Archive for August 21st, 2012

Mt Tsurugidake (2009)

The year is 1907 and Mt Tsurugidake remains the only Japanese mountain that hasn’t been conquered which the Japanese military finds rather embarassing. Many have tried but have ultimately failed to hit the summit due to the harsh weather conditions and severe terrain encountered. The military order a cartographer named Shibasaki to chart the elevation and distances around the peak and ultimately to set foot on its peak. With Russia and France threatening Japan’s very shores, it’s a matter of pride for the military that Shibasaki beats an amateur climbing club which uses new Westernised climbing methods and place triangulation stones on Mt Tsurugidake’s summit to help create a new accurate map of the area. A local mountain guide aids Shibaski on his initial reconnaissance mission before he assembles a team that’s ready to hit the mountain. Will Shibasaki and his team succeed in their task or will the amateur climbing club beat them to it?

The first thing that strikes you when you watch this movie is the fantastic cinematography on show. The shots of the scenery and the mountains is just incredible and very beautiful . In case you’re wondering they’re not fake and created on a computer. The crew really went up Mt Tsurugidake and the surrounding area to make the mountain shots as real as possible. No wonder that veteran cinematographer Daisaki Kimura won a Japanese Academy Award for his work in this movie. It’s a visual experience like no other. The movie itself is a brilliant story about a journey by a group of people overcoming the odds to reach their goal and pushing themselves to the limit against an unforgiving mountain that had already claimed lives. It charts the problems encountered over time with the weather and other factors hindering the team’s progress. It’s easy these days for any climber to reach any peak with the equipment that’s available but imagine what it was like for a mountaineer 100 years ago with only a rope and other basic tools to help them. That’s the scenario faced in this movie.

Although I was impressed with the movie in general, I was disappointed with the scene when the team are about the hit the summit. It doesn’t show the first steps on the peak at all. Instead it goes to a freeze frame just as they’re about to make the final push before the next shot has the team on the top surveying the panorama view which is breathtaking. I expected something far more dramatic to highlight the sheer effort they’ve done to reach their goal but I guess it’s in keeping with the tone of the rest of the movie which isn’t a bad thing. The supposed rivalry between the two climbing teams never really materialises either. I thought we’d get some kind of conflict but there never is other than the amateur team declaring that they’re going to make it to the summit of Mt Tsurigidake first. You can see that there’s a kind of a mutual respect between Shibasaki and Kojima, the leader of the club.

The acting is excellent all round. Tadanobu Asano plays Shibasaki as a softly spoken and refined Edwardian gent who makes a perfect foil for his climbing partner Uji as he’s a more vocal character who has lived around the mountains all his life. He’s probably the best character in the movie. The Japanese military characters are as close as you get to some villains in the movie. They are seen to be evil people who practically force Shibasaki to conquer Mt Tsurugidake – not really caring if he dies or not in the attempt. Not a bunch of characters you like at all.

Overall, this wonderful story of a team of mountaineers risking their lives and triumphing over overwhelming odds is both touching and humbling for the viewer. Coupled with the cinematography, acting and the superb choice of classical music soundtrack – this movie comes highly recommended.

I can’t find a trailer I’m afraid

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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