An intense and claustrophobic drama, ultimately cathartic, played against the desolate and hellish landscape of Fukushima, post tsunami, where the violence of human relationships resonate in the violence inflicted upon the landscape, and its people, by nature.
Yet, that intense focus is constantly relieved through the film by the often hilarious antics of a group of survivors camped in tents on the land where Yuichi Sumida's family runs a boat hire business, imparting a kind of normality to the destructive lashes of the tsunami, and the seismic nature of the relationships between Sumida (Shôta Sometani) with his family, and then with a young girl, a classmate, Keiko (Fumi Nikaidô), also fifteen.
When I said Sumida's family, that was an overstatement, when you consider that his mother comes every night with a different man, and his father, who is usually drunk, keeps beating him up, and telling that he wants him dead, as he then can claim for the insurance money he thinks he has. On the opening scene, we see the boy walking on this grey and utterly devastated landscape, the photography becoming darker, we then see one of the survivors, an older man who usually behaves like the proverbial buffoon with a heart of gold, still wearing a white shirt, his business having been wiped out. A rather muddy lake near the boat house, with an incongruently and precariously located shed in the middle, acts as a visual leitmotiv which constantly reminds us of the closed and muddy prospects awaiting all of them, a metaphor which I have seen in many recent Japanese films, although more in the context of the brutal economic conditions. In this sense, the boundaries between dreams and reality are eroded, a dream scene opening Himizu resolves the development of the story on a different direction at the end, that initial dream scene having thrown us off the story line, somehow.
Sumida wants only one thing in life, not to have a dream as his teacher keeps indoctrinating the kids at school, but just to be ordinary, like a himizu, a mole. Not a strange request, considering his dysfunctional family. Keiko, a classmate, falls in love with him, much to his embarrassment at the beginning of their relationship. But she persists, particularly when we see her mother lovingly building a gallows for the girl to kill herself, as life would be so much better if Keiko was not around. A gallows painted red.
Keiko does not only falls in love with Sumida, although he is constantly feel annoyed by her, but she sees in him a project to develop, too. A project where she can also develop herself. When the boy's mother finally leaves him for not to come back, Keiko, and the group of survivors, try to help Sumida to run the boat hire business, his only way of being able to subsist, in spite of his rejections. Yet, any attempt by him to try to run just an ordinary life, his dream, gets constantly scuppered by the constant apparitions of his drunken father, demanding money and psychologically torturing him. One night, after suffering another brutal beating by him, one beating too many, something breaks inside Sumida, and in a moment of absolute rage and impotence, he attacks and murders him, to be almost instantly horrified by his action. In despair, he stalks the streets of the nearby town, attempting to get rid of all those violent people, like his father, who also roam those streets.
A tale of two brutalized teenagers not only by the devastating power of nature, but also by their selfish and destructive families, a tale of a journey through hell and, ultimately, redemption, against the backdrop of the hellish landscape of Fukushima (this is the second Japanese film which has been filmed there that I have reviewed), and the darkness offered by their future: emptiness, and the gallows.
I found particularly attractive the manner that director Sono Sion has structured Himizu as a counterpoint between the central tale of Sumida and Keiko searching for their morrow, and a chorus, like those of a Greek tragedy, formed by that group of survivors, who finally leave with the coming of the redemption of the two teenagers, the closing luminous scene alluding to the dark dream like opening scene.
Sono Sion's Himizu is out on selected British cinemas from today, June 1st, 2012, courtesy of Third Window Films.
Minoru Furuya (manga), Sion Sono (screenplay)
Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaido, Tetsu Watanabe, Mitsuru Fukikoshihi, Megumi Kagurazaka, DenDenSet after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, all 14-year-old Yuichi Sumida (Shota Sometani) wants to become is a regular boy and live a decent life. His environment though repeatedly drags him into the mud. He runs his parent's rental boat business, which is located next to a nondescript lake. His mother frequently comes home with different men and soon she leaves him entirely. His father only comes around looking for money. Whenever Yuichi's father is drunk he tells Yuichi "I wish you were dead."
Keiko Chazawa (Fumi Nikaido) is a classmate of Yuichi Sumida. She harbors a severe crush on Yuichi. Keiko's home life isn't much better than Yuichi's. Her mother builds a gallows with a noose in place for Keiko to take her own life. Her mother believes her life would be better off without Keiko.
Under these circumstances, Keiko pays a visit to Yuichi's home. A group of people are lingering nearyby who live in make shift tents on the property. Keiko tries to befriend Yuichi, but she is berated and even physically assaulted. She doesn't get deterred though and sticks around.
One day, the yakuza come by Yuichi's home. They look for Yuichi's father who is nowhere to be found. The men then tell Yuichi that he has to come up with 6 million Yen by tomorrow to pay off his father's debt. Yuichi already heartbroken by his mother's abandonment and abuse from his father nears a tipping point. A string of incidents then occurs that brings Yuichi's world to a screeching halt. Is there light at the end of the tunnel for Yuichi?
Date of Domestic Cinema Release:
June 1st, 2012
68th Venice Film Festival - Marcello Mastroianni Award, 14th Deauville Asian Film Festival - Critics Prize, 4th Terracotta Film Festival - Audience Award, 30th Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival - Orbit Prize
68th Venice Film Festival, 36th Toronto International Film Festival, 16th Busan International Film Festival, 44th SITGES International Film Festival, 14th Deauville Asian Film Festival, 8th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 21st Oslo International Film Festival, 26th Mar Del Plata International Film Festival, 30th Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival