The Matsutake mushroom is a highly sought after delicacy in Japan. It is a top dollar item in Japanese cuisine that is found in abundance in the most unlikely place…Chemult, Oregon. Every fall local pickers rub shoulders with participants from Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos in a hunt for the mushroom. The focal point of the hunt is known as Mushroom Camp, a place where the workers weigh their daily pickings, find housing, play traditional music, celebrate Buddhist holidays and sing a little Karaoke.
Director Sara Dosa builds a multi-layered production that constantly unearths new information as it progresses. The film provides a good sense of the individuals who trek into the Oregon woods in search of the prized fungus. Dosa mixes in archival footage in order to emphasize how the event ultimately shaped the lives of The Last Season’s two main protagonists: Kouy Loch and Roger Higgins.
Loch, a Cambodian refugee who fought against the Khmer Rouge, has been coming to Chemult from Southern California for years. He takes a methodical approach to hunting mushrooms. Armed with his trusty walking stick, he scours the forest for that special mushroom that could be worth up to $1500 depending on its weight, shape, etc. For Loch the hunt is a way of both providing for his 7 year-old daughter Jeanette and coping with the effects of the Cambodian war.
On the other side of the spectrum is Roger Higgins, a Vietnam veteran who served in the early days of the conflict back in 1963. Having abused alcohol for decades trying to suppress the nightmares of war, Higgins must rely on a breathing apparatus to aid in his mushroom excursion. Friends for over six years, Higgins and Loch find common ground at Mushroom Camp through their war related experiences and struggles.
Dosa’s film does a good job of educating viewers on the ups and downs of the culture of mushroom picking. This is especially true in regards to how the pricing of the daily haul is impacted solely by the daily Japanese Stock Market prices. However, the main focus of The Last Season is the relationship between two men ravaged by mental and physical scars that are decades old. Dosa digs deep into the relationship between two individuals who met in the most unlikely of places, but ultimately help each other to heal and grow.