Takahiro MiuraAi HashimotoYoichi NukumizuMayu Matsuoka
Little Forest: Winter/Spring
Medium: film
Year: 2015
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: 121 minutes
Url: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3474602/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 28 January 2020
I enjoyed it more than I'd expected to. If you've seen Summer/Autumn, you know what's coming. You know what you're in for. Fast and slow just don't matter. Plot doesn't exist. It's not a dramatic narrative. It's just two hours in the company of Ichiko (Ai Hashimoto) as she cooks food, narrates her life to us and works on her farm in the mountains.
WINTER: 7 dishes (i.e. chapters)
SPRING: 7 dishes and a dessert (i.e. an epilogue five years later)
Occasionally, scenes of potential drama will have happened. I phrased that carefully, because we never see them. The film's not interested in showing us drama. It merely informs us that these developments took place and lets us piece things together from the everyday scenes in their vicinity. (The nearest we get to drama is Ichiko's friend Kikko telling her that she's full of herself... and that's not drama, really, since it's a foregone conclusion that they'll be friends again the next day. Kikko brings her a curry to say "sorry". It's an Indian curry, surprisingly, not a Japanese one.)
There can be mysteries, e.g. where Ichiko's mother is now, or her father's identity. These similarly go nowhere. (In some cases, we don't even know if the mystery's really a mystery at all. Does Ichiko know her father? Is she ignorant, or does she just not think about that?) This isn't a film that wants to show decisive scenes or spill its characters' secrets.
Instead, it really is just slice-of-life. We're sharing Ichiko's life in the mountains and seeing what it's like to be a farmer there. This is quite interesting, for what it's worth.
1. You'll boggle on learning that you can make a natto dessert (using sugar and mochi) and that children think it's delicious. (You make natto by wrapping soy beans in straw, then burying them in the earth for a few days to rot. Uh, ferment. We see that being done too.)
2. You'll see how to cook bracken. (They do this because they like it, not as a starvation measure.)
3. You'll see how to hang up daikon and persimmon to preserve them to last all year. (The daikon you'll hang in sub-zero temperatures, while the persimmons you'll squeeze from time to time to make them sweeter.)
4. You'll see Ichiko's mother's opinion of cabbage white butterflies. (They spawn fat green caterpillars. If you don't want those on your cabbages, slap the pretty fluttering insect.)
5. You might even see a recipe to try for yourself. (I'm thinking of making omelettes just to add honey in the mix.)
It's such a gentle film that its scenes don't even have enough tension for humour. Ichiko's cabbage cake attempt made me laugh, though.
All that said, you'll be watching the emotional undertones. There's more about Ichiko's time living in the city and about her conflicted feelings about living in Komori now. We see the time her mother left. (Not her actual departure, obviously, but other events of that day, before and after.) We see the subtleties of Ichiko's characterisation, e.g. her tendency to talk like her mother, even when this gets her shouted at.
To be honest, though, the film's most important character is its world. We live in this mountain community. We get to know its seasons. (Jun'ichi Mori took a year shooting this film, waiting for winter to be winter and for spring to be spring.) We see the fauna that live there and the flora that gets planted, grown, picked and/or eaten. We get to know the villagers. I've changed my mind on Little Forest... I think I would recommend it, actually. But only if you're in the mood for it and you know what you're watching.