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Red Persimmons (2001)

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Studio: Icarus Films
Genre: Documentary, Nature & Science
Running Time: 90 min.
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English

Synopsis
The ostensible subject of this remarkably beautiful film is the growing, drying, peeling and packaging of persimmons in the tiny Japanese village of Kaminoyama. The inhabitants explain that it is the perfect combination of earth, wind and rain that makes their village's persimmons superior to those grown anywhere else, including the village just a few miles away. The film's larger subject, however, is the disappearance of Japan's traditional culture, the end of a centuries-old way of life. Begun by the Japanese director Shinsuke Ogawa in the late 1980s, RED PERSIMMONS was completed after his death by his Chinese disciple, Xiaolian Peng, who remained true to the delicate, wry sensibility inherent in the original footage. In addition to elegant depictions of the manufacturing process, the film features fascinating portraits of the people who invent and make the various tools and implements used in persimmon agriculture, as well as the colorful spiel of the old men and women who run the persimmon trade. In portraying the basic process of peeling and drying the persimmons, the film chronicles the improvements since the 1920s through the periodic introduction of more efficient, mechanized methods. An elderly man explains how in 1931, using old bicycle parts, he invented a peeling machine, thus enabling the village to produce persimmons in large enough quantities to turn them into a major cash crop. A series of discussions with other elderly farmers illustrates the progressive mechanization that gradually introduced modernity to rural Japan. Apart from its fascinating record of a vanishing way of life and its colorful anecdotes about human inventiveness, however, RED PERSIMMONS is a film of stunning visual beauty. Its scenes of time-lapse photography, whether revealing the gorgeous deep red-orange colors of the fruit in full blossom or drying after having been peeled, bathe the screen in radiant beauty. A bonus film is also included on the same disc: A VISIT TO OGAWA PRODUCTIONS thus offers a rare insight into the social and cinematic philosophy of one of Japan's best-known documentary film collectives. As the film reveals, Ogawa Productions' in-depth portraits of Japanese society - whether of protest movements or traditional agricultural life - grew out of an unusual commitment to integrate themselves with the communities they filmed, to the extent that their filmmaking literally became an alternative lifestyle.



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