Himizu ヒミズ (2012)

Yuichi (Sometani) and Keiko (Nikaidou) in Himizu Banner

Himizu is Sion Sono’s adaptation of Minoru Furuya’s manga of the same name. It involves tough subject matter like child abuse, murder, and the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, but it is ultimately a redemptive and moving exploration of life, identity, and the will to live in an unfair world.

Junior high school kid Yuichi Sumida (Shota Sometani) wants a quiet life but his mother (Yukiko Watanabe) comes home with different men every night, and his drunken, hate-filled father (Ken Mitsuishi) only pays him visits when he needs money. Yuichi carries on running the family boat rental business and lives surrounded by homeless people who are victims of the tsunami. Meanwhile at school he is ignoring class-mate Keiko Chazawa (Fumi Nikaidō) who has a massive crush on him. Things get tough when his mother abandons him and Kaneko (Denden), a Yakuza loan-shark, shows up looking for Yuichi’s father and ¥6 million. Pushed to breaking point by his situation Yuichi finds himself unable to control his anger and a series of events leads him to the brink of madness.

 Yuichi Sumida (Shota Sometani) in a Crisis in Himizu

Sion Sono’s films usually carry the tropes of bad parents, abuse, violence, and existential confusion but there is enough black humour and outlandishness to lighten the impact. The audience does not get that here. What we get is an extreme view of the dark side of a modern Japan and the existential soul searching that needs to take place to build a new future and a lesson in never giving up on life.

 “Nobody can touch my future!”

 

Yuichi Sumida (Shota Sometani) at boat house in HimizuHimizu features an existential hero in the form of Yuichi Sumida who tries to live an authentic life and does not take up social masks. He has the bravery to challenge his teacher by amusingly rejecting the official message of living your dreams with an enthusiastic reply of “Ordinary is the best!”

He is determined that his existence, his decisions and choices, should be focussed on growing up into a respectable man and living a quiet life renting out boats. Himizu is actually a reference to a breed of moles found in Japan. Clearly Yuichi would like to be left alone. Unfortunately his background is one soaked in parental abuse and indifference and it is this he has to transcend to make his dream come true. Fighting alongside him is Keiko.

“I watch Sumida from a distance. I’m a stalker.”

Keiko initially seems like a childish girl with a crush on Yuichi so extreme you could Keiko (Fumi Nikaidou) in Himizudismiss it as manga cliché -her views that she can find happiness by being a dedicated wife reinforce that feeling. Her initial approaches towards Yuichi meet with amusing indifference but when he strikes Keiko and her character hits back with the Haiku game where she takes a beating and gives it out you realise it reflects the behaviour of a person used to violence while her insistence at clinging to Yuichi reflects a certain desperate need to escape. Behind that school girl smile is pain.

As the story unfolds the two endure whatever life throws at them and stick to their ideals or search for new ones. You realise that the intensity of the film evokes a mood of  heightened emotions close to melodrama because Sono wants us to feel the struggle that Yuichi and Keiko go through so we register the growth their characters undergo and you will them to survive life. Watching to see if they do or not is truly harrowing.

Unlike Love Exposure which featured hilarious brawls the violence here is realistic and brutal, painful to watch. Seeing kids and adults get hit is never easy and it is worse here because of the absence of comedy and the fact that you feel the weight in every punch and the sting of every slap. When Yuichi finally snaps under pressure there is a long and messy struggle along the river side which is captured in a masterful crane shot in one single serene take that observes the fury that explodes from Yuichi. The following scenes caught by a probing digital camera intimately captures his bafflement over what he has just done and anger over the realisation that he has effectively derailed his dreams of leading a normal life.

 “I have pride despite my dismal circumstances!”

Sumida (Shota Sometani) and Keiko (Fumi Nikaido) in Himizu

The impact of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami and the ensuing Fukushima disaster is referenced. These were not in the original manga and Sono weaved them into the movie so it hovers in background news reports that constantly warn of high levels of radioactivity. It emerges in the changes to some of the characters because gone are the original group of snot-nosed goofy schoolboys who surrounded Yuichi as they are replaced by homeless people affected by the tsunami. Sono hammers the references home with scenes of actors wandering around the disaster hit areas complete with the skeletal remains of buildings and mounds of rubble surrounding them. The sight of the destruction is a terrifying testament to the power of the disaster. The scenes are accompanied by the sound of Geiger counters and a menacing rumbling reminding us the events even more. It feels like a natural part of the film and added to the theme of enduring whatever life throws at you.

With a two hour running time and a wandering narrative that goes on diversions it might have been too much to take but thanks to the lead performances of Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaidō you get pulled through to the end. They both took home the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Young Actor or Actress at last year’s Venice Film Festival and it is easy to see why.

