The ostensible subject of this remarkably beautiful film is the growing, drying, peeling and packaging of persimmons in the tiny Japanese village of Kaminoyama. The inhabitants explain that it is the perfect combination of earth, wind and rain that makes their village's persimmons superior to those grown anywhere else, including the village just a few miles away. The film's larger subject, however, is the disappearance of Japan's traditional culture, the end of a centuries-old way of life.
Begun by the Japanese director Shinsuke Ogawa in the late 1980s, RED PERSIMMONS was completed after his death by his Chinese disciple, Xiaolian Peng, who remained true to the delicate, wry sensibility inherent in the original footage. In addition to elegant depictions of the manufacturing process, the film features fascinating portraits of the people who invent and make the various tools and implements used in persimmon agriculture, as well as the colorful spiel of the old men and women who run the persimmon trade.
In portraying the basic process of peeling and drying the persimmons, the film chronicles the improvements since the 1920s through the periodic introduction of more efficient, mechanized methods. An elderly man explains how in 1931, using old bicycle parts, he invented a peeling machine, thus enabling the village to produce persimmons in large enough quantities to turn them into a major cash crop. A series of discussions with other elderly farmers illustrates the progressive mechanization that gradually introduced modernity to rural Japan.
Apart from its fascinating record of a vanishing way of life and its colorful anecdotes about human inventiveness, however, RED PERSIMMONS is a film of stunning visual beauty. Its scenes of time-lapse photography, whether revealing the gorgeous deep red-orange colors of the fruit in full blossom or drying after having been peeled, bathe the screen in radiant beauty.
"A quiet contemplative look at a time and place that's quickly disappearing." —DVD Verdict
2005 Association for Asian Studies Film Festival
2001 Yamagata Documentary Film Festival (Japan)
"Wonderful! Reveals Japanese as a process of agricultural transformation. Rich and complex... Marvelous!"—Visual Anthropology Review
"Very beautiful! One of the films highlights is its cinematic portrayal of the visual beauty of nature, such as the way in which it shows the changing lights and shadows of the drying process, which were filmed by time-lapse photography. The contrast of the persimmons, which evolve from a fresh colorful red to a dried fructose brown, is simply gorgeous. As the film ended, I myself (in part because of my own Asian origins) was left with an awful sense of remorse in response to the extinction of a traditional culture. At the same time, I felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to have been there, if only vicariously, to witness all this through the eyes of the two directors."—Leonardo: The Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology
"Multidimensional, deeply contextual, and beautifully shot. Peng Xiaoliang should be commended for finishing this film while remaining true to Ogawa's vision and voice.—Karen Nakamura, Asst. Professor of Anthropology, Yale University, for Visual Anthropology Journal
"Recommended! Thoughtfully conceived and beautifully filmed... It not only offers facts about persimmon growing, but insights into the inner workings of traditional Japanese rural life."—Educational Media Reviews Online
"Elegant as a print by Hokusai... A moving revelation of a microcosm soon to vanish."—The Village Voice
"A moving, wistful look at the effulgent, eternal cycle of life and death."—Film Journal International
"Part living relic, part social study, RED PERSIMMONS regards its endearing subjects with respect and humility."—Time Out
"Oddly fascinating...Exquisitely beautiful."-—TVGuide.com