Life has been a bit topsy turvy for me lately, so I wanted to watch something more sedate and soothing. I didn’t feel like a 10-episode drama, so I settled for Little Forest, a charming two-parter film that seemed to have garnered some positive reviews.
Ichiko (Hashimoto Ai) returns to her hometown Komori in the Tohoku region after a series of setbacks in the big city. She lives in her mother’s old house and farms the land, living in harmony with nature and the changing four seasons. With help from her friends, she comes to terms with what she really needs in life…
Little Forest is adapted from a manga of the same name by Igarashi Daisuke and is very slice of life, which is a genre the Japanese excel in. It features the Tohoku region, which I had the pleasure of visiting before the 2011 tsunami and loved the rustic charm it evoked. So I was pretty happy to see the film feature a region of Japan most tourists would skip over in favour of the big cities, and showcase its down-to-earth qualities and intrinsic beauty. Filming took place in Iwate, among others, for an entire year to accommodate the changing of the seasons.
I hadn’t realised food played such a key role in the film, so I enjoyed the various dishes Ichiko made using ingredients from each season. It was all food porn from the moment Ichiko started making stuff in the summer segment of the film, and some of the dishes were pretty ingenious. I really liked the mulberry jam, grilled trout, candied chestnuts and satsumaimo among other yummy-looking food. Autumn and winter were my favourite segments, since I love those seasons and also really liked the dishes Ichiko made during those months, and some of the summer dishes also resonated with me. At some point, it resembled a cooking show, for there isn’t much story and a lot of the film is about celebrating the simple life and respecting what nature has to offer. It is a timely reminder, in light of climate change and all the natural disasters the world is facing, that we humans have taken Mother Nature for granted despite the progress we have made. A lot of farm life is about understanding the cycle of life and how things are intrinsically linked and affect one another – farming is a year-round affair and preparation done well in one season can help ensure smooth operations for the seasons after. The film offers various tips on how to grow tomatoes and rice, for example, and the warm community spirit is something often lacking in big cities and modern society.
However, adding more meat to the story would not have affected the slice of life feel. Ichiko pondering the reason for her return to Komori and whether this is what she wants is narrated and told rather than shown. Her conflict is resolved too quickly for my liking and I don’t feel much of her struggle, not in the food she prepares or the setbacks she encounters while farming (and she doesn’t encounter many). Although the city vs rural debate did come up in the film, it was mostly one-sided, as Ichiko’s childhood friend Yuuta (Miura Takahiro) came back to Komori because he wasn’t able to take anymore the hypocrisy of the city folk – the Komori denizens, however, earned his respect because they walk the talk and wear their hearts on their sleeves. Ichiko herself knows she’s running away from something, and Yuuta admonishes her for seeing Komori as an escape route, but we’re never shown what she’s done to address the issue. Perhaps the manga expanded on this, but I feel this is a missed point in the film, which barely scratches the surface of what it is like to be self-sufficient away from the trappings of city life.
Still, the reflective tone of the film leaves one with much food for thought, and I really liked the slice of life feel it evoked. Acting was also generally fine, even if I thought Hashimoto Ai was a bit stiff at certain points. I also liked Miura Takahiro as the straight-talking Yuuta and Matsuoka Mayu as the bubbly Kikko, and thought the scenery featured was breathtaking and calming. The film depicts very little of the reality that is the harshness and travails of farm life, but the reverence it has for the food nature offers us and how to make full use of it is something we can all learn to respect and incorporate into our daily life.