Ai HashimotoTakahiro MiuraYoichi NukumizuMayu Matsuoka
Little Forest: Summer/Autumn
Medium: film
Year: 2014
Writer/director: Jun'ichi Mori
Original creator: Daisuke Igarashi
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Ai Hashimoto, Mayu Matsuoka, Yoichi Nukumizu, Karen Kirishima, Takahiro Miura
Format: 110 minutes
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 27 January 2020
It's slice-of-life, i.e. no plot. Nothing happens, for 110 minutes. What's more, this is parts 1-2 of a four-part film, with parts 3-4 released in 2015 as Little Forest: Winter/Spring. They're slightly longer.
Ichiko (played by Ai Hashimoto) is a young lady who lives in the middle of nowhere. By bicycle, it's half an hour downhill to the nearest shop. In winter, the mountain roads are too dangerous for bicycles and it's a ninety-minute walk. She's a farmer. She grows and harvests rice, tomatoes and other things, while also cooking with the berries, nuts and other plants that grow naturally.
It's a relaxing film, with so much cooking that that's how it's divided up (first dish, second dish, etc.) Each season has seven chapters, called dishes. Any given "dish" is likely to teach us a little more about Ichiko's life and/or history, but ultimately it's about food. You might find yourself wanting to cook some of her recipes, although it wouldn't be the same without her fresh mountain ingredients. Life is serene and close to nature. Some viewers will love this film and find it beautiful, but others will be bored. (Warning: Ichiko isn't a vegetarian, so fish and ducks would call this a snuff film. That could be a bit ewww, especially when the duck segment starts with Ichiko admiring a clutch of adorable ducklings.)
Only a very few scenes feature someone else with Ichiko. She's not a hermit and there are other people in this remote farming community, but most of the time she's just doing farmer stuff. Pick things, chop wood, do chainsaw maintenance, etc. If she hadn't also been narrating in a voice-over, this film would have been almost silent.
There's some character work. Not a lot, admittedly, and you've got to be patient and wait for it. But it's there. The question for all young people here is "why did you come back here?" (Ichiko and her friend Yuuta have both tried city life. They moved away from the mountains and found ordinary jobs, apartments and romance... but then packed it all in and returned. Ichiko's still conflicted about whether or not she's going to stay here forever.) She thinks she's a country bumpkin who's only good for physical strength, although here in the mountains she doesn't have a problem with that. That's a harsh judgement, but it must be admitted that it took her an embarrassingly long time to learn the truth about some lies her mother told her when she was a child. (Does a rumbling tummy mean you have a frog living in there?) She can be thunderstruck by going into town and seeing what's on the shelves in an ordinary convenience store.
She lives alone and we don't know what happened to her family. One childhood flashback implied siblings, I think, but it's unclear and they're certainly nowhere in sight now. I don't know if she ever had a father. Her mother we do get to know, to some extent, but only in flashback. There's some important information there that we (and Ichiko) don't know, which I presume will be explored more deeply in Winter/Spring.
If you're wondering about the title, Ichiko's village is called Komori, which translates as "Little Forest".
Did I enjoy this film? Dunno, maybe. I wouldn't exactly call it boring, but I also wouldn't say that it isn't. I'm on the fence about continuing with Winter/Spring. The film's okay, though. It's nice. It's also very, very quiet. The food looks nice (if you can take the occasional killed thing), but I'm not a foodie and I'll generally avoid anime cooking shows. I'll probably watch the continuation, but that's basically completism. I've started, so I'll finish. I'd be nervous of recommending this film to other people, though, since I bet almost everyone I know would fail to see the point and turn it off within the first fifteen minutes.
Nothing happens, but soothingly. That said, though, the film does have depth, characterisation and unanswered questions, if you're prepared to sit and wait for them. It's based on a manga that reached the finals of the 10th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize. It's educational. You never know, you might be one of those viewers who fall in love with this film.