Katsuhito Ishii is a peculiar man. With his roots in the world of anime, he's been making off-beat live action films for quite a while now. His style is a bit hard to define as he mixes goofy weirdness with hipness and poetic stillness. It gives his films a pretty unique flavor, with Taste of Tea as his most critically acclaimed work so far. After he finished The Taste of Tea he's been wandering about, doing different things. My Darling of the Mountains is one of those things.
Ishii's Funky Forest allowed him to get a lot of weirdness out of his system. He dumped whatever freaky idea he dreamed up into that film which seems to have liberated himself for his newest work. My Darling of the Mountains is a remake of a much older film (the original stems from 1938) and apparently Ishii wanted to stay quite close to the source material. Though there is a slight hint of his previous weird streak, Ishii reverts to his poetic side to make this film work.
From the start you know this film will be different from other K. Ishii films. The viewer is introduced to a pair of blind masseurs traveling up a mountain road. While they ascend it becomes clear that they take their pleasure in overtaking the non-blind and are quite driven to do so. The camera work is sober, the humor a little dusty, but the surroundings are magnificent and so is the soundtrack, filled with the sounds of spring. If you don't like this setup, there is little else for you in the film.
The sense of humor applied through the film is pretty basic, but it's Ishii's timing that makes it work. Where other films often focus on the moment of the joke, Ishii captures the aftermath of the jokes, which makes it a whole lot funnier than it is supposed to be. A blind guy hitting a chandelier is not particularly funny, the 30 seconds afterwards when a group of other blind guys are trying to figure out what happened are.
Visually Ishii makes this a very sober but well shot film. The camera moves ever so slowly, but always keeping in mind composition and framing. The film is littered with brown (indoors) and green (outdoors) colors adding a lot to the subdued, warm atmosphere present throughout the whole film. The soundtrack too plays a large part in this. Spring is everywhere in this film, with the sounds of the forest featuring in about every scene. Light music is used in other scenes to set the mood. Nothing spectacular, but a film like this doesn't really need that.
As the film progresses a slight strand of drama is introduced, without ever hurting the light atmosphere. Only at the very end does Ishii plays the full dramatic card and is able to make it work brilliantly. Looking back Ishii played a pretty clever game by hiding the dramatic outcome of the film. Not that's it's completely downbeat, but a happy end would've been much easier to pull off.
My Darling of the Mountains is a slow film. Even though it lasts only 90 minutes there is not much happening. Dramatic events are scarce and the comedy is light. It is the perfect film for taking a little step back to enjoy the peace and quiet coming from the film, to enjoy the occasional laugh and to be surprised by a more than touching finale. Well acted, beautifully shot and neatly scored, this film is for those who enjoy the more poetic side of Katsuhito Ishii, but can handle this style in a light and undemanding context. I liked it a lot, not as much as Ishii's earlier films, but it's a lovely little film that shows Ishii is capable of many things without losing his particular touch.