THE PEOPLE GARDEN (Canada/Japan 2015) ***
Directed by Nadia Litz
Starring: Dree Hemingway, Pamela Anderson, François Arnaud
Redview by Gilbert Seah
Nadia Litz’s low budget mystery drama is yet another film set in the foothills of Mt. Fuji, Japan. The recent horror film THE FOREST and the yet to be released Cannes premiered Gus Van Sant’s THE SEA OF TREES are the other recent two. What is fascinating about the film’s setting though not specifically mentioned in THE PEOPLE GARDEN, is that the Japanese with the intention of committing suicide go there to commit the deed. Director Litz’s heroine, known as Sweetpea (Dree Hemmingway) ventures to Japan to break up with her boyfriend, Jamie (Francois Arnaud). Her film is bookended by the couple dancing in a club to the an old 80’s dance song.
When the film opens, Sweetpea lands in Tokyo. But Jamie does not meet her at the airport. A Japanese called Mak (Jai Tatsuto West) shows up instead to pick her up, only to leave her at the forest parking lot. Apparently, Jamie is shooting a rock video there and is missing. Sweetpea gets to meet the film crew.
Nothing much happens in the first half of the film. Sweetpea finds nothing and is giving the runaround by everyone. But Litz’s film is far from boring as she weaves some interesting mysteries around the plot. It seems that everyone is hiding something.
Litz ups the angst with a confrontation between Seetpea and one of the stars in the shoot, Signe, played by Pamela Anderson who, Sweetpea finds out has slept with him. Pamela Anderson parodies her bombshell sex image and is simply hilarious.
Litz clearly leaves her imprint in the film. It is a feminine film without being offensive to the males. Sweetpea is a strong character but her vulnerability comes across as well, as in the scenes where she breaks down. As strong a woman that she is, the audience can see she is unable to break her love for Jamie. Jamie, though appearing fleetingly in the film, is shown as a charming character that flirts around, but not spineless. The other male characters have strong personalities too, such as the Japanese guide, Mak. This balance is quite rare films with a strong female character written and directed by female directors – credit to Litz.
Litz keeps her film an absorbing mystery to the very end. The stunning forest segments are shot by cinematography Catherine Lutes. Music by the Dirty Beaches is sufficiently upbeat to offset the mood of the film.
THE PEOPLE GARDEN has a limited run at TIFF Bell Lightbox and is the sort of small budget Canadian feature (shot in Sudbury, Ontario) that gets overlooked. But this is Litz’s second film as director (her first being HOTEL CONGRESS) and she proves a director to be reckoned with.