The earthquake that struck Northeast Japan in March 2011 forever changed the lives of millions, and we all knew it would eventually be reflected in Japanese films. I just didn't expect it to happen so quickly, much less by Sono Shion of all directors making such an inspirational film that encourages the Japanese youth to never give up. "Himizu" was an adaptation of the manga, but Sono Shion had reportedly reworked the script after the earthquake. The title "Himizu" is a mole species in Japan. The movie is set in a boat rental shack by the lake, and the protagonist was repeatedly covered in mud due to external forces, yet stands up each time. I think in addition to the gloomy darkness seen from a person's perspective, the title also reflects Sono's message that one should advance forward no matter how muddy and hopeless the outlook may be. The first third of this film portrays the despair facing today's youth using extreme examples: Having the perception that they are in the way of their parents' happiness; having an "ordinary life" as a goal rather than having a big dream due to the disappointing job market; and the urge to release anger by physical violence, even murder or suicide. The story paints a bleak picture of today's youth with a touch of quirky comedy while introducing the main characters. The Shion-esque bizarre plot twist goes on full throttle in the second third as the film as characters succumb to their dark desires and go on a rampage, from theft, "Death Note"-like vigilante justice, and finally murder. There is quite a bit of art house scenes and corny WTF lines tossed around. This may make "Himizu" a difficult watch for some, but I thought it really depicted the deranged minds kids may have, and adds the Sono Shion flavor to this movie. The final third is where the drama occurs, and all the loose ends tied up. It shows that even today, there is kindness around you by the "last supper" scene. Followed by the epiphany of what it means to be a "responsible adult". Finally topped off by a cheer to Japanese citizen to never give up and dream big. The presentation was incredibly powerful, and it left me in tears. "Himizu" begins and ends with a jog. The final scene could not have been any more dramatic and inspirational. Repetitive use of Mozart's "Requiem" in this movie was especially memorable. The same passage was played in many occasions throughout the film. While it sounded like jovial comedic support at first, it appeared to raise a sense of urgency in the "second third" as the story progressed, before fully turning into a sombre yet peaceful requiem in the end. Such powerful use of BGM is pretty rare from my experience. Casting for this movie is incredible. The lead couple Sometani Shouta and Nikaidou Fumi delivered performances worthy of their newcomers award at the 68th Venice International Festival. Nikaidou Fumi as the stalker girl Chazawa especially stood out, resembling Miyazaki Aoi in every aspect, from her cute looks, the ability to handle quirky comedy, to dramatic performance (she shed tear in 6 different scenes in this film by my count). She's definitely the actress to watch out for. Kubozuka Yousuke, who also appeared in TIFF's "Monsters Club" (2011), was actually given the opportunity to shine. Remainder of the cast seemed to be directly taken out of Sono's "Cold Fish" (2010). Many directors reuse their "favorite actors", but it was really fitting in this case since their chemistry was excellent. The strengths of each actor were definitely drawn out to the fullest by the director. "Himizu" is a powerful film that has everything you might expect from a Japanese flick: Quirky comedy, angst, despair, yakuza, violence, horror, search for self identity, bitter-sweet adolescence, romance, drama, inspiration, and the art house treatment. Not only is it entertaining, it also manages to be provocative and deep. It's a shame that some foreign film critics didn't seem to understand that the reference to 2011 earthquake was not meant to drive the plot nor intended to be the reason these characters are in despair. It's a movie that screams "You are one and only flower in the world" (Sekai ni Hitotsu dake no Hana), as the title of the popular boy band group SMAP's song referenced in this film, which is often used to inspire people in Japan when they're feeling down. This movie is meant to call out a clear-cut message for the devastated Japan to never give up, that one should dare to dream, and that there's hope. It delivered. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and it easily ranks in my all-time top 5 list of Japanese films. Highly recommended for Sono Shion fans and non- fans alike.
Crime / Drama
Crime / Drama
After two teenagers from abusive households befriend each other, their lives take a dark adventure into existentialism, despair, and human frailty.
May 12, 2020