A primitive-looking sailboat is at the center of "Paradise Sea." The vessel is big, beautiful and utterly useless. "No one uses a wooden boat anymore," it's pointed out midway through construction. Which, of course, is the point: Director-writer Koji Hagiuda is extolling craftsmanship, patience and the long view --- i.e., the Old Ways. Snail's pace and meditative tone will consign pic to dry-dock, but tyro captain should be able to parlay word of mouth into a sophomore assignment.

A primitive-looking sailboat is at the center of “Paradise Sea.” The vessel is big, beautiful and utterly useless. “No one uses a wooden boat anymore,” it’s pointed out midway through construction. Which, of course, is the point: Director-writer Koji Hagiuda is extolling craftsmanship, patience and the long view — i.e., the Old Ways. Snail’s pace and meditative tone will consign pic to dry-dock, but tyro captain should be able to parlay word of mouth into a sophomore assignment.

Set on a remote island in southern Kyushu, pic traces spiritual awakening of Shinji (Shinji Arano), leader of a touring dance troupe. Dejected and rudderless , Shinji elects to stay behind after the troupe moves on. He moves in with an old man (Nobuyoshi Tanigawa) who is watched over by his granddaughter (Reiko Matsuo).

The stooped-over septuagenarian, coping with a recent loss, methodically cuts , shaves and hammers until a hull with no commercial value begins to take shape. When queried about his ancient practice, this modern-day Noah explains, “Times like these require focus.”

Before long, Shinji has gone from curious onlooker to apprentice. By summer’s end, he’s in sync with the old man, silently sawing and pounding, dreaming of a launch date that is looking more and more tenuous.

This allegory boasts several gem-like performances. Tanigawa has the craggy countenance of someone who isn’t afraid of hard labor, and the young Matsuo is wonderfully unaffected. Tech credits, in keeping with minimalist direction, are simple without seeming roughhewn.

Paradise Sea

(DRAMA -- JAPANESE)

Production

A Bitters End production. Produced by Takenori Sento, Koji Kobayashi. Directed, written by Koji Hagiuda.

Crew

Camera (color), Masaki Tamura; editor, Shuichi Kakesu; music, Masamichi Shigeno; art director, Hidefumi Hanatani; sound , Nobuyuki Kikuchi; lighting, Toshiji Okano. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (New Beat of Japan), Sept. 16, 1998. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Shinji ..... Shinji Arano Old Man ..... Nobuyoshi Tanigawa Fukuo ..... Fukuo Sudo Hitomi ..... Miwako Kawai Suzue ..... Reiko Matsuo
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