|Image: Third Window Films|
The latest film from Shion Sono was showing at the Terracotta Film Festival and it was a film that our fellow critics who had seen the director’s previous work were very excited about. Not having seen Cold Fish, Love Exposure, or Suicide Club, we had no idea what to expect.
Based on the manga by Minoru Furuya, Himizu is the story of Sumida (Shota Sometani), a 14 year old who runs a boat-hire shack in post-tsunami Japan. His abusive father only shows up to demand money and remind him that he wishes that Sumida had died as a child. His only support comes from the people who have set up tents around the shack and treat him like a hero, and the psychotically supportive Chazawa (Fumi Nikaido), who cheerily admits that she’s stalking him. Can Sumida live his dream of being just an ordinary person, or will life compel him to take some kind of action?
Himizu is striking from the very start. From the opening shots of Chazawa standing in the rain and Sumida wandering the wreckage wrought by the earthquake, there’s a palpable sense of trauma and loss. There’s also a powerful feeling of anger at the generation that has gone before. At best they’re useless, like Sumida’s teacher who tells his pupils that they’re each a flower, capable of achieving great things. The locals who live surrounding the boat shack mean well but they can’t protect Sumida from his family or the gangsters who come round to collect his father’s debts. Mostly, they’re vindictive and cruel. It’s never suggested during the film that Sumida and Chazawa’s parents were kinder before the earthquake. They’re just awful people.
The relationship between Chazawa and Sumida begins comically, with the nonchalant Sumida enduring her recitations of offhand comments he made who knows how long ago. But, like the rest of the film, their interaction becomes increasingly intense and violent. As his situation deteriorates, her desire to improve his life only grows. Each time he disappoints her, her reaction becomes more and more desperate.
At times, Himizu is a little heavy handed. After a very impressive first half, it becomes a little repetitive as the same motifs are brought up again and again. At 129 minutes, it could have benefited from a fairly significant edit. The music choices are a little much, with the repeated use of Adagio for Strings serving mainly as a reminder of how well it was used in Platoon. But it’s ambitious and powerful, and will certainly remain with you after it’s over.
A powerful cinematic reaction to a terrible tragedy that doesn’t quite accomplish all it sets out to, but this is worth a look nevertheless.