ハルカの陶 「Haruka no Sue」
Release Date: November 30th, 2019
Duration: 119 mins.
Director: Naruhito Suetsugu
Writer: Naruhito Suetsugu (Script) Disk Furai, Taisei Nishizaki (Original Manga)
Starring: Nao, Hiroyuki Hirayama, Jun Murakami, Takashi Sasano, Maki Murakami,
This live-action movie is based on a comic of the same name that won the 13th Okayama Art and Culture Award for Achievement. This very specific award should give you an clue as to what type of film this is, a regional-themed story that draws upon the culture of Okayama. In this particular case, it’s the rich history of pottery.
Our entry into the world of pottery is via a novice named Haruka Koyama (NAO). She is a bored office worker from Tokyo and her first encounter with Bizen-ware comes when playing pack mule for her supervisor at a department store. A nearby exhibition of ceramics from Okayama captures her attention and one particular piece captures her heart. It is a large plate that has a particularly fiery look with swirls of red and orange reminiscent of a conflagration. It touches something deep inside Haruka. It is like seeing passion given form and she feels as if the passion of the ceramicist can be felt.
This feeling blows away the cobwebs of her life and drives her to quit her job and quit Tokyo to track down the creator and learn more and so she travels to the Western part of Japan.
Shot on location at Bizen City in Okayama Prefecture, we are treated to the sights and sounds of a much-storied area which has ancient kilns, its own pottery fairs, and plenty of countryside scenery. The pacing of the film slows down as Haruka learns to acclimatise to the area and also begin the art of crafting ceramics.
As a newbie to pottery Haruka begins tutelage under Osamu Wakatake (Hiroyuki Hirayama), the 30-something creator of the plate and the latest in a long line of ceramicists. Despite her positivity she finds him a difficult person to be with due to his overly demanding nature and his harsh attitude towards her. It turns out that this has roots in a family trauma connected to his profession. Just as Haruka begins to walk on a new path in her life it seems that he may block her way.
This may be a high-stakes situation that Haruka has placed herself in considering she has quit everything she knows but what unfolds is a gentle tale of learning a craft through chasing ones passion and the encounters with people and places that this pursuit entails. It helps that Haruka has the personality of a typical slice-of-life anime heroine in that she is a little naïve and sometimes clumsy but ultimately good-natured and determined, her drive to know more pushing herself and others around her to change. Lead actress Nao brings a positivity that is effervescent enough to sell this aspect and it is believable that she can win over others, shining a light in their life with her presence so that she allows them to overcome their own problems.
As Osamu, Hiroyuki Hirayama ably imbues his character with a gruff guy presence that gently yields in the face of Haruka’s efforts. Theirs is a relationship that takes the form of teacher and student before becoming a little more intimate as they share suffering and creativity together but it is based on creativity and the pursuit of artistry rather than a cheap romance.
What unfolds between the two is a standard story of people influencing each other and it is cleanly done with solid characterisation and acting so that it meets the genre’s needs and ends up being satisfying. Themes of family, dedication, and passion are worked out between the two to show how meaningful ceramics and their production can be and as viewers we learn this alongside the two leads by seeing them work and create and the final pieces.
Responding to rather well to the two is a solid cast of supporting actors who play equally solidly-defined characters. Veteran performer Takashi Sasano (very memorable in the Eiji Uchida film Greatful Dead) brings enough cheeky-chappy energy to his role of Tojin Sakaki, a beer-swilling master craftsman who has earned the status of “national living treasure.” His good-natured teasing raises a smile every time we see him but it also proves to be a good vehicle to deploy some philosophy that helps further push along the character’s and strengthen their motivations and help us understand the importance of pottery.
The film is clear in its intentions and well-crafted so that we can enjoy the story and learn more about pottery. It will definitely prove to be inspiring to audiences who enjoy the craft and refreshing for people who are, like Haruka, at a crossroads in life and looking at where to go next.