[Working title: “Him-Iz-Sumida”]
Film: HIMIZU (ヒミズ)
Director (& writer): Sion Sono
*Writing Credit also to Minoru Furuya [manga]
Venue: The Prince Charles, London
TERRACOTTA FAR EAST FILM FESTIVAL 2012
Playing at the following venues (& possibly more) from June 1st, 2012
Devastation & Disaster in a Dark shot. A very different shot to other examples of Sono’s work, and pretty much documentary style. Think footage which would follow not long after such images as those in the opening of The Tsunami And The Cherry Blossom.
With such realism – whether in what we see or the technique used – we pan across remnants of destruction, the panning accompanied by sounds of radiation and noises from devices. We are unsure why such sounds are heard but what we see tells us enough. A beautiful contrast to this devastation is a reading by a schoolgirl.
This an eerie and atmospheric start to the film. Of course, it’s semi-subject matter – indicated by the damage to items, homes and lives – can not make for an upbeat tale. This is far from upbeat but of course being this director [Shion Sono / 園 子温 / Sono Shion / Sion Sono – however you refer to him as] we know it is going to be drama enough to keep us transfixed.
Two initial scenes occur next and they are (in no particular order) a classroom in which we meet a young lad, named Sumida (played by one Shota Sometani) and the girl from the fleeting glimpse of her at the start. This girl, Keiko is the very talented and young Fumi Nikaido.
Now, I’m not one to spoil and indeed I won’t, but whatever the outcome of such a boy meeting a girl is – a positive one or not – it’s going to be revealed ultimately. In fact, even if I was to reveal, from the film’s beginning & feel itself, my instinct of such a relationship the true fate of such characters could still send my decision in the other direction. Am I indicating that it doesn’t have a happy ending? Surely anything with an upbeat finish does not mean that the life of the relationship would live on even after the close. Am I trying to throw you off the scent? Or am I simply implying that Sion Sono has a nice enough way of not letting on either way come the end? In fact, I will say that he doesn’t let on throughout.
However, as the film’s star Denden said in Mini Mini Movie’s interview with him, “Sion Sono’s films are always about – or the main theme is – love”.
Now where was I? Ah yes… The classroom and the proper introduction of our two young characters. There is an adoration from Keiko for Sumida. That’s putting it mildly. Keiko seems to really dig his beliefs. It could be love or even admiration for what he stands for, or both!
A lovely scene in her bedroom alone perhaps tells us more about Keiko, her admiration for Sumida and certain written words which are somewhat poetically spoken by her and/or him.
That second setting is an introduction of this boy’s life… Or at least Sumida’s dwellings. He and others are not quite homeless but seem to have a chosen life away from any other life – whatever may exist around – in shackled shacks & tents by a river. They live with hardly any electricity nor anything representing a home life, or indeed not the kind which most of the world would identify with.
One of these other inhabitants is a guy, Yoruno (the fabulous Tetsu Watanabe) dressed permantly in tracksuit-top-come-sweater-ish attire who seems very overexcited to see our young hero whenever he returns home… For example, from school. Apparently, the boy has a little boat shack which could really become something, not only a boat renting place but perhaps even a bar or cafe too.
What about the boy’s homelife? (Apart from living in that shack, a slightly more upmarket dwelling than the others’ tents). Don’t ask about his home and his parent-folk. Well, frankly it could be fine. Sumida’s mother seems present but not necessarily correct. She may be separated from whats occurring around her a little though. In fact, is she as decent as one may think? But… It’s when ‘dad’ returns home – or rather ‘pops’ in for a ‘brutally’ brief visit – things turn sour. You feel like the boy wants so much for his father to show some love to him [slightly like the young hero in “Love Exposure”, with his priest father] but instead of returning such love the father proceeds to exclaim how much he resents having Sumida as a son, from the day he was born.
These are harsh scenes, especially when the flying visit turns into one of flying fists… or slaps.
Perhaps this unloved situation is why he pushes his school girl-companion away. Although it’s not as if she isn’t affected by his coldness towards her and even continually warns Sumida that if he continues to be a bad person she’ll throw rocks at him. Great but simple scenes ensue where Keiko, upon picking up each one tells him that as soon as she has a pocketfull she’ll throw them at him!
