The Japanese short film Furube is a contemplative meditation on not forgetting old traditions and beliefs as modern “progress” marches on. It invokes different forms of the otherworldy: aliens from outer space and traditional gods of Japan who are believed to protect the Earth and humans.
Shibata (Yujiro Taguchi) is spending a peaceful day in the mountains with his young daughter Hana (Hana Elizabeth Canham) when a series of mysterious lights in the daytime sky descend in the surrounding areas. Six months later, he is using the forest for cover as he and another man, Yano (Tencho Matsumoto), are struggling to survive and hide from the aliens’ death beams. Shibata takes time regularly to pray for nature, which disgusts Yano so much that he steals Shibata’s bag and leaves him alone.
In despair and exhausted both physically and mentally, Shibata encounters a tengu (MITSUHA, voiced by TONIO, who is also responsible for the short’s special makeup and costumes) — a dangerous yet protective forest and mountain spirit — at a small shrine. Touched by the fact that Shibata is the first human to pray at the shrine in 200 years, the tengu devises a plan to battle against the invading aliens.
Writer/director Atsushi Ishizaka balances tranquility with sudden danger in this fine short. The scenes of alien attacks and their aftermath are all the more jarring because of the serenity of set pieces that surround them. Along with the will of humanity to survive that is seen in almost every alien attack film, there is a message about respecting tradition and nature in Furube that gives the short a distinctive viewpoint.
The technical aspects of the film are wonderfully done, considering what must have been a limited budget. Yasutsugu Arai’s cinematography is superb, with sumptuous shots of a forested mountain area setting a breathtaking background. The CGI effects are nicely realized, including various forms of yokai — supernatural beings from Japanese folklore — brought to cinematic life by Shohey Yamashita. Shiro Mashiba’s score is luxurious, as well, with a variety of styles ranging from meditative to symphonic to jazz with beats.
Though presented from a uniquely Japanese viewpoint, the messages in Furube are relatable no matter what the viewer’s cultural background. It is a beautiful work that lingers long after the ending credits finish.
Furube screened at Another Hole in the Head Film Fest, which ran December 1st –15th at New People Cinema in San Francisco. (4 / 5)