FILM OF THE MONTH
”Being human inevitably implies the killing of other living things. Yet we often lack the real sense of what killing means, and our awareness of it is usually limited to some numbers on a paper. Indeed, especially for those like me who have been growing up in a metropolis, there’s the tendency to overlook the fact that our everyday life entails the sacrifice of other lives, and we are too often driven by egoism in trying to protect ourselves and those close to us at the expense of others.” – Masakazu Kaneko
THE ALBINO’S TREES
By EJ Wickes
Image (above) from The Albino’s Trees”, winner of December’s Best Narrative Feature from CICFF
The film The Albino’s Trees opens serenely in the natural landscape of Japan. From the beginning the viewer is drawn subtly into the holy trinity of human conflict. All three scenarios of human conditioning are interwoven gracefully within this poetic narrative: Man vs Nature, Man vs Man and Man vs Himself. Each state of existence will be explored in this feature length film, written and directed by Japanese filmmaker, Masakazu Kaneko.
We are immediately drawn to Yuku and his hunting partner and friend Imamori as they stalk and kill a young doe. They work for a governmental agency dealing with animal control. As wildlife populations grow they encroach on the property of Man. Often eating his crops or damaging his trees in search of food for their own survival.
Yuku and his partner are the best culling team with the most “vermin” kills to date. They are very good at their jobs, but how does it play on their consciences? Unfortunately in life, there are times when we have to make hard choices. When sacrifices have to be made for the survival of friends or loved ones. When our own values are challenged by some justifiable version of hypocrisy. And here is where the protagonists hit the wall. Known for their skill, the hunters are offered a very lucrative contract – with strict terms of confidentiality.
Yuku’s mother is ill and needs an expensive operation to pull through. Someone in the family just had a baby and they are hard pressed with the extra financial demands. This opportunity offers them some relief and to be responsible to his family Yuku reluctantly takes the contract.
The two hunters travel to the city to meet with a bureaucrat from the Agro-Forestry Service. Still they receive cryptic instructions to meet a man near the village of Yurigi; the area where the “culling” will occur. Still they have no idea of the prey or why they have been contracted for this particular job. And why all the secrecy?
The young hunters meet the man from the village, an old hunter who’s lost his agility. He finally reveals that the animal they’ve been hired to kill is an albino stag; the legendary White Deer God of Mount Yurigi and its neighboring village. The animal’s mutation is enough, they say to cause suspicion and doubts about the ecological integrity of the land, as civilization encroaches further into the wild. Yuku’s partner cannot allow himself to be a part of the demise of the villages spiritual icon; leaving Yuku to wrestle with this moral dichotomy himself.
In the artisan’s studio
It’s funny how we as a species or civilization can view destruction as a sustainable process. Ironically we call this progress. Something must die for something else to live on. It’s the circle of life, death and rebirth. But what about in regards to the “inconveniences” of tradition and culture?
As he visits with Nagi and her friend from the village, he becomes drawn into the intrigue of her obsession to leave the village along with her inability to actually do so. There was an underlying; almost a dark magnetism that started pulling me from the obvious narrative, beyond reality as soon as Yuku crosses over from the modern comfortable world he knows into an obscure and superstitious world. He is only reminded of it in passing, causally foreshadowed by his sponsor’s grandmother. A romantic metaphor to the ghosts and spiritual operatic forms of traditional Japanese theater and modern film.
Without disclosing too much of the story, in summation, The Albino’s Trees reminds us about the forgotten relationship or unwritten contract that we as a species are accountable to. And that somewhere a line has to be drawn between our wants and desires and our needs and basic comforts, and that people still exist at the extreme polarities of mutual understanding.
I think the audience is going to come away from The Albino’s Trees with very mixed and varied interpretations. Not everything has been spelled out for the viewer. Each perspective throughout the story that’s brought to bear, is never defined as the correct point of view. They are all justifiable, according to each of the involved actors’ material or spiritual priorities.
The considerations to the production quality of The Albino’s Trees is noticeable. However, the slower pacing I thought dragged a little in some spots, but the cinematography felt genuine, crisp and not overworked. Well scouted natural locations made for a very clean color palette and good sound design.
As the movie plays out the main character on his way to revisit the rural community and the dynamic formed between Nagi and himself; he encounters a procession of villagers that belays all his hopes and dreams. But in the end he gets some redemption in the form of a smile, from what could have been quite possibly a ghost, from some long forgotten dream that died when the White Deer God; protector of the mountain and its trees, took his final breath.
The Albino’s Trees stars: Ryohei Matsuoka, Kanako Higashi, Yusuke Fukuchi, Kinuo Yamada and Hatsunori Hasegawa. Written and Directed by Masakazu Kaneko; written by Miyuki Kaneko and Produced by the Kanekos, The Albino’s Trees has screened and nominated for awards in the Beijing International Film Festival 2016 and nominated for the Hiroshima International Film Festival (Hiroshima Peace Film Award) 2016 and was selected as the Best Narrative Feature for the December 2016 Selection of the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival.
EJ Wickes is a visual artist, the Creator, Designer and Publisher of The Metamodern Magazine and the Managing Editor of Cult Critic Magazine. His aesthetics lie somewhere in the vortex between painting and filmmaking. Eric has worked as an Art Director, Lead Scenic and Leadman on many film productions from Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, to his most recent involvement with the Verizon Go90 Channel, production of the comedy series “Embeds”.