So, what about ‘her’ homelife? Well, apart from what I’d think of as her refuge – that of the bedroom mentioned before – Keiko’s mum doesn’t exactly treat her well. There is talk of Keiko being hung and dying. Incidentally, after one tense scene involving all of this, there is, I believe just one more scene featuring her mum & her dad. Then that’s the last we see of Keiko’s home life. I guess we didn’t need to know any more.
After all, this extraordinary tale is mainly about Sumida. Extraordinary this film may be, but as Keiko often tells Sumida, he is not ‘ordinary’… Think lines like “Nobody should be ordinary’ and you may be getting a feel for the story’s direction or an idea of such teen angst.
Angst or Anger, expression of such is referenced many a time throughout this film. One example is an almost cryptic reference to anger in the form of a gun (or two). More specifically, a gun and a toilet cistern. The toilet cistern is a throwback to the opening documentary style footage in which one briefly appears.
Cistern or system, it’s unfortunately all systems go for Sumida again with regard to hurt. You see, how ever ‘unordinary’ this lad is, soon after his pain from his dad there is more pain… Further pain after father pain, you could say.
This film certainly packs an emotional punch, a depressing punch and physical punches. Some of the punches – in the form of slaps – come from our little Keiko.
I would read this as pain often being wielded by those who are meant to love their subject – the film and characters are displaying how uneasily they express love. Basically, they can’t. Although, possibly by violenting, lamenting, regretting & upsetting they feel they’re dealing with it. It’s bound to lead one step too far in certain circumstances and scenes.
In between such battles, little miss feisty – i.e. Keiko – is helping to try and improve his pretty-much-solely-owned boathouse. Keiko is truly in awe of him… Or should that be ‘oar’…? *sigh*. Either way, the business building if indeed there were to be any would be further pain for Sumida. Keiko even takes all her monetary savings to assist – this is the moment we truly see her home life. Pain is not the word there at home… Neither the sort dished out or the kind us viewers are subjected to. It’s harsh.
The greatest physical pain dished out comes at the point when Denden’s ‘Yakuza’ character – Kaneko – arrives on the scene, or ‘in’ the scene. Denden arrives, looking like a long stick of chalk. Whiter than white… dress-wise not skin. He’s accompanied by a grand car and a couple of assistants. Whiter than white he may be but more redder than red is the result of his attack on Sumida and his small town folk friends. The squelching sounds of the punches packed really is enough to make you queezy, even if your eyes look away from the visuals.
Sumida though, as non-ordinary as we believe he is shows his pride, which only provokes the situation. But what is the situation? Someone owes money, for somebody else’s problem really.
Money talks. So does the loss of it. Lord knows it’s going to take some money (and time) for Japan to ultimately rebuild things. [Check this link… Yes, it’s another film review but with further information about the Japan Society Earthquake Relief Fund]
For now, we are displayed much tsunami-destroyed items just like in the beginning. These are almost dreamlike (or nightmarelike) sequences, which continue to be intertwined here, there and elsewhere.
One of the side-stories is hardly a side-story, but more of an important one to the film’s story as a whole.
It’s one involving money. Money for Sumida. Is it linked to the same money story mentioned before? It could be. Yoruno wants to give a little gesture of goodwill and help to young Sumida and pickpocketing of money is brought in to the fray and film frame. The way Yoruno is fidgeting whilst observing various goings on in the town is a very small bit of lightheartedness by our director [or perhaps it’s the actor Tetsu Watanabe’s little input or touch], or at least how it’s conveyed or how one saw it. Of course, that lightness is only really fleeting. Furthermore, it seems this thief does bigger ‘jobs’ than just pickpocketing.
A great scene soon follows set to a TV news programme or at least one documenting Japan’s nuclearness. The programme is seen speaking of the importance of life – and this is while a Neo Nazi type anti-hero is is trying to take certain lives, with pickpocketer and Yoruno also involved.
Enough said? Not quite… A burial is soon necessary. Remnants of “Cold Fish” could spring to mind here. More [expected] pain ensues, this time involving a spade. Ouch.
