Friday, March 19, 2010

REVIEW: Warm Water Under a Red Bridge

赤い橋の下のぬるい水 (Akai Hashi no Shita no Nurui Mizu)


Shohei Imamura

Koji Yakusho
Misa Shimizu

Mitsuko Baisho
Mansaku Fuwa

Running time: 119 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

Made in 2001 from a novel by Yo Henmi, “Warm Water Under a Red Bridge” was the last feature-length film from Japanese New Waver Shohei Imamura. After it, he only ever directed one more project before his death in 2006 – a segment in the omnibus film “11’09”01 – September 11.” However, regarding just his substantial output in features, “Warm Water” is a touching final offering from the director, combining romantic comedy with his typical quirkiness to make an imaginative modern-day fable.

The prolific Kôji Yakusho stars as Yosuke Sasano, a down-on-his-luck salaryman who is out of work and looking for a new job. He is pushed by his stern, insensitive wife who repeatedly calls him up to ask about a money order from him and, significantly, is never seen onscreen. On top of that, he is faced with the death of Taro (Kazuo Kitamura), a friend who went by the nickname “the blue tent philosopher” for his humble, book-filled abode. Yosuke is given a new purpose when he is reminded of a treasure Taro spoke of to him – a gold Buddha statue supposedly kept in a pot in a small house by a red bridge in a town by the Sea of Japan . He journeys there and, through a chance encounter, meets Saeko (Misa Shimizu), the woman who lives there with her grandmother (Mitsuko Baisho). Yosuke quite suddenly becomes involved in an odd relationship with the sexually voracious Saeko while becoming more familiar with the town and its inhabitants.

The first time Yosuke sees Saeko, she is shoplifting a block of cheese while, puzzlingly, standing in a puddle of water in a grocery store. Upon returning an earring to her, he is won over by her and, particularly, her most unusual trait: when she reaches the height of erotic arousal, she erupts water which she claims wells up inside her until she needs to be properly relieved (which Yosuke all too willingly assists her with). The couple’s urgent lovemaking sessions are so overwhelming that they result in streams that flow from her house and into the river, exciting the fish and giving the film its title. So wonderfully absurd are these sequences (nicely complimented by Shinichirô Ikebe’s score) that the sight of a leaky faucet or trickling stream is bound to make me chuckle for at least the next week.

During his stay, Yosuke meets Shintaro (Yukiya Kitamura), a young punk who gives him a job as a fisherman. When they return to shore, Yosuke sometimes catches sight of Saeko flashing a mirror his way – a signal to let him know that his services are required. Among the other characters he encounters are Saeko’s senile grandmother who obsessively writes fortunes, a trio of fishermen fixed at their usual spot by the river and an African student in Japan on an athletic scholarship whom Shintaro constantly chases and “coaches” from his bicycle. While Yosuke becomes a part of the community and falls more in love with Saeko, every now and then Taro’s voice pops up on the soundtrack, reminding Yosuke of the treasure hidden in the house and calling into question what he truly holds dear.

The way in which the mostly passive Yosuke goes from one situation to the next certainly brings to mind the twisty and unpredictable narratives of Haruki Murakami’s novels. Similarly, one could see this pattern of Imamura’s work acting as an influence on Yakusho’s directorial debut, “Toad’s Oil.” In “Warm Water,” the actor gives a face to the plight of the salaryman while Imamura suggests the freedom to be found outside of the rat race through his encounters in the coastal town. The film’s proceedings are, for the most part, relayed with good humor as the characters go about their business in a cheerful, unperturbed manner. The buildup to the emotional climax in the final portions of the film seems a tad rushed and spontaneous, but it’s a small flaw and, I feel, somewhat befitting the unconventional nature of the film and its maker.

Imamura’s tendency towards “messy” and “juicy” elements in his work is certainly indulged in “Warm Water Under a Red Bridge.” Centered on what might seem like a raunchy gimmick, it maintains a fun and totally sincere tone as it touches upon desire, happiness, time and the true meaning of wealth.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog.

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