IMDb's spell checker is complaining about my use of transliterated Japanese, so I must remove all of those words now or else its dictatorial 'previewer' won't let me go on. IMDb--I'll bloody decide if it's a spelling error or not, OK?
I refer to the previous reviewer's comments, most of which I am in complete agreement. 'The Witch of the West' delivers a fairly predictable study of the wise-woman/troubled pubescent girl scenario. It's been done many times before. The augmented interest of 'witchcraft' -- more pronounced than just herbal lore and garden tending -- provides only a modicum of interest. A more lavish treatment of the Japanese countryside, instead of the thinly brewed 'witch training', would have been more intriguing.
But this screenplay, partly adapted by Kaho whose children's novel this work is based, is clearly intended as a multi-generational feel good affair. Much like a Tori Amos concert, much of the audience will no doubt nod sagely as fairy-tale truths and mint tea go hand in hand. That's not say it's not pretty -- indeed, this move readily seizes upon the Japanese fascination for Grimm-esquire vignettes of old fashioned charm. As such, Sachi Parker plays her role as shawl-wearer with poise and elegant Japanese. At times, the all- knowing stare can be a bit much for the camera to take . . . but I suppose if you're already enchanted by the themes then the delivery will not seem overwrought.
Unfortunately, this movie might have achieved some depth if only it had scratched at some of the issues some more. Mai's determination to quit school, in fact, speaks of a rather depressing trend in the social life of Japanese teenagers: (bullying),shut-ins, and so forth. But Mai's reasons are pretty tame: she dislikes the clique mentality of the school system, in which group-think demands everyone hold hands and go to the bathroom together. Other than her mother making a passing reference to newspaper reports on teen depression, the very real problem of school-age despair gets passed over. Just some fresh air and strawberry jam, and your spirits are lifted.
And as for Sachi Parker . . . so much might have been done about the pun on Westerner. Other then when Genji mutters 'gaijin' abusively, or a small reference to Mai's mum having difficulty in school because of her mixed heritage, the potential interest on the issue of race also gets passed over.
But for a children's movie, maybe this is too much. Sexuality and women's issues don't get so much as a conversation. Mai sees some echi manga that Kenji is reading, and ignores it. Instead, we get very New Age commentaries on soul-body dualism, about enjoying the body for sensory (not sensual) pleasures, and so forth. It's pleasant enough. The movie steadfastly refuses to address organized religion . . . other than a parodic glimpse of a zazen session, Buddha makes no appearance.
So what we have, in totality, is an effectively predictable overview of inter-generational communication. The set-up symbols (the forget-me-not flower, the 'knowing', the chicken coop, the 'sanctuary') all culminate in the requisite climax. Dad wants to move; and Mai decides it's time to go back to school, albeit a new one. The mum makes a rather sinister reference to granny as having been controlling of Mai for a long period of time . . . but no development on this point.
Granny dies. Daughter has guilt. Resolution comes in the form of a message from beyond -- or at least, just before going to the beyond. It comes together like chamber music, pitched for the necessary tears. But it was hard to see how the relationships had more substance than the small lessons of the 'apprentice witch'. Moments of real tension -- well, only one, the face-slap -- feel rather contrived and inexplicable. Even when Mai says to Granny, "You can't control your temper either . . ." well, she just has a cigarette. The audience laughs.
I thought it was a nice touch though that Granny's message was in katakana. Apparently, after a lifetime in the country, she never got the hang of the writing system. Mai loves her o-ba-chan. And granny 'knows'. Takahashi's acting has the requisite sweetness and levity -- she's hardly the 'disturbed' child that all the promotional materials claim her to be. In fact, she's pretty matter of fact about her life: doesn't want to go to school, wants to become a witch . . . no problem, the parental figures tell her.
Good for the kids. The cinematography is lush, delighting in the greens and herbal tones of the hillsides. The 'mountain retreat' ideal provides a rather premodern context that plays up the misty landscape painting. Nice zoom shots work (the blooming tears of the strawberry field was my favourite moment). In the end, the view is quaint, and the conclusion equally more so. It's clear that some restraint was exercised over the level of sentimentality -- but there's no hiding the emotional agenda that motivates the film in every single second. You'll either be drawn in, or bored by the melodrama.
Mai (Mayu Takahashi),a junior high school student, refuses to go to school. Her parents are living apart, so her distressed but sympathetic mother sends her to stay with her grandmother in the country for awhile. What a change it turns out to be. Her grandmother gives Mai training as a witch (she calls herself "The Witch of the West") and also teaches Mai important values on life itself.—luraz isketambola
Uploaded by: FREEMAN