From The Works and Days (2020), dir. C.W. Winter and Anders Edström (image courtesy Grasshopper Film)

As the title suggests, the documentary/fiction hybrid film The Work and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) examines labor and the passage of time. Set over the course of five seasons in a mountain village near Kyoto, it makes only fleeting concessions to anthropocentrism. That isn’t to say there aren’t characters or story arcs — there are, the film just forgoes exposition and asks the audience to pay attention and pick up on what they can as it goes. Directors C.W. Winter and Anders Edström believe that the characters’ surroundings, their furniture and décor, even the look and sound of their environment can all tell the viewer more about their community than any close-up ever could.

Indeed, there are a handful of moments where the screen goes black for a few minutes, forcing the audience to focus on the sounds of the world — birds and crickets sometimes, cars and other mechanical sounds at others. There are also several prolonged dialogue-free sequences, some depicting agricultural labor in long takes and others more closely resembling Ozu’s flavorful “pillow shots.” Winter and Edström worked closely with the community (which includes Edström’s in-laws, who play themselves) to make the film over the course of 14 months. That commitment is reflected in the eight-hour runtime, which captures both the rhythm and feel of daily life and rural Japan’s continued environmental desecration by urbanization far more honestly than it could with a more conventional length.

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The Works and Days opens in select theaters July 16.

Forrest Cardamenis is a critic and film programmer living in Queens, New York. He received an M.A. in Film Studies from New York University, and has written for MUBI Notebook, The Brooklyn Rail, and The...