In the current time, with lockdowns, restriction and endless screen meetings, the impulse to make some radical choices and escape our day-to-day lives has increased. Suetsugu Naruhito’s manga adaptation Haruka’s Pottery is a vision of one woman’s attempt to bring meaning to her life via the embrace of bizen pottery. I have to confess that I have always loved bizen pottery, so I naturally was drawn to this film. For those who are not so focused on arts and crafts, Bizen is named after the village of Imbe, Bizen in Okayama prefecture. With over 1,000 years of pottery history behind it, Bizen is one of the oldest pottery traditions in Japan. The use of iron rich clay results in a unique deep reddish brown ceramicware which is reputed to make food and drink taste their best.
Haruka (Nao) is an unhappy office worker in Tokyo but whilst following her demanding boss around Takashimaya department store she ends up attending a Bizen pottery exhibition. She is immediately captivated by the work of a specific potter, Wakatake Osamu (Hiroyuki Hirayama) and sets out to find him. As you can expect, when she arrives in Imbe with guidebook in hand, she does not receive the warm welcome she was hoping for. Wakatake is rude and dismissive but Haruka bonds with Toujin (Takashi Sasano), an elderly potter who has been designated a ‘living national treasure’ and gradually she begins to assimilate into the small community of potters. Finally, Wakatake relents and agrees to train her, and if you had always wondered about how to become a Bizen potter, then this film allows you to experience the process.
As Haraku learns about pottery we also acquire the knowledge. As the film develops, we see the interplay of Bizen and life. As Toujin instructs her, “Bizenware are baked at a high temperature of 1200 degrees for 2 whole weeks. People say that this is the reason why Bizenware are so unbreakable. The same can be said about the potter. The potter must have a strong will and be as unbreakable as the pottery itself. And have a passion that exceeds the powerful flame of 1200 degrees. You need to have that inside of you for the rest of your life.”
When Wakatake eventually agrees to take on Haruka, Toujin notes that taking on an apprentice is all part of training. It is only via teaching another that Wakatake finally realises his own impulse to make and develop the craft. Questions of love, family and loneliness are key, and it is much by her mistakes as her successes that Haruka learns her craft.
As an actor, Nao is not always the strongest, especially when a scene calls for her to be angry, but she does a fair job of representing the developing passion Haruka has for pottery while the supporting cast help to keep the story alive. As such, this is an enjoyable film, but it is very much aimed at those who are happy to sit through a slower and more meditative experience. If you have no interest in pottery then this is not the film for you, but for many people it will be welcome break from current world events – a chance to lose yourself in something gentle, beautiful and calming.
Haruka’s Pottery is available for a 48 hour rental window in the UK on February 20 from 10:00 (GMT) and March 8 from 18:00 (GMT) as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme.