The Sower (2016)

Mitsuo (Kentaro Kishi) has recently emerged from a three year stay at a mental institution following the stress of working on clearing earthquake disaster sites. Little is said about this but it has clearly deeply affected Mitsuo and others are untrusting of him. He is a solitary figure, worn and dishevelled as he goes to meet his brother Yuta (Tomomitsu Adachi), sister-in-law Yuko (Arisa Nakajima) and his two nieces Chie (Suzuno Takenaka) and Itsuki, who has down syndrome. Their reunion is a happy one and the family welcome Mitsuo, although Yuko seems a little unsure of him. On a day  out with his nieces, Mitsuo takes his eyes off them and Chie drops Itsuki. The tragedy of Itsuki’s death threatens to rend the family apart. Chie tells her mother that it was Mitsuo who dropped her sister and he is subsequently shunned by the family, accepting the role of outcast in order to protect his niece.

Written and directed by Yosuke Takeuchi the film is a simple story beautifully told. The opening scenes instantly create a believable family dynamic, with great acting from the whole cast. The use of a handheld video camera brings you into the relationships and you feel close and connected to them, which serves to make the following tragedy even more poignant. “The Sower” is a story full of significance, from the biblical symbolism of the “sower” to the almost archetypal character of Mitsuo as the scapegoat for tragedy, taking upon himself the burden of blame in order to protect his niece. There are references to nature and the fragility of life and the film confronts the difficult truth that horrific accidents and deaths do occur and there is little individuals can do to prevent them. Takeuchi’s visual storytelling is masterful and he knows exactly when things are better left unsaid. Music is used sparingly throughout, with only background cicadas or the sounds of the town or forest accompanying the drama. The direction is unshowy, but again knows when to linger on certain scenes for maximum impact, allowing the audience to contemplate what has happened, and what the characters are going through.

A stark, thought-provoking film about bereavement, that also touches on the treatment of mental and physical disability. “The Sower” offers a complex moral problem, with perhaps the most traumatic thing possible happening to this family, and gives the characters (and audience) time to breathe and realise the full implications of it. We see the anger and sorrow of the family, the understandable need for explanation, and the scapegoating of Mitsuo who takes on this role to protect Chie. But the film never takes sides. Everyone’s actions are understandable and justifiable. The title of the film is a reference to Mitsuo’s sowing of sunflower seeds, after we earlier see Itsuki’s joy at seeing a sunflower. “The Sower” is about how people are able to deal with trauma. Mitsuo’s journey is one of being defeated by the overwhelming sadness of an indescribable tragedy, to realising that all he can do in the face of these things is to persevere and attempt to choose a path of creativity and life over destruction and death. The film leaves itself open to interpretation and we never really know what Mitsuo or Chie are thinking, but this makes the film a fascinating examination of the psychology of loss.