I have made it known that I am currently in the discovery phase of Sion Sono’s directorial career, as I am slowly trying to go through each feature and determine whether or not he is actually any good. Sometimes he is amazing, while other times he drops the ball entirely, however he always remains interesting. His latest film was to be a straight adaptation of a manga titled “Himizu”, but after the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Northeast Japan, and particularly Fukushima in 2011, Sono decided that he couldn’t ignore it and thus re-wrote his script to incorporate the aftermath of the terrible tragedy. It is amazing to think two months after the disaster, Sono was actually shooting on location there.
“Himizu” is about a fourteen year old boy named Sumida who has a terrible home life. His father is regularly drunk and makes a habit of telling the boy that he isn’t wanted and it would be best for everyone if he just died, while his mother has a habit of bed-hopping with any man that chooses her fancy. Neither of them care about Sumida who refuses to believe his life is worthless and to give up just because of the life and family he has been born into. Despite his parent’s selfishness, Sumida is a genuine guy who lets victims of the tsunami who have lost everything to live on his property in make shift tents. He also lets them use his bath to regularly clean themselves. Eventually Sumida’s mother abandons him with one of the guys she has met causing him to leave school to operate the family run business which is a shack that hires boats to people. Noticing his absence from school, Sumida’s stalker Keiko goes off to see what is wrong with him. Keiko is a beautiful and bubbly young girl, who always sees the positives in things and although she admits her actions are like those of a stalker, she really has just got a severe crush on Sumida. Seeing how much trouble he is in, Keiko and the tsunami victims help Sumida to fix up the shack to improve business. Suddenly a car full of gangsters pulls up and demands to see Sumida’s father. When Sumida explains that the loser isn’t there, the gangsters beat him up and tell him it is now his problem to find the guy and to get him to pay back the six million yen that he owes them. Eventually Sumida’s dad arrives on his doorstep again asking for money and to let him know how unwanted he is. This time though Sumida has had enough, he has been pushed too far and he explodes into violence, killing his dad. Thinking his life is now over, his mind starts to shut down as he slowly goes insane. Before he is put away for life he decides to do something good for the community and decides to go out into the streets and kill and terrorize the evil doers of the world.
Personally I thought that “Himizu” was a fantastic film and one of Sion Sono’s best. I would also argue that this is his most mature film to date, and definitely his most optimistic. There is a darkness that is associated with Sono’s work and his outlook on human life is never usually seen in a positive light so it was amazing to see such a positive message in “Himizu”. The story within “Himizu” acts as a parable for what those tsunami affected areas of Japan are currently going through. Sumida loses everything in this film or he assumes he has but what he eventually finds out that is he has a lot of people who are willing to look out for him and get him back on his feet. When he initially rejects the help to do it all on his own, things do not go well for him, but when he realizes that there is no shame in excepting help, his life gets back on track. How this relates to Japan is obvious, even though you are in pain except the help from others and life will get better. The overriding theme of “Himizu” is “Don’t give up!”.
I thought that the two young actors who played the leads of the film, Shota Sometani as Sumida and Fumi Nikaido as Keiko, were fantastic. They gave real nuanced performances and played their characters beautifully. Sometani was especially good because his character goes through so much in the film, and he is fabulous and never over-acts. Nikaido is equally good because while you initially think that her character is just all giggles and bubbles without any depth, you see that Keiko also has a very similar home life to Sumida with parents who care little for her. Nikaido is a different person in these scenes as I guess we get to see the real, behind closed doors Keiko. This doesn’t mean that Keiko is faking during the rest of the film, she is a genuinely positive person who only wants to help the boy that she loves while he is self destructing, which hurts her so much to see. My main complaint with Sono films is that he lets actors overact too much, but that is less of a problem here than most of his films. While it is true that the peripheral characters like the tsunami struck neighbours and the gangsters are defined much more broadly than the main characters of the film, I do not believe the actors overact in their scenes. It is interesting to note that the majority of these characters are played by the cast of Sono’s “Cold Fish”. It is nice to see them doing such small roles for their friend, but it is a shame that Megumi Kagurazaka is so underused. I feel I need to make mention of Denden’s performance as a local gangster here because it is such a small role but he is magnificent in it, and I felt like I owed him to mention it after I panned his turn in “Cold Fish”.
The biggest flaw of “Himizu” is the portrayals of the two kid’s parents. They are just horrible but so overdone that they do not feel like real parents rather caricatures. They are so bad to their kids that you find it hard to believe, especially Keiko’s parents who are building something for their daughter to hang herself on.
While this is an optimistic picture at heart, Sono fans do not despair because his trademark darkness and weirdness is in full effect during the middle of the film when Sumida starts to lose his mind. It suddenly becomes very dark and bleak but this is what we have come to expect from Sono. I must also make mention quickly of the look of “Himizu” which has been really well shot. This would have been a difficult film to shoot with a lot of night work and weather based elements to endure as a lot of the film happens in heavy rain. I hated the cheap look of Sono’s previous “Guilty Of Romance” and it is good to see he is back on the right track here.
Overall, I was very impressed by Sion Sono’s “Himizu”. It was great to see him put aside the darkness to present an optimistic message to the people of Japan to never give up, it may look grim now, but it will get better, so do not give up. I have got to say the images of the actual devastation from the tsunami are eye-opening just to see how much carnage there was by this natural disaster and I applaud Sono for including them so soon after the disaster hit. Although I have still yet to see “Love Exposure”, “Himizu” may be Sion Sono’s best film yet, if not it is certainly his most mature.