Matt Smiley, Tatsuya Fuji, Kazuko Yoshiyuki. Director Claude Gagnon. Mostly English, some subtitled Japanese.
A late-teens, Caucasian Canadian man is sent to stay with his Japanese uncle in the Japanese countryside. The genetics of that must be overlooked. The young man is supposedly depressive, having attempted suicide in Canada, but he comes across as an ordinary, surly, taciturn teenager trying to find himself, showing no particular signs of mental pathology. The uncle is a wealthy potter who does raku in a huge, wood-fired earthen kiln. Gradually, by apprenticing to the potter, and by literally chopping wood and carrying water, the youth overcomes his mental confusion and finds meaning and hope in life. There is essentially no dramatic tension, no action, and very little dialog. Characters are suggested but not rounded out. However the photography and locations are authentic and beautiful, the music is fantastic, the sets compelling, and the story line is quietly sentimental enough to keep you engaged. I may be overrating the film because I have visited just such a traditional potter in rural Japan and I understand how a particular place and time find their way into the pottery. But I don’t think that would come through objectively in the movie, although it did win 5 awards at the Montreal Film Festival, so who knows? I would have preferred a stronger linkage between the youth’s coming of age and the artistic values of the pottery.