Japanese Film Festival 2014 Review: A Drop of the Grapevine (ぶどうのなみだ) (Japan, 2014)


“Earth is all that live here.”

The magic of Japanese cinema is its vibrant, often startling diversity; perhaps most favoured for samurai action flicks, or dream-like anime films, Japanese filmmakers have become synonymous with movie masterpieces. More prominently, however, dramas have similarly come to the fore; following the 2012 film Bread of Happiness, Yukiko Mishima’s A Drop of the Grapevine is the second of three “Hokkaido Plan” films, a trilogy that is set within the densely rich natural environment of (yep, you guessed it) Hokkaido!

A Drop of the Grapevine, quite generally, tells the tale of Ao (Yo Oizumi) who returns home to the old coal-mining town of Sorachi. After an illustrious European career in music, Ao becomes unwavering and resolute in his determination to create the perfect Pinot Noir, a particular wine commonly referred to as “Black Diamond”. Working on his family farm alongside his wheat-farming brother Roku (Shota Sometani), the pair struggle as they face a multitude of many confronting challenges.
But as the story progresses, you will come to a distinct understanding that this tale is not just about our main protagonist; while his struggle is surely at the centre, the story of this film is startlingly more rich and complex. Indeed, while Ao is busy with his Pinot Noir, his family and friends grapple with their own concerns; issues of loneliness, of unrequited love, and abandonment.

Amongst the skirmish, Ao and Roku meet a mysterious traveller named Erika (Yuko Ando); armed with her van, a shovel, and an overwhelming sense of undeniable charm, her disturbance upon the farm brings calm to the daily lives of those within Sorachi. Scenes swap sentimentally between the old and the new. In this sense, A Drop of the Grapevine is a story of many, a discovery of anthropological conditions, a myriad of romances and anecdotes, all delicate, beautiful, and entirely human.

There is a tremendously tragic tone throughout the film; the start itself is almost depressing and quite terrifying for the most part. Emotions of melancholic regret, irrevocable loneliness, and desperate isolation follow accordingly, only occasionally interspersed with light-hearted, impulsive humour and wit. Anxiously, these dark undertones may lead to the overbearing belief that the film might lead to a heartbreaking conclusion, something truly terrible as you become so rapidly emotionally invested to each character.

However, rather than being morbidly overbearing, it becomes rather tender and mesmerising, and without giving away too much away, the film becomes a piece that is really just entirely energising – a work that shows how care, perseverance, and faith can bring about unprecedented changes creating something altogether tender and poetic.

The screenplay, written by Mishima is utterly charming and clever, performed masterfully by a band of Japan’s most talented actors. Oizumi is magnificently moody as Ao; dark, brooding, and with a temper that is fiery and relentless, his manner and disposition are markedly different from that of his younger brother Roku, played by Someteni; profoundly and wonderfully calm, there is quite a spectacular unspoken yet welcome presence of innocence.

Quite conversely, Erika is beguiling and impulsive, righteous, and fiercely strong; s dreamer and at times somewhat vulnerable, she is also entirely eccentric beholding a true sense of adventure, this lover of food and wine acts as a catalyst for change within the small town of Sorachi. Yuko Ando is unabashedly perfect within the role – a real star throughout the film.

Tomoro Taguchi, Tamoya Maeno, and Lily play as representatives, a sweet collection of residents from the nearby rural town; as a trio, the policeman, postman, and Riri – a peculiarly eclectic and exceptional woman – add the perfect amount of comedic relief within a piece of cinema that mostly takes itself very seriously.
Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana sweeps romantically throughout the film, from a symphonic beginning to a sentimental end as it plays out on the harmonica. This piece, alone, is signature throughout, playing a vital role. But music more generally is significant, offering a rather dichotomous combination of large orchestral scores and simple, repetitive folk tunes.

A Drop of the Grapevine is a film that is a celebration of food and feasting, of life and living, of bread and wine, sweat and tears; entirely established amongst green rolling hills, summer wheat fields, and acres of vineyards, it is a piece of cinema that explores earth as the giver of a fruitful harvest. It is where life changes as often as the weather, and will inevitably leave you thirsting for a good bottle of plonk.


A Drop of the Grapevine screens as part of the Japanese Film Festival. Details: japanesefilmfestival.net

Article by Anastasia Giggins


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