A Gentle Breeze in the Village
Wow, one of the stars of festival 08 Yamashita Nobuhiro’s A Gentle Breeze in the Village (hereafter: Gentle Breeze) is a work of serene beauty; honestly capturing the steady, contemplative rhythm of village life in Japan, and painting a true picture of the unsure awkwardness, and faltering innocence of adolescence. This film doesn’t miss a beat with the screenplay, actors, photography, and even the music combing to produce a picture that is truly a joy to behold.
Becoming a festival regular, Yamashita returns to familiar ground with Gentle Breeze; canvassing the tenuous nature of youth as in his 2005 festival favourite Linda Linda Linda after moving into the realm of black comedy meets deadpan in 2006’s The Matsugane Potshot Affair. Gentle Breeze begins with sumptuous shots of a sleepy Japanese village and soon after we meet the principal inhabitants of the both film and the local Junior/Middle school. In total the school houses only six students but the students are anticipating the arrival of a seventh who has just moved to village with his mother – returning home after many years absence. The group’s informal leader, is the eldest girl (still pre-teen) Soyo (played by a luminous Kaho) who takes an almost motherly role with the younger ones and helps to gel the group together.
The titular ‘Breeze’ comes in the form of Tokyo born Hiromi (the same age as Soyo) who quickly becomes the centre of attention; particularly with the older girls. After some initial unpleasantness, Soyo and Hiromi start developing the awkwardness that is the adolescent’s crush. As inferred by the film’s title, Hiromi’s presence creates something of a stir in this tight group of friends and they are soon traversing the roads of jealousy and minor upheaval. Slightly aloof, and initially less pleased with the move than his new friends are, Hiromi slowly comes to find his place in this setting out from the rush of city life.
Gentle Breeze, over a period of almost two years, follows the development in the relationships of this group of kids and their families even as it flows through the physical seasons. The film explores small town life and the relational complexities that knowing everyone creates. Hiromi’s mother, who takes a job at the local barber’s shop, is the topic of much village gossip, and Soyo’s father – who apparently has some unexplained history with her – refuses (somewhat unsuccessfully) to have his haircut by her, or for his children to associate with her son. Another example of this interplay of coomon knowledge stirred by a new presence is a scene where Hiromi indirectly causes the children to walk a route to the local beach which they haven’t taken for years since it contains the site of a locally known suicide.
Adapted from manga by Kuramochi Fusako aimed at young girls, the director subverts the idealised romanticism by creating a film so true to life that it gives the lie to fantasy providing better romantic storylines than true life. Gentle Breeze manages to be incredibly romantic whilst walking well above cliché and retaining the true flawed innocence of youth. Young Kaho in the lead role of Soyo Migita is outstanding, never feeling staged or directed; likewise Okada Masaki plays a worthy foil in the role of seemingly worldlier Hiromi. In the end they are just kids negotiating their way through growing up and experiencing live, love, hardship and this is what we get onscreen.
Yamashita, his cinematographer Kondo Ryuto, and his editor Miyajima Ryuji, produce stunning imagery – bringing out the inherent beauty of the rural setting – and create pace and aesthetic in the film that totally matches the feel and rhythm of the village life they are portraying. And although they serve up some of the best framed shots I have seen of late, none of this stands apart from the film and story itself. Instead it all feels natural and easy and gives the story a vibrancy that it might otherwise have lacked.
Director Yamashita is one of the few Japanese directors creating compelling viewing that is not as dark as the depths and staring straight into the extreme ugliness present in the human psyche. Gentle Breeze is a film not to miss and one that would make suitable viewing for the whole family – not something that would usually appeal to me!
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Duration: 121 mins
Genre: Coming-of-age drama
Director: Yamashita Nobuhiro
With: Kaho, Okada Masaki, Yanagi Erisa, Fujimura Shoko, Natsukawa Yui, and Sato Koichi.
Country: Japan (2007)