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February 27, 2009

Man Walking in Snow

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Aruku, hito
Masahiro Kobayashi - 2001
Facets Region 1 DVD

What I liked most about Man Walking in Snow is looking at the aged face of Ken Ogata. There is a vulnerability that comes with age, and at the same time one can see the man who played powerful characters, samurais and criminals, most notably for western audiences, Yukio Mishima in Paul Schrader's film. Masahiro Kobayashi films screen filling close-ups of that face so that we see every wrinkle and white hair on his head.

The story takes place over a period of three days. Nobuo, a widower, is planning the second anniversary observance of the death of his wife. His youngest son, Yasuo, takes care of his father and the family sake business. The estranged older brother, Ryoichi, works in a warehouse and is contemplating the dissolution of his band. While Yasuo's relationship with his girlfriend is troubled, based on Yasuo's devotion to caring for his father. Ryioichi contemplates returning home to establish a more stable domestic relationship with the pregnant Nobuko. Nobuo temporarily dreams of leaving the cold, snowy fishing town of Mishike for the consistently warmer Okanawa.

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The title comes from Nobuo's daily walk from his home through town where he picks up an ice cream cone, and continues his walk to a salmon fishery. It is at the fishery that Nobuo flirts with Michiko and examines the tiny salmon in their enclosed bins. The salmon serve as a metaphor for the characters, between those who accept their restricted life and environment and those who would want to escape. Nobuo's personal rituals and needs supplant those of his family and Michiko.

This is my first film by Kobayashi. A description of his working methods is found in a review of one of his other films. Kobayahsi alternates between formal set-ups with the camera at a distance, often with little or no movement, and hand held close ups and jump cuts. I'm not sure of Kobayashi's motivations but the effect might be described as an Ozu domestic drama as filmed by the Godard of Breathless. From what I have read of Kobayashi's other films, he likes to film in what is known in Japan as "snow country". At this time, there is not much available in English on Kobayashi. What is known is that he is a truly independent filmmaker, unlike most of his peers who are connected with the studios. In doing some research, while IMDb only lists one credit for Sayoko Ishii, the actress who plays Michiko, this is not her only screen appearance. The only other available film from Kobayshi for U.S. based viewers is Bashing, a film critical of Japanese attitudes. What seems to be evident is Masashiro Kobayashi is making films that reflect his own conflicts, an artist both inescapably Japanese, yet not wanting to be confined or defined by his country's traditions.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 27, 2009 12:39 AM