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  Himizu Keep Your Sunny Side Up
Year: 2011
Director: Sion Sono
Stars: Shôta Sometani, Fumi Nikaidô, Tetsu Watanabe, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Megumi Kagurazaka, Ken Mitsuishi, Makiko Watanabe, Asuka Kurosawa, Denden, Jun Murakami, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Yuriko Yoshitaka, Takahiro Nishijima, Anne Suzuki, Moto Fuyuki, Setchin Kawaya
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Teenage Chazawa (Fumi Nikaidô) describes herself as a stalker, and the object of her obsession is a classmate, Sumida (Shôta Sometani) who scrapes an existence working in a boathouse by the lake that nobody seems to use. That's understandable since tsunami and earthquake hit Japan, leaving too many citizens destitute, and around the building, little better than a large shack, lives a collection of homeless locals who make it their business to look after Sumida as he doesn't seem to be doing a very good job of it himself. Chazawa wishes only the best for the boy as well, and makes a habit of following him around to make sure he doesn't come to harm, but Sumida is becoming determined in that respect...

The first Japanese film to feature the 2011 natural disaster, director Sion Sono only included it because the event was in the news at the time he was about to begin shooting the movie, and it seemed an obvious choice to incorporate into a tale of characters at the end of their tether. Capitalising on some scenes of devastation offered an immediacy to certain sequences, as well as a handy explanation as to why the characters were in the tough straits they are, though on closer examination it was really no more than evidence of an artist taking the opportunity to use what was before him in his work. Did this make Sion an opportunist, then? If you watched Himizu you'd be more of the opinion he had worse issues than that.

Adapted from a manga, as many Japanese movies were by this stage, suggesting exploitation of the medium from page to screen, this represented a bid to explain to its protagonist precisely why, in a world which offered him no chance of improvement that he could perceive, he should carry on living. Hope to the hopeless, essentially, though even by the end you wonder if that solace was more ambiguous than solidly positive, yet while Sometani got by in his acting with a one size fits all mope, his co-star had the more difficult challenge of proving to both him and us that she is right, we should carry on when things look their bleakest. Think of her as the embodiment of the Winston Churchill comment, when you're going through Hell the best thing to do is keep going.

Fumi Nikaidô was the true driving force behind the drama as far as conveying what should be blind optimism, yet when we have seen the alternative - Sumida basically contemplates suicide twenty-four hours a day - we can understand she is making the observation that if you think there's no point to going on living, the more you convince yourself the more it will be true. Therefore someone like Chazawa is necessary to in the most banal terms spread a little happiness, and she had her work cut out for her in this movie when Sion appeared determined to prove her wrong at every turn, leaving the film an assembly of its young hero sulking and lashing out, often to the strains of overfamiliar classical music, while Nikaidô went above and beyond the call of duty in her efforts to lighten his psychological load.

Even then, the danger was Sion giving in to a misogynistic streak that he never quite excused, with female characters suffering more thanks to their gender than their circumstances, something Chazawa's presence made all the more vital that she provide the posiitivity so this was not over two hours of the director visiting his frustrations on the ladies while the men were justified in their misery and, quite quickly, violence. Sumida turns to attacking others, mainly those who would behave dangerously, not seeing the irony that he is acting that way himself as if trying to eradicate his darkest feelings by imposing them on those just as unbalanced as he is. Eventually murder arises, so the rest of the story sees Chazawa making a supreme effort to save him by illustrating that female company can work wonders for the troubled male mind, although when we see how those women are routinely treated it does seem selfish on the part of the men, to say the least, to be relying on them. The image of a willingly abused sex slave putting out her rubbish speaks volumes, sadly, in a difficult, histrionic piece.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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