Mori, The Artist’s Habitat is a film that lives from moment to moment within a world locked away in the backyard of Kumagai, a painter who hasn’t taken a step across the threshold separating his lush garden from the rest of Japan in many decades, spends his days taking long walks and observing the wildlife that co-exists alongside him amidst the greenery.
Brought to audiences by Shuichi Okita, the film focuses on depicting a day out of the life of Morikazu Kumagai, a celebrated painter in Japan who lived from 1880 to 1977 — his best-known works including “Cat” (1965) and “Rain Drop” (1961) — and who never ventured beyond the confines of his property in the last thirty years or so of his life. Mori, The Artist’s Habitat peers lightheartedly into Kumagai’s peaceful life and is comprised of beautifully pieced together snapshots of flora and fauna, which in turn are marked by moments from the visits of the painter’s unique guests.
Slowly paced, the film takes its time in introducing each of the numerous likeable characters, who burst in unexpectedly and prod at the existence Kumagai has carefully constructed over the years, scattering comic moments throughout. It is the film’s insistence on portraying the quintessential idyllic life alongside the natural chaos of humans that makes it really stand out. Kumagai embraces peace and quiet with all his being, but trouble from an unfamiliar world still occasionally makes its way through his door. The film skims the surface of the few tensions Kumagai has with others and with himself, but his chosen isolation remains unexplained.
With almost no conflict, plot, or other typical characteristics of a story, the film succeeds beautifully in establishing itself beyond the constraints of time, such that even when the credits begin to roll, it doesn’t feel as if the story has concluded. How the film begins is exactly how it ends, but Okita succeeds in embedding a message within each interaction the man has with strangers to his world Regardless of his peculiar circumstances living on the edge of society, Kumagai always believed that he was living his best life.
Mori, The Artist’s Habitat is a wonderful film mirroring a painter’s untroubled soul, and how to take the greatest joy from the little things.