This is the first guest contribution by Oded Aronson. - D.D.
Himizu (Shion Sono, 2011)
Ruins lie everywhere. Dust and smashed objects litter the atmosphere. A teenager stands in the middle holding a gun to his own head. The wind gradually becomes louder and dissolves into the sound of a million voices of the dead crying for mercy. The boy shoots himself. Blood streams out of his head, leaving a long red trail. He lies in the field, no longer remembering who he is. Then he wakes up.
The boy’s name is Yuichi Sumida, and his family has been left without any means of income because of a tsunami that has all but demolished his hometown. His family’s business is a boat rental company, which has not had any profits at all since the tsunami. Yuichi’s father is a nasty, abusive harpy who storms home at midnight most of the time and proceeds to beat him up then complain that he never wanted a child. Yuichi’s mother has run away from her husband with her lover due to years of frustration and blood, so Yuichi is left to fend for himself.
His financial situation is so poor that eventually he is forced to leave school so that he can work at the boathouse in the vain hope that someone will rent a boat. One of his classmates, Keiko Chizawa, has had a crush on him for as long as she can remember, and searches for him. Keiko’s family also has their own troubles; her parents want to kill her so that they can collect insurance money, and are in the process of building their own guillotine. Keiko is forced to pass the guillotine every day and notice its development.
For the first two thirds of the story, there is frequent juxtaposition of dark humour and straight faced drama. The attitudes of the two main characters play a role