Icarus Films // 2001 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // May 2nd, 2012
Fruit from here is very sweet.
In the late 1980's, Japanese director Shinsuke Ogawa took a small crew to the tiny town of Kaminoyama to film the creation of their claim to fame: dried red persimmons. His timing was fortuitous, getting there just in time to capture the last generation to exclusively use the centuries old, technology free methods. Seeing tractors and other modern equipment would have regulated this film to "show the fourth grade class about farms" territory. Instead, Ogawa shot a time capsule of an age now past.
If you ever start feeling as if you hate your job, just watching the arduous task of peeling, cutting, and hanging thousands of persimmons might help. The villagers had it down to a science, but the piles seemed endless. Small technological steps helped. One woman was so slow after marrying into a persimmon-growing family that her husband designed a knife with a notch on the end to make for a quick, even cut. Soon they were everywhere. The film's favorite invention is the hand-cranked peelers made of bicycle gears created in 1931. A fairly large portion of the film focuses on these peelers, along with their inventor and various people who still make them.
Every now and then Red Persimmons uses contextually jarring music while transitioning scenes, but most of the film is score-free. That's a bonus for me. The sounds of twigs snapping, peelers whirring, or the wind blowing through long chains of drying persimmons gives the film a terrific sense of space. Ogawa includes scenes that probably wouldn't have made it into most documentaries, such as the moment where one persimmon farmer catches them filming his fruit, but aside from his obsession with the peelers, he does a good job of keeping the sleepy pace from becoming comatose. The interviews are generally engaging, especially since the people are open and readily willing to speak.
Given the film's age and the equipment used to make it, the standard definition 1.33:1 full-frame picture is excellent; minimal grain and balanced colors, though a bit faded. The audio is listed as Dolby 2.0 Stereo, though it's mostly talking coming from the center speaker. The subtitles are unobtrusive and easy to read. Extras include and interesting but overly long 62-minute documentary on Ogawa done in 1981 by Jun'ichiro Oshige and his hilarious leather suit. We also get text bios for Ogawa and second director Peng Xiaolian, who finished the film after Ogawa's death in 1991.
Red Persimmons is a quiet, contemplative look at a time and a place quickly disappearing from this world. If you like rural documentaries, this is a must see. If you prefer action-action-action, this'll put you to sleep.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Icarus Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated