Japanese Film - The Laborer
by Richard Donovan, April 2007
Rodosha (The Laborer) is a short film set in Japan that is a cautionary tale about defining your life by your work. Tetsu is already working consecutive nights of overtime when his friend drags him along to a party to meet some girls.
Despite his distracted air, Miki is somehow still interested in him, and they are soon a typical Japanese couple with a child, and bills to pay. Tetsu is consumed by work, and barely has time for his family. It takes a brush with mortality for him to realise what he has given up but is it already too late?
One could accuse filmmaker Darryl Knickrehm of a similar excessive devotion to work after all, he spends his days earning a living at an English school, and most of his time off working on his film projects but the difference is that he patently loves what he does.
After graduating from film school in the US, Knickrehm made Japan his base. His equal enthusiasm for Japan and filmmaking are evident in this poignant piece, which attempts, mostly successfully, to blend a range of slick filmic techniques with a simple tale of loss.
He uses a narrow depth of field to good effect, with all but the closest objects out of focus, hinting at how narrowed down our view of the world can become if we let it. Slow motion bespeaks the torpidity of the modern urban life; the repetitive Michael Nyman-esque soundtrack emphasises its cyclical routine.
This is at last relieved by the ever-refreshing sound of running water, which leads Tetsu into an alternative universe where the cherry blossom is in bloom, human contact is blossoming, and at last he can see possibilities beyond the miserable little locus he has described for himself.
There are heavy-handed and derivative moments in Rodosha, just as there are in his earlier, darker efforts, the thrillers in absentia and 152.
Music, as in the majority of mainstream films these days, is a little too relied upon as a narrative device. The black briefcase, which earlier Tetsu had clutched to himself, ends up abandoned on a park bench yes, an obvious work-as-crutch motif. And Tetsu has further experiences and encounters that may seem like d vu for those of us who have seen a fair number of Japanese films.
But the story captures the essence of the salaryman's dilemma, and is economically and effectively told by the use of flashbacks and juxtapositions rather than voice-overs. The Japanese cast, led by Dan Yukino in the title role, are uniformly good.
Knickrehm clearly has both an affection for his adoptive home, and the ability to present his vision of it on film. There is exciting potential here, and I look forward to seeing his future works, such as Out of Context (currently in production) and The Wishing Tree. You can find information about all his projects, and upcoming screenings, at his website www.dariru.com.