Manzan Benigaki (2001) (Red Persimmons)
Shinsuke Ogawa, Xiaolian Peng
Red Persimmons (2001) begins with a movie crew watching the fascinating A Visit To Ogawa Productions (1981), in which the late Shinsuke Ogawa, that Japanese filmmaker who pushed the limits of documentary filmmaking like no other, talks to Nagisa Oshima about his then current project A Japanese Village (1982), a work that is so oppressively modest that it turns out avant-garde. This absence of Ogawa haunts Red Persimmons, which Chinese filmmaker Xiaolian Peng helped complete, especially when it uses on-screen text instead of Ogawa’s usual, casual voiceover. Less digressive than the typical Ogawa picture but as sensitive and attentive to the rhythms of the countryside as any of his works, Red Persimmons attempts to trace the history of Kaminoyama with the science and commerce of persimmon farming, which forms the lifeline of the village, at its focal point. We see how personal and collective histories are tied to the production of this fruit, how persimmons have use, exchange and even symbolic value for the villagers and how the technology that develops alongside evolves primarily to address necessities and reduce effort than for expansion or multiplication of revenue. We observe, through the course of the film, that the persimmon itself becomes representative of ‘the Japanese village’ in the way it goes from being an organic part of a lifestyle, through being a commodity under simple capitalism and then a fiercely competitive economy, to gradually losing its ritualistic qualities and finally ending up as a low-demand produce. Beautiful, like a Dovzhenko film, humble, essential.