Asked to make a film about peace and coexistence, Japanese documentarian Kazuhiro Soda (“Mental,” “Campaign”) filmed the daily interactions of his caregiving in-laws as well as the dynamics of their many stray cats. Hiroko Kashiwagi provides home aid to the sick and aging, while hubby Toshio drives the disabled to their various appointments; both give respectful, matter-of-fact attention to their clientele without forced cheeriness or condescension. In its depiction of calm cooperation under adverse conditions, “Peace” proves newly relevant in the wake of the Honshu earthquake and subsequent tsunami, suggesting increased arthouse viability.
Soda’s style of observational filmmaking, surprisingly intense in its leisurely unfolding, never lingers poetically on shots of flowers or sunrises. Instead, the helmer finds interest in the everyday details of Toshio’s rounds, from his friendly exchanges with the families of his passengers to the mechanics of loading a wheelchair onto his van.
Though a quiet man, Toshio waxes almost loquacious when explaining the workings of his colony of cats, which expands and contracts as new strays join the group and longtime members leave. At the time of filming, Toshio and the felines are caught up in the drama of the “thief cat,” as Toshio designates a scruffy black-and-white puss that poaches from the regulars’ dishes. By pic’s end, the outlaw has been totally integrated into the fold, offering a furry lesson in peaceful coexistence.
Hiroko’s adventures with 91-year-old WWII veteran Shiro Hashimoto prove similarly serendipitous. Hashimoto, a great favorite with the doctors and nurses at the hospital during his frequent checkups to monitor his terminal lung cancer, exhibits kindness and gentle good humor that come as welcome gifts to those who deal with death daily.
But an unexpected epiphany rewards Soda’s patient nonintervention: As Hiroko helpfully washes dishes in the kitchen of her charge’s miniscule apartment, Hashimoto suddenly starts reminiscing about WWII, when a man’s life was said to be worth 1.5 sen, the cost of the postcard that called him to active duty. He recalls that his mother didn’t dare show her joy at his survival, because coming home alive was considered shameful. Hashimoto has kept one reminder of the war, the Peace cigarette he smokes, a brand launched in 1946.
Docu proceeds in a continuous flow that appears effortless, seguing from person to person and cat to cat with perfect equanimity, Soda handling all aspects of the filming himself.