Kaze no Jûtan (The Wind Carpet, 2003), a Japanese-Iranian coproduction, tells the story of cultural accommodation when a Japanese man, Makoto, visits Iran with his young daughter, Sakura. Iranian director Kamal Tabrizi is more famous for his succeeding film, Marmoulak (2004), but this effort has some intriguing elements and deserves attention.
The plot, which falls into the category of a heartwarming human story, begins in Takayama, Japan, where a cultural festival is in preparation. Kinue Nagai is an artistic designer steeped in the knowledge of Persian carpet designs, and her businessman husband, Makoto, arranges to have one of her designs made into a Persian carpet that will be presented at the next festival. She remarks in a TV interview that a Persian carpet is a true cultural gift whose contribution can long outlive the physical lives of its designers and makers. But Kinue is then killed in a traffic accident, and her husband goes to Iran with their 11-year-old daughter, Sakura, to fetch the carpet, which, for him, will serve as a long-lasting tribute to his beloved.
When Makoto and Sakura arrive in Iran about one month prior to the Takayama festival, they learn from their Iranian agent, Akbar, that the three-month job of making the carpet hasn’t even been started. Iranian and Japanese conventions of politeness (two cultures for which courtesy is of extreme importance) are stretched to the limit when Makoto learns of this botched situation. While the adults avoid facing up to the situation, wring their hands privately in despair, and publicly engage in endless gestures of meaningless politesse, Akbar’s preteen relative and assistant, Ruzbeh, is not so encumbered with the overhead of such cultural habits. He proposes a round-the-clock carpet-making marathon involving all the available female carpet craftswomen, and his plan is to put into immediate action. The rest of the film details the almost manic efforts on the part of everyone to get the carpet done in time, despite various mess-ups and accidents that sometimes happen along the way.
Even though there are gentle, comedic touches that appear throughout the film, I would say that a sardonic cultural criticism lies at the heart of the film. Japanese and Iranian society would seem to be about as far apart as two cultures could be, and the contrasting postures of the two principal and stereotypical male characters only amplify such a separation. Makoto is formal, reserved, upright, face-preserving, and cordial in his taciturn way. On the other hand, the slouching and insinuating Akbar, clad in a leather jacket and sunglasses, is the ultimate ingratiating Iranian male – he is always trying to appear masterful, even when he doesn’t have a clue. Yet despite these differences in the stereotypical males, both Japanese and Iranian social cultures come in for some needling.
- Asian societies are traditionally no-touch societies, even inside the home and between parents and children. When Akbar’s wife, Faribar, tries to greet Sakura with a kiss, the girl freezes in awkwardness. But little by little, Faribar breaks down Sakura’s reserve and generates genuine exchanges of affection by the film’s end.
- The Iranian no-touch tradition is between men and women. When Makoto initially tries to shake Faribar’s hand, she shrinks back in embarrassment. In fact the relatively timid gesture inside their home of Makoto touching Kinue’s hand is somewhat surprising for me to see here, since male-female touching is usually censored in Iranian films. But when Ruzbeh and Sakura play the rock-paper-scissors game, Sakura touches Ruzbeh -- naturally and without affectation.
- There are also occasional satiric portrayals of the somewhat enervating Iranian practice of relegating everything to fate’s hands. Even religion does not escape the irony. When a mullah is invited to be present at a wedding ceremony, he declines, saying that he doesn’t want to spoil the fun: mullahs perform much better at funerals than at weddings, he says.
There are some narrative elements in the film that are only briefly touched on, and their inclusion makes me suspect that the screenplay (co-written by a Japanese and an Iranian) may be based on a larger work. For example there are several images of Akbar and Faribar wistfully looking at playing children, suggesting that they are regrettably unable to have children. There are other characters, such as Ruzbeh’s ill father, who are introduced, but whose personae are never developed to any degree.
The acting, as in many Iranian films, is quite good, particularly veteran Reza Kianian, who has appeared in several of Tabrizi’s films. Also praiseworthy are the pre-teenagers, Miyu Yagyu (as Sakura) and Farbod Ahmadjo (as Ruzbeh), who were making their screen debuts.
The cinematography and pacing are not altogether satisfying. Tabrizi likes to emphasize closeups, often with facing-into-the camera point-of-view angles, and he sometimes pans the camera around the room to dizzying effect. The use of 360-degree pans can sometimes be effective at certain moments, but the use of several of them here is unmotivated and merely jarring. There are also several other moving-camera shots that lack fluidity and seem pointless. In general the camera work is not effective. The occasional musical interludes, however, are quite lyrical and effective, and more of them would have been welcome.
To me, the genuine, heartfelt interactions between Ruzbeh and Sakura are held up as ideal, as natural. Not yet polluted by all the prejudices of their respective societies, Sakura and Ruzbeh are artless and engage each other in sincere, unaffected friendship. They can’t even speak each others' languages, but they communicate and see straight into each others’ hearts. And it is the soulful Ruzbeh who has the hope, the vision, and the plan to save the day. When he explains how it can all be done to Akbar and that they need to engage the assent of a crucial bazaari, Akbar says, hopelessly, “what if he says, ‘No’?”. Ruzbeh responds, “but what if he says, ‘Yes’?”. That is the spirit!