The graduation project of Kao Senami from the Department of Film Production at Kyoto University of Art and Design (now known as Kyoto University of the Arts) is a film that seems to focus on the concept of estrangement, presenting it though, through a rather unusual narrative.
The Rain's Ark screened at Skip City International D-Cinema Festival
Toko is a young woman who is roaming around a forest in the middle of a downpour. Not being able to hold out anymore, she faints, but the next day wakes up in a house where four people of both genders live together. All of them are quite hospitable, washing her clothes and taking care of her, without even being curious of how and why she got there or how long for she needs to stay. Furthermore, they even teach her how to boil the water for the outdoor drum canister that everyone uses to take a bath and how to wash the laundry with her feet at a nearby mountain stream. Gradually, Toko begins to adapt, but also realizes that the whole village seems to be living in another timeline, where technology has not touched almost at all. At the same time, one of the men in the house seems to have a relationship with a woman from the village, who has come from another place to take care of her elderly grandpa, while a number of issues the locals face come to the fore. The aforementioned young man eventually erupts, and violence follows.
There is a sense of disorientation in the film, which is mirrored in Toko but actually surrounds the whole narrative. In that fashion, questions like where, why and who are these people to each other dominate the movie, and never actually leave it, also intensifying the concept of estrangement both the protagonist, but also the viewer feels from the movie.
The atmosphere deriving from the aforementioned sense is imposing on times, and the mostly laconic behaviour of the protagonists intensifies it, as much as an essence that the time is off in the place the story occurs. At the same time, the cinematography is impressive on occasion, particularly in the scenes taking place in the forest, and Senami seems to try to follow the cinematic rules of Ozu in the house scenes and of Naomi Kawase in the bucolic ones.
In the end, however, the ellipsis that characterizes the story, the occasionally profound comments the inhabitants utter (“have you ever seen time?”, asks the young man at some point), and their overall actions seem completely detached, to a point that makes both them, as individuals, and what they are doing, irrelevant. The mystery that surrounds them is intriguing to a point, but again, not enough to justify the whole movie.
“The Rain's Ark” is not without interest, and Kao Senami obviously has an eye for cinematic composition. However, there is such a thing as “too arthouse” and I feel the movie exceeds it by far.