It’s not until around the 20-minute mark that Mori, the Artist’s Habitat fleetingly entertains a notion of conflict. An inn manager begs famed oil painter Kumagai Morikazu (Tsutomu Yamazaki) to arrange the lettering on a new sign, to which Morikazu refuses, because it would take away from his daily routine of roving endlessly around his forest-like garden and observing the minuscule movements of the various bugs that inhabit his backyard. Once the issue is ironed-out between the two, the 94-year old modernist returns to his stomping ground, wandering around steadily with the help of two wooden canes.
The refusal to burden its central figure with a cycle of constant conflict allows director Shûichi Okita to focus instead on one contemplative day in the life of this eccentric recluse; his film observes many delicate interactions between the painter and his seemingly mundane environment, and it’s this meditative quality that elevates Mori into being the rare biopic that’s less interested in why someone is acclaimed or famous and more in exploring the psychology of the person themselves. The film can still feel a little too aimless, considering just how little happens dramatically, but the moments of grace here tend to shine though; like many Morikazu works, the beauty is in the simplicity.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2018.