Maternal Instincts of Mother Nature
By Kristy Sakano
The symbolism of winter as despair, strife, and tribulations is unanimous across literatures spanning the world. Conversely, spring represents rebirth, renewal, and reflection with the emergence of wildlife and flora. As a solitary farmer in the rural Japanese mountains, Ichiko has time to reflect upon the symbolism entrenched within each season. Junichi Mori’s Little Forest: Winter/Spring attempts to reflect upon the effects of self-compulsed solitary confinement and Mother Nature as a substitute for a true mother, fluctuating with the season’s weather and food availability.
The arrival of winter has centered the film’s focus on self-preservation and interactions with her neighbor visitors to prevent the emotional and physical cold from seeping into Ichiko’s cottage. In the two previous seasons, reflections of Ichiko’s previous life was seen in short, sporadic bursts, often tinged with affectionate nostalgia. However, the biting cold brings darker memories and deeper fears of abandonment. Ichiko’s mother is a frequent visitor of her reflections, often seen busying about in the kitchen or speaking to Ichiko in a scolding, detached, and cold manner. While the audience is privy to Ichiko’s winter recipes in a documentary-style programme, Ichiko is forbidden from learning and recreating her mother’s recipes. Instead, she’s forced to improvise: her mother’s green-red Christmas cake is substituted with an orange-purple cake formed from Ichiko’s own preferences. Her survival off the land is similarly improvised as Ichiko calls upon her childhood memories of mountain-gathering and farming to sustain her through the cold winter.
The wintertime on the mountain also reminds Ichiko of her brief stint in the city as a young adult. Several years prior, Ichiko moved away from her childhood home in pursuit of a larger life, but found herself compromising her lavish taste buds for cheap ramen noodles with little nutrition. The harsh land of modernity sought to punish rather than provide, and Ichiko was forced to improvise a mini-radish garden to supplement nourishment in her diet. During one tenuous scene, Ichiko questions herself, “Mother… did she really consider me as family?” Was the physical distancing of her mother during the current pacing of the film and the emotional distancing during her childhood meant for Ichiko to bond with the land more so than familial or social relationship? When experiencing a strife, Ichiko turns to the land for a solution in the form of a recipe or a meal – perhaps the comforts of food and self-sustainment has substituted for emotional connections.
The return of Ichiko to her hometown is directly correlated to the experience of the first leaves budding on trees. A rebirth of the land into a maternalistic, compassionate creature, one that provides heartwarming conversations with neighbors over meals and a bounty the land never ceases to provide. The mountains to Ichiko means more than survival: where she was lacking of the emotional care from her biological mother, she has found peace and tranquility in her rural lifestyle, coming to rest with the ebbs and flows of life in the mountains of Japan.
Little Forest: Winter/Spring. Dir. Junichi Mori. Perf. Ai Hashimoto. Shochiku, 2014. [Not Available] 31 March 2018.