Himizu (Cert 18)
2 Discs (Distributor: Third Window Films) Running Time: 129 minutes approx.
Fourteen-year-old Yuichi Sumida (Shota Sometani) is one of the fortunate survivors of the Japanese tsunami in 2011, although he and his parents now live in the small boathouse shack from which they run their boat rental service near a lake. Yuichi’s parents have little time for him: his estranged drunken father (Ken Mitsuishi) occasionally shows up to scrounge money, beat his son and tell him he wished he was dead, while his mother (Makiko Watanabe) abandons him with her latest lover. While Keiko Chazawa (Fumi Nikaido) a classmate of Yuichi’s who harbours an obsessive crush on him tries to help out he rejects her. When a Yakuza boss Kaneko (Denden) shows up demanding an outstanding repayment of six million yen owed by his father and beast Yuichi up, Yuichi finally snaps and begins a revenge campaign against the cruel society that teases him.
Sion Sono has something in common with prolific auteur Takashi Miike in that it is best not to assume that you know what you are about to get when watching his films. Sono has many little trademarks and may use a semi-regular cast yet he has no definitive style to make his works feel too familiar. With Himizu (Japanese for “mole”), an adaptation of Minoru Furuya’s manga which Sono amended in the wake of last year’s tsunami disaster, he shows an emotional maturity in this gut wrenching drama of survival and youth oppression, but as always it is an acquired taste; many will find rewarding and breathtaking with its elegiac power, others will find it a hard watch.
Yuichi yearns for an uncomplicated life but with his parents’ resentment towards him being alive and costing them a huge insurance payout that isn’t going to happen. By contrast Keiko’s perkiness and wide eyed optimism would suggest that she is destined for success and happiness and just be the tonic Yuichi needs to lift him from his gloom. A self-confessed stalker, Keiko plasters her bedroom wall with quotes of things Yuichi has either said or had said about him and recites them as a personal mantra. These aren’t the actions of a healthy minded girl but we soon learn that Keiko’s parents also curse the day she was conceived, with her mother (Asuka Kurosawa) having constructed a gallows for her daughter to use! Nothing if not subtle.
These little touches of black humour are Sono’s way of disarming the viewer before hitting them between the eyes with his chilling vision of how Japan has seemingly given up on its youth, or at least the parents have, drumming it into their offspring that they have no future so the adults should have it instead, running in direct contrast to the youth obsessed output of the west. Sono then punctuates this anti-youth rhetoric with some unsettling but contextual violence, most of it aimed at Yuichi as he takes many a beating from his father and later, the Yakuza. This goes some way to explain – but not justify – why Yuichi slaps Keiko whenever her overbearing presence grates on him, which is usually immediately, although Keiko is not adversed to hitting him back. Inevitably these pressures take their toll on Yuichi and he finally breaks down in spectacular fashion, covering himself in paint and wandering aimlessly around the city with a carving knife in a paper bag, intent on wiping out public nuisances as his good deed to the world.
However not everyone shares this bleak outlook for the future generations. In a key sub plot, Yoruno (Tetsu Watanabe), the eldest member of the small group of homeless victims of the tsunami residing in makeshift tents by the lake, is indebted to Yuichi for his kindness and goes out of his way to help the lad, hooking up with a city street thief Teruhiko Iijima (Yosuke Kubozuka) to help get his hands on the money to pay off Yuichi’s father’s debt. Sono takes us on another of his dark comedy diversions which sees the hapless criminals break into the flat of a yakuza discovering a pile of dead bodies hidden in plastic bags! Quite what Sono’s obsession is with disembodiment remains a mystery but he won’t let us forget about it.
One thing which is consistent in Sono’s films is that his works leave a lasting impression and since hitting his stride with “Hate” trilogy – the four hour masterpiece Love Exposure, the violent follow up Cold Fish and the sexual psychodrama Guilty Of Romance – he has become one of the most unique and boldest voices in modern cinema. Not only does he take an aggressive and unbridled view of modern issues Sono ensures the presentation is visually captivating with impeccably composed shots, and each scene is wrought with the emotion it deserves. In essence Sono is bringing arthouse to the masses without the pretensions the genre often saddles itself with.
Sono also creates engrossing characters which while often exaggerated still retain an air of believability about them. Yuichi and Keiko may not be his creations but Sono brings them to life via two exceptionally talented and worthy award winning young actors in Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido. The psychical and emotional journey that Sometani takes Yuichi on is simply extraordinary for someone only nineteen years of age. Same for eighteen year-old Niakido as the equally schizophrenic Keiko, who grows in both stature and in mind before our eyes. And with both actors spending a lot of time being hit, getting soaked in the rain, and in Sometani’s case rolling around in mud and paint, they certainly suffer for their art and earn their salaries.
A visual and cerebral assault as only he can deliver, Himizu sees Sono triumph again with an urbane but unflinching slice of thought provoking cinema, solidifying his place as one of the most relevant and vital filmmakers of the modern era. An epic and poignant rollercoaster ride you can’t and won’t want to forget.
Disc 2 only:
“Making Of” feature
Deleted & Extended Scenes
Interview with actor Denden
Third Window Films Trailers
Rating – **** ½
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