The documentary entails an interesting story regarding its release, since it was initially shot by Shinsuke Ogawa in the 1980s, in an effort to depict the lives of the people in the tiny Japanese village of Kaminoyama, who deal with the cultivation of persimmons. However, the film was concluded in the 21st century by his disciple, Xiaolian Peng, who stayed very close to his teacher’s style, even revisiting the same locations after 15 years, to the point that the change in helm is not visible at all.
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Ogawa takes a very thorough, but at the same time very sensitive look at the growing, drying, peeling and packaging of the persimmons in the area, focusing on the agricultural, as much as on the humanistic aspect. In the latter fashion, a number of people dealing with the different stages of the cultivation are interviewed, talking about the perfect combination of earth, wind and rain, that make their dried persimmons the most famous in Japan, along with their stories, myths, episodes, and the history of the particular cultivation in the area. A large part of the documentary deals with the tools they use and their evolution from handheld, slow and dangerous, to mechanical, through the help of local bicycle mechanics and blacksmiths.
Ogawa actually goes into their homes and shops in order to shoot their lives, which revolve around persimmons, in as much detail as possible. In this fashion, his effort lies not only with presenting the profession, but also with the recording of the way of life in these small, agricultural communities, that seem to disappear, as times passes, thus inducing the documentary with a nostalgic and rather dramatic essence, that becomes more intense in the revisiting of the area by Peng, 15 years later.
Evidently, one of the biggest traits of the documentary lies with Masaki Tamura’s (and Jong Lin’s) cinematography, which presents the persimmons from their deep red-orange beauty in their time of full blossom, to their drying in long lines in the sun, after having been peeled, painting the screen in impressive colors. Persimmons, as a subject, seem to benefit this aspect the most with their intense colors, with the time-lapse photography taking as much advantage of this trait as possible. On the other hand, the scenes revolving around the evolution of tools, although utterly realistic, lack this visual prowess, and at times, these sequences become a bit uninteresting, although the rest of the documentary definitely compensates.
Furthermore, I found the scenes of the wholesome dealers and the ones that deal the final product, wrapping the dried persimmons and selling them in fairs, equally interesting, with their stories about the commercial aspect of the fruit being at least as interesting. One thing everyone who deals with this procedure seems to share is their pride, for both their profession and the legacy they continue, and the product itself, in another trait that benefits the documentary as it induces it with an essence of true passion.
“Red Persimmons” is an impressive documentary that combines visual beauty with a multidimensional subject that highlights a very important and vastly unrecognized aspect of Japanese society.