He’s a lumberjack and he’s okay! Well, after a while anyway - climbing trees all day is not quite as much fun as it sounds in Shinobu Yaguchi’s latest comedy, which sees a streetwise city kid randomly decide on a career on forestry. Not so much a fish out of water as a duck in a tree, Wood Job is a heart-warming comedy drama which more than lives up to the pun-tastic comedy of its title.
Yuki Hirano (Shota Sometani) is your typical slacker teenager. Like many guys his age, he’s run into something of a life crisis as he didn’t get into university and he hasn’t really thought about what to do. At first he thinks it’s no big deal - he’ll just take the tests again next year - but after being abandoned by his girlfriend and seeing all his friends set off without him Yuki feels a little lost. That is, until he notices a shiny magazine advertising a new life in the open air - “come and work with me!” it says next to a picture of a pretty girl. Yuki’s packed his bags and caught the next train before you can even say “Where’s the nearest combini?” but his new found occupation is a little more intensive than he was expecting and Yuki’s not sure he’s cut out for this no-frills life. Then, however, he meets the girl from the advert herself - can Yuki really stick around long enough to convince her he’s not some city boy lay-about but a real mountain man?
Wood Job is that rare film that manages to mix a fair amount of slapstick comedy with the kind of naturalistic, everyday humour that can’t help but give it an endearingly warm quality. Taking the classic fish out of water approach as its basis, the film highlights the absurdity of country life (at least to eyes more accustomed to the city) but crucially never mocks it and seems to have a profound respect for the rural way of life and all that entails. Neither does it shy away from the fact that forestry is hard work which is often dangerous and requires an extremely specific skill set - you can’t just rock up one day because you’ve seen a picture of a pretty girl on a poster and instantly become a man of the mountains overnight. The villagers are all too used to people who turn up in the country with romantic ideas about getting back to the land or living a more simple life but go home after a week or so because they can’t adapt to this very different environment. Already pre-conditioned to expect disappointment, their approval is hard to win but worth all the more because of its rarity.
Yuki Hirano is something of a departure for Sometani, who ranks as one of Japan’s most promising young actors. Having hitherto made a name for himself playing “intense” characters, Wood Job’s laid-back slacker couldn’t be more different than the tortured soul of Himizu, though Sometani carries off this seeming 180 degree turn with aplomb, further proving his versatility as an actor. He’s also surrounded by an equally talented cast including Hideaki Ito (most recently seen as the sociopathic teacher in Lesson of Evil, also alongside Sometani in a small role) as his hard-tasking forestry mentor as well as Ken Mitsuishi and Akira Emoto in smaller roles and Masami Nagasaki as Yuki’s longed-for poster girl for the world of forestry. Filled with realistically drawn characters, near perfectly pitched by its well put-together cast, Wood Job manages to achieve just the right comedy-drama balance, which makes some its more outlandish moments seem perfectly plausible.
It may be a very conventional film in many ways, but Wood Job! succeeds in doing what it set out to do incredibly well. Filled with warmth and good humour, director Shinobu Yaguchi manages to breath new life into this old idea to create a charming and engaging tale of the virtues of country life. Any film which manages to pack not one, but two distinct puns into its title alone has to be worth a look, but Wood Job more than lives up to the comedic promise of its name.
Wood Job! was screened London's ICA cinema on the opening night of the 2015 Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme before travelling to Bristol Watershed (1st February), Showroom Cinema Sheffield (5th February), Derby Quad (6th February), MAC Birmingham (24th February), Dundee Contemporary Arts (25 February), Tyneside Cinema Newcastle (15th march), Nottingham Broadway (25th March), and Brewery Arts Centre Cumbria (25th March).