Himizu (DVD Review)
After March 2011, director Sion Sono volunteered in Fukushima to do his bit. This postponed the production of his latest project. Afterwards he altered his script of Minoru Furuya’s manga to show the world what really happened that day. Also following on from his ‘hate’ trilogy (Love Exposure, Cold Fish and Guilty of Romance), he is doing a trilogy of films about this tragedy, the second of which is Land of Hope, before that, lets talk about Himizu.
Shota Sometani is Sumida, a 15-year-old who is cursed with terrible parents, his dad actively tells him to die, countless times, and his mother doesn’t care one way or the other. Sumida just wants to live an easy life. Later, Sumida is abandoned by his mother forcing him to leave school to run the business, leaving him to be harangued by his father for money and victimized by a local Yakuza. If it wasn’t for his support network of the few surrounding refugees living around his boat rental shack and his obsessive classmate Keiko (Fumi Nikaido), Sumida would consumed by the void.
Although the cast itself is full of great Japanese actors in DenDen, Ken Mitsuishi and Tetsu Watanabe, it’s the two leads in Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido that make Himizu the film it is. Sometani as Sumida starts off as the archetypal moody teenager, with no real individualism. It’s only as the film develops that his role grows into something grander incorporating rage and confusion into his act before the moving dénouement. Much of his role is the manga model of screaming or monologuing for emotional impact. It is an unsophisticated method but Sometani gives it his all, which when done with such zeal it’s hard not to be impressed. Fumi Nikaido (Keiko) is his opposite number, and appears to be the ‘manic pixie dream girl’. She also grows to be the romantic interest, to be someone fighting for Sumida’s soul.
The two leads are cyphers for how Japan is coping after the disaster. Sumida is the Japan consumed by anger and helplessness and Keiko is the hope for the future. As bleak as the film can be, hope wins through. Beyond that, these two actors are bound for greatness in Japanese cinema, effectively signifying the hope of the future in a much less emblematic way.
As one might expect for a film detailing the aftermath of a national catastrophe, Himizu is an intense watch. Although not in the same way you might expect, this is a deeply personal film which doesn’t pertain to make any observations about human nature or any other grandstanding. Himizu is about how the individual deals with the extremities life can offer, whether it is the tsunami or dealing with the consequences of a bad choice.
Besides the simplicity, the other main problem is the exaggeration. Parents wanting their children dead, going as far as constructing gallows for their children, it’s a little silly. Outside that, many people external to the main cast display tendencies for extreme violence, it’s a heightened vision of reality, yes, but one that is hard to fully embrace.
Sono has always had an aptitude for on-screen violence, it’s the framing in Himizu that is particularly worthy of note, characters are constantly hit, slapped and drop kicked. No actor gets away unscathed, it must have been a demanding shoot for the two young leads. The way it is framed is much less extreme than fans of Sono might be used to; there is no blood or grand set pieces besides the aerial photography of the films centre piece.
All of the films violence is grounded in realism. That’s not what makes the violence or emotional high points interesting; it’s the framing, even if the execution quickly dwindles through repetition in the middle third. Whenever a scene reaches its dramatic peak the score follows suit with the bass thundering drowning everything else out, creating a uniquely oppressive atmosphere. An atmosphere that evokes the insanity of the disaster.
Himizu is a film of bleak themes and personal tragedy, but it’s also one that is darkly comic and imaginative. Clearly not for everyone, Sono shows through heightened reality that Japanese cinema still has the ability to shock, move and entertain. Just like its director, Himizu is a one-off eccentricity that wears its heart, loud and proud, on its sleeve.
Screener kindly provided by Third Window Films.
Himizu will be released on Double Disc-DVD and Blu-Ray from all good outlets on August 6th. Sono’s 4-hour opus, Love Exposure is also available on Blu-ray for the first time on the same day.