Back to the business of a business. That is the boat-house business. Keiko really wants to help Sumida build the potential. She even goes as far as designing flyers and although they may look amateurish I like to think of them as unique. Soon follows a brilliant mini-montage displaying Keiko running across roads and who knows where, passing the flyers to all whom she can.
At one point it certainly seems that the flyers [or fliers – this being the just as accepted alternative] may have indeed worked and perhaps the boat renting is going to take off well. Around this time, we are introduced to a tad crazy, even sadistic or internally mad minded man.
In fact, when Sumida’s ‘father-figure’ – come on, let’s face it he’s more just a figure of a father than what one should be – reappears the tad crazy guy seems to encourage when the two start fighting. One way fighting it may be but the last thing they obviously need is encouraging.
Back to Yoruno and he’s on the phone to Kaneko Loans, a less than law-abiding lending company and to which Kaneko is associated. You’d never have guessed that from the name…huh?
Quareling, fighting and blows continue with father and son, Sumida. It’s clear that Sumida’s parent goes one step too far, but hard to imagine there still is such a thing as ‘step too far’ after all we’ve heard him say to Sumida up to this point. Almost like a not very nice guy dumping his girlfriend he lets him go and is cruelly honest, forgetting this is not the first time he’s opened up in this nasty way to his offspring.
The next five minutes are dedicated to a deadly killing and in the mud. Deadly killing? Aren’t all killings deadly? [Blame this journalist – but frankly it’s just Mini Mini’s word-play at work again]
For sure, you could say Sumida buries one of his ‘demons’ on this night. Or perhaps that certain someone who treated him ‘like mud’ got the same treatment [and literally ‘in the mud’]…!
Remorse could follow but perhaps no real tears would. Whether remorseful or confused, Sumida maybe feels like a killing machine. This is certainly what the audience may think at this stage, especially as Sumida leaves his home. Perhaps a deathly rampage could begin here.
Sumida surely has a rampaging in the mind. It’s full of every emotion and angst a teenager could have, but it’s fair to say there is much more in his head. It’s not long before a knife is on display to strangers. Seriously, don’t mess with this kid. We are also shown another great little montage or quick edit of Sumida on city streets… wielding a bag, well… a knife in a bag.
Where is this kid going? Does he even know? It seems we’re soon at Kaneko’s abode, or at least his workplace (Kaneko Loans) or both. It’s an apartment, not a mansion. A handful of surroundees and protectors are present & a handful of fingers are often around Kaneko’s groin area – he has a habit of scratching down there! Hey, why not… It’s his place after all.
Mini Mini Minor-observation: In a kind of flashback to a recent occurrence Kaneko utters words to the effect of “It all smells fishy to me” – ‘cold fishy?!’ [Cold Fish review at the foot of this review, for your perusing pleasure]
Is Sumida intending on off-ing Kaneko the Yakuza? Or, perhaps return money mentioned before?
It eventually evolves that Yoruno has already been into Kaneko’s work-life. Yoruno could have even saved this visit of Sumida’s. This said, Sumida returns to his home area and is semi-understandably annoyed at Yoruno. The poor Yoruno must be thinking at this point, “Can’t I do anything right?!”
Sumida is soon off again – roaming the streets.
Confused and frustrated he must be. Sumida must be wondering what his purpose in life is and probably wonders even more so since the dreaded tsunami, earthquake and nuclear reactions. Such an event has tormented all. Sumida has had his own mini-tsunami and whilrlwinds of turbulence with his father. The fires burning inside him have surely felt nuclear.
Mini Mini is reminded of the earlier juxtaposition of events in the previously documented scene featuring the Neo Nazi-like character, the pickpocket and the TV programme, because we have a similar collision of contrasts. This time, by way of an uplifting song being played by a band outdoors, whilst violence sort of ensues.
Amongst the violence on show, perhaps Sumida has become some justly superhero now – Helping the confused and dangerous overcome their woes and by protecting the public at the same time.
Later, Keiko is at Sumida’s home giving him all of her attention, whether he wants it or not. Keiko is more understanding of any wrongdoings of Sumida’s. Before, she was less understanding.
