Genre: Dark Drama
Starring: Shôta Sometani, Fumi Nikaidô
Director: Sion Sono
I've said it before but it bears repeating, I don't read what this directors films are about, I just go watch them knowing that what he emerges with will be – for better or worse – unique in his style, and once again he's proven that this faith isn't misguided. But before I go on let me just point out that this film is bleak beyond comprehension. A man who made his name lightly mocking suicide circles and showing murderers gleefully hacking victims into bite size chunks has lightened up on the bloodshed but not on the dark atmospheres he seems to relish, and despite the comparative conventionality, this must be the most despair-filled and hopeless piece he's ever emerged with. There are funerals happier than this, and it's no surprise given the material he had to work with.
Set in post-tsunami Japan, the scene is set with rolling shots of the aftermath, utilising actual scenes of the devastation caused. Casual reminders litter the film with despair; men reduced to living penniless in tents, having lost everything they hold dear to them, many gone mad having lost more than their lives, jobs and hope but with it their sense of identity, roaming around what was once their homes without purpose. This is how it begins, and when we get a little deeper into the tale things do little to lighten up. Son to a mother without care and a drunken father, casually beating him for money and telling him the tale of how much happier he'd be if he'd kill himself, this is the story of 14 year old Yuichi Sumida and his determination to become a responsible adult despite the pressures from his elders who have lost so much. The title itself is a type of mole native to Japan, a mole that he wishes he could be; standing up through the muddy hopelessness and persevering onwards in the ambition that he can live an ordinary life working for his families decaying boat rental business.
Throughout it all he is never quite alone, despite his absentee parents there are those that camp on the grounds near their house who show him compassion, sympathising with him for his plight despite their own situation often faring little better, trying to lift his spirits with little success. Lightening the mood for the audience – if not quite for our protagonist – comes in the form of the eccentric and instantly loveable Keiko Chazawa, Sumida's very own stalker who obsesses over his every word and ends up nestling herself into his world, and as she steadily uncovers the burdens he has to bear, becomes the rock on which he can lean on. Much of the cast is formed from his previous films but it is in these two leads that he's struck gold, displaying a maturity to their performances that many seasoned actors would be proud of, never portraying themselves as caricatures or acting in a manner that doesn't feel anything but plausible, of real people and the situation that they face. It could so easily have been this films stumbling block but they handle their difficult roles in a manner that does nothing but elevate the whole piece.
He successfully descends you into a darkness so intense that him actually ending his own life seems like a viable option to escape the terror, but despite all the hopelessness and despair, what really makes this film is the message of hope; of being able to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, to persevere even if you can no longer see a way out, and that even when you have nothing at all, you still have your companions with which to share the burden. It's a sense that emerges so strong that it's overwhelming, but only by plunging you into the grim reality of his life to the point that you can no longer see the light is he able to bring you back from the brink. Many dark drama's are made and few I would describe as beautiful, but in this he has created one of his finest works. If “Grave of the Fireflies” told the tale of Post-war Japan, “Himizu” most surely is the tale for Post-Tsunami Japan.