Sumida (Shota Sometani) and Keiko (Fumi Nikaido) 2 in Himizu

Shota Sometani is going to be a really brilliant actor. We have to witness his transformation from handsome and smooth schoolboy through existential crisis and over that period he has to suffer the anguish of parental abuse and neglect, a severe breakdown in character and the then rebuild himself. Can he transcend his facticity or will he fall? It is always a knife-edge thing and I bought every gripping second of it.

Fumi Nikaidō overcame the comical manga cliché of the school-girl to give a performance of great emotional depth. Initially perky, pretty, punkish, and warm-hearted it gave way to a person clinging bravely to dreams and always planning for a future – one that she intends to shape. When you realise the background she comes from you wonder who the stronger of the two is. I think she will make it big like Sometani.

Amusingly it is veteran actor Denden who gets one of the most important lines when he reminds our hero, and the audience, about one of the more important facts of life which is that we always have choices but at times of stress we just cannot see them.

Kaneko Loan Company Pays a Visit Jun Murakami and Denden in HimizuTechnically the film is intense. The soundtrack has to be heard in a cinema. Whether it is the rumble of distant waves and shaking earth, the cacophony of the geiger counter or Mozart’s Requiem playing over emotional scenes I was always moved. The framing of every scene and the camera movement and editing did a lot to convey the dynamism needed to make everything exciting and even if scenes repeated themselves too often or went on for too long I was never bored.

Himizu is tough, violent, and angry. It is a celebration of the will to live and a rallying cry for anybody in a tight situation as well as a nation that has suffered disaster. I cannot say I loved it because there is so much anger and hurt on screen but I found it challenging and emotionally powerful and as the final scene played out I was in tears and I realised that I had been on a truly gripping emotional ride.

 5/5

Himizu   Himizu Film Poster

Japanese: ヒミズ

Romaji: Himizu

Release Date: 14th January 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 129 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono (script adaptation), Minoru Furuya (manga)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaidō, Tetsu Watanabe, Denden, Jun Murakami, Makiko Watanabe, Ken Mitsuishi, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Megumi Kagurazaka, Asuka Kurosawa, Taro Suwa, Yosuke Kubozuka Keisuke Horibe, Takahiro Nishijima

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8 thoughts on “Himizu ヒミズ (2012)

    1. Thanks Bonjour. Sono is the type of film maker to get interesting reviews from people because his work is always challenging and interesting. You have to see this beause it’s emotionally powerful and challenging stuff. Unfortunately Sion Sono Season has ended but at least it went out on a high. Right now I’m gearing up for a mini Takashi Shimizu season and then Akira Kurosawa.

  1. I’m seeing this film on Sunday at its UK premiere at the Terracotta Film Festival. It’ll actually be my first Sono Sion film (though I do have a Love Exposure DVD sitting around, waiting to be watched), I’m expecting a tour de force and highly anticipating it (of the five films I’m seeing as part of the festival, this one and Studio Ghibli’s From up on Poppy Hill are the ones I’ve been most excited about – funnily enough, they are at completely other ends of the spectrum…).

    Didn’t know this one was based on a manga, interesting – will have to hunt down that manga now! Not sure why I didn’t come across your blog before, but enjoying it!

    1. I hope you have a good time watching it and love it and I hope you become a Sono Sion fan! I watch so many films at the cinema but few move me as much as this one did. I highy recommend it. Himizu, Love Exposure and Cold Fish are some of the best films I have ever seen – challenging, entertaining, dark, and unpredictable. I cannot get enough of Sono’s work.

      I did have some comparison images from the manga but decided not to use them in the review. I have to say that I didn’t find the manga visually appealing.

      I read that From Up On Poppy Hill is pretty good also:
      http://www.animenewsnetwork.co.uk/review/from-up-on-poppy-hill

      Let me know what you think about them!

  2. Captain Banana

    Watched it this evening, I think the biggest message you can take from it is hope and that things get better (especially from the main protagonists circumstances) Sumida and Chazawa feel like they are rising from their parents ashes.

    I’d love to know how much was changed from the original script.

    I’m going to try and check it out again when it goes on general release, I know it was probably because they felt uncomfortable with the slapping and punching but I was put off by some people who were laughing at it so I think I need to see it again.

    Wasn’t a big fan of Guilty of Romance so It’s good to see he’s back on form!.

    1. I totally agree about the message. SPOILERS: These kids comes through hell and have the determination to carry on. By the end of the film Sumida and Chazawa are willing to embrace life and not just be subject to events and the whims of other. It’s a message for all of us as well as Japan.

      The perils of watching a film with an audience – sometimes there is somebody who is going to do the wrong thing and break the spell.

      Thanks for letting me know what you thought.

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