Roaming at night again is Sumida, probably more aimlessly this time. An odd and unexpected encounter [for us and Sumida] with a girl chained up in some way could be seen as BDSM of sorts. Perhaps all the town folk affected by recent weather & nuclear catastrophies are in dark times. Anything is a pleasure, even if that pleasure is pain.
A kind of BDSM is almost how I see Sumida and Keiko when they are at hand-slapping war with one another. It could be pain on top of existing pain, and so hardly hurts much more than their already sufferings & if it does then than pain is, again, a pleasure too.
Still we continue to have interspersions of scenes involving the destructional damage. Even ones with vague images of the various film characters shouting at such devastation, with the word most likely being “Why?!” or more aptly, “Whhhhhyyyyy?!”
Seriously, what is there to live for? This is how ‘I feel’ that Mr Sion Sono makes ‘us feel’.
That said, Sumida is seen smiling approximately on two main occasions in the picture. Smile he may but in the last 30 minutes of this epic picture we can not tell how the film & story will end. Smiles? Happiness?
As we near the end, there are tears and a possible drowning. A drowning in tears could be most apt here though.
There are, of course trademarks of the director, including the use of well known classical music and of course, the almost obligatory Sion Sono panty shot.
The film has parts where it is continually building and climbing, and as it does so does the music. At times it’s like a cross between the score from the P T Anderson film “Magnolia” [by Jon Brion] and a very non-Gorillaz Gorillaz track [namely ‘Three Hearts, Seven Seas, Twelve Moons’].
Ending with an image that may make most with a heart cry, it sums up the film in just that moving scene. It speaks for Sumida, Keiko and the whole of Japan. I’d like to think that it displays the Japanese and their Compassion for their – and our – fellow man after such ‘disaster’-ously bad luck.
*Note: Himizu is a reference to a certain small creature but I’d like to put it a different way: Any Japanese person out there could have similar angst or feelings like Sumida and other characters. If that is the case, then Him-Is-You… and my heart ‘Izwitu’.
Seeing such natural or nuclear atrocities on screen – whether a TV or cinema one – is not an easy watch. This film is the same – but it’s done brilliantly.
Summing it up in a few words, almost poetically…
Himizu’s tension is painstaking
and the taking of the pain is intense.
“Mini Mini Sumida & Keiko”…:
Find this Trailer and other Mini-er Movies here at:
* Intrigued to know why there are actually two characters named Keiko in the film. Anyone know?
** On the subject of names, are actors Tetsu Watanabe and Makiko Watanabe related? Just pondering.
Touching on the same events as those natural and nuclear ones in “Himizu” it’s worth mentioning to look out “The Land Of Hope”, from Third Window Films and also featuring Denden.
You can find Mini Mini’s interview with Denden here [& Denden hints a little about what to expect from “The Land Of Hope”]…:
Plus a review of Sion Sono’s “Cold Fish”, here:
Further details of Third Window Films and another Asian film favourite, Terracotta Distribution are below. However, before you rush to clickety-click-away I’d like to use this space to mention the recent mindless riots experienced here in the UK. Did you know that these riots caused hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages and loss to our favourite independent film distributors? These are, essentially… Arrow Films, Artifical Eye, The BFI, Crabtree Films, Cine-Asia, Dogwoof Films, Exposure Cinema, Eureka, Kaleidoscope Films, Left Films, Masters of Cinema, Metrodome Films, New Wave Films, Peccadillo Pictures, Revolver Entertainment, Showbox Home Entertainment, Terracotta, Third Window Films and Warp Films.
So, with the latter in mind it is even more important to spread the word, virally about these unfortunate vendors. On that note I leave you with these links… all which will, in some way assist in keeping such films to be distributed here in the so-called land of milk & honey.
Thanks for your support… in every way.
Regarding your footnotes – I doubt the two Watanabes are related, that’s not such an uncommon Japanese surname.
As for the two Keikos: no idea, but I can tell you that there is no Tamura Keiko in the manga original (in the first 22 chapters at least). This is one of Sono’s added characters. I’m not going to attempt an interpretation as to what that could mean, I would have to rewatch the film first.