' escape.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27286&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/16/21 14:45:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Shinobu Yaguchi

Written by
  Shinobu Yaguchi

  Shota Sometani
  Masami Nagasawa
  Hideaki Ito
  Naoki Ishii
  Yoki Iida

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