Himizu (2011)
By: Stuart Giesel on November 21, 2014 | Comments
Eastern Eye | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Japanese DD 5.1 | 124 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Sion Sono
Starring: Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaido, Tetsu Watanabe, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Megumi Kagurazaka
Screenplay: Sion Sono
Country: Japan
Director Sion Sono certainly has a particular style – take some fucked-up characters, put them in extreme situations, set the action to classical music and watch everyone and everything disintegrate – and his 2011 slice of wonky everyday life in Japan as depicted in Himizu is certainly no exception.

In 2011, a massive earthquake rocks Japan, the subsequent tsunami causing catastrophic damage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant and devastating the region. Survivors not only have to deal with the deaths of their loved ones, their devastated houses and shattered infrastructure, but also with the ever-mindful problem of radiation. Within this cataclysm of ruin we find Yuichi Sumida (Shota Sometani), who attends school when he's not living at his mother's boat hire business. He is a natural leader, whether he realises that or not, and even without him doing anything he attracts a gaggle of homeless people who become a surrogate family, much like how Clint Eastwood's character in The Outlaw Josey Wales attracts people without even meaning to. Yuichi's classmate Keiko (Fumi Nakaidou) is in love with him – actually, scratch that. She's flat-out obsessed with him to the point of being a stalker. She integrates (read: forces) herself into his life, insisting that he is special, when in fact all Yuichi wants to do is lead an ordinary existence. This is anything but the case considering his shattered surroundings, his mother, who prostitutes herself out to anyone who will pay, and his nasty, abusive father who owes money to gangsters. Not that things are all that great for Keiko, who has to deal with an absent father and absolutely monstrous mother. She finds hope in getting Yuichi's boat hire business up and running. There are glimpses of other characters, including a sad-sack who falls in with the wrong crowd in a bid to earn some quick and easy money, but for the most part this is Sumida and Keiko's story…unfortunately. Things get pretty dark as Yuichi eventually realises that his destiny is to rid the planet of all the scumbags who have mistreated him and others – and figures his father is the best place to start.

The tone of Himizu is extremely cold and detached, and the occasionally absurd behaviour of some of the characters doesn't help. Yuichi and Keiko's "romance" mostly involves a lot of slapping each other, when Keiko isn't stuffing rocks into her pockets every time Yuichi upsets her. Everyone in the film is fucked up in one way or another, which makes Himizu an exhausting watch at times. Scenes are punctuated by shots of a genuinely devastated town, which lends not only authenticity to the proceedings, but a dark, practically nihilistic edge. Thankfully there are a few moments of quirkiness and humour to keep things from bottoming out into slash-your-wrists territory, but for the most part this is a strange, dark and highly cynical piece of work.

That'd be all well and good were there a compelling story and interesting character to follow. Unfortunately there's precious little content that makes any sort of emotional connection or provokes much of a reaction other than weariness. Scenes follow one another without really being connected at all – the characters are disconnected from reality, our protagonist stumbles around in a depressive, zombie-fied state, and our interest as viewers quickly wanes. A fairly strong and interesting first half gives way to a leaden second half, the pace slackens and you simply end up waiting for the film to end.

Sono uses actors who should be familiar from his other works, including Mitsuru Fukikoshi (wimpy-looking protagonist from Cold Fish) and muse Megumi Kagurazaka (Cold Fish, The Land of Hope, Guilty of Romance and Sono's new one Why Don't You Play in Hell?). But the bulk of the film rests on the young shoulders of Sometani and Nakaidou, who are both extremely good and bring a lot of passion and enthusiasm to their parts. It's just that when the final product is so unremittingly exhausting and unforgiving, it's hard to take a shine to either of them or their characters. The material is certainly far sloppier and more meandering than, say, the excellent Cold Fish, which was equally if not more brutal, and yet far more compelling. Himizu is certainly not as focused as that film, and it greatly suffers for it. Perhaps this was a result of adapting the story from the manga, with Sono adding in the earthquake/tsunami backdrop later. What is clear is that there's precious little for an audience member to embrace, and a cast of eccentric oddballs who aren't especially likeable or even empathetic it makes it a tough sell.

However Himizu is a Sion Sono film, which means that it's expertly made, with some stylish and interesting shots, and the editing is razor sharp when called for (for an example, check out the sequence at the Kaneko loans office). But a few tremendous moments can't make up for what is, to be honest, a bit of a slog to get through, particularly in the final third. The true-life scenes of devastation are gut-wrenching; shame they weren't anchored to a more compelling film.
The Disc
Madman/Eastern Eye's DVD release of Himizu is solid as far as the format goes, though if you're a big Sono fan you'd probably want to pick up Third Window's UK Blu-Ray release (that is, if you have a region-free Blu-Ray player) which truly does justice to Sono's images (despite how bleak and cruel the material can be). Unfortunately there's no local Blu-Ray release at the time of writing, so with that in mind this is a most acceptable substitution. The picture is a little soft, and visually Himizu feels flatter than the Blu-Ray presentation, but this is to be expected. Though there's a lack of detail, colour is natural and action remains clear despite Sono's frequent insistence on "shaky cam" to keep things feeling raw and in-the-moment. The 5.1 Japanese track is similarly reliable – again, it doesn't quite have the impact of the Blu-Ray, but this isn't the sort of film that relies on immense, impactful sound effects. Dialogue and music are both extremely clear, and the English subtitles are excellent.

Features-wise, we're given a trailer and a making of. The making of, running for more than an hour, provides a wealth of background material for Himizu fans, and it's interesting to get Sono and the cast's opinions on their experiences filming and working on what appears to have been a fun set (I guess when the material is as grim as it is in Himizu, you have to keep things light off-screen). The DVD also contains trailers for other Eastern Eye releases, and a trailer for Himizu itself.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A few eye-catching scenes and Sono's trademark delicious blend of brutal violence and classical music fail to liven what is an unrelentingly nihilistic – and ultimately flat and disappointing – effort. Strong performances can't overcome uninteresting characters and a dull third act.
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