For independent filmmakers, shooting a family drama has the added benefit of a low production cost. However, the story and script must then be the primary value of the movie, and this is where wheat is separated from the chaff. Takeuchi Yosuke’s The Sower seems to have all the qualities to set it apart from most others. It’s theme of redemption and renewal may be representative of the genre, but the journey on which Takeuchi takes the characters is both special and emotionally impactful.
A man afflicted with the mental and emotional grief of working in the disaster stricken areas of the Great East Japan Earthquake is released from a mental hospital after three years and is warmly welcomed back by his brother and his sister-in-law, who have two children; two girls, one with down syndrome. When the man agrees to take the two children to an amusement park, a tragic accident occurs which tears apart the family. A lie begets another lie while sorrow and anguish brings to the fore long held, deeply held emotions. By the time guilt begins to eat away the lies and reveal the truth, the damage is done. All that is left, just like in the disaster stricken region of Japan, is the hope for renewal and the determination to live on.
Though set in the post-tsunami stricken Tohoku region of Japan, this is not the focus of the Takeuchi’s movie. In fact, he has stated the true inspiration came from the sunflowers he saw randomly sprouting in the ravaged areas: “That made us think that despite the fact the tsunami caused massive destruction and taken many lives, it had at the same time enticed sunflower seeds to sprout in the ground where people have been buried.” It is also interesting to note the title, the sower, in one sense could describe someone who plants seeds in a field or wilderness in order for new plants to grow, but can also be used in reference to those who spread doubt or dissent. Takeuchi’s direction seems competently up to the task, as is his cast, of delving into both metaphors. Depicting emotional trauma without hyperbole is difficult; the themes and situations of this movie are intimate and need to stay grounded. One need not look further than the performance of the young girl who must bear the weight of one of the story’s essential plot points. Encouraging the level of maturity in the performance of Takenaka Suzono is truly a testament to Takeuchi’s skills which did not seem to go unnoticed by the jury of the 2016 Thessaloniki International Film Festival who awarded The Sower the Best Director and Best Actress awards.
With luck, this strong showing at Thessaloniki will begin a widening of international screenings and distribution deals, though the movie has not played in Takeuchi’s home country nor does it have a release date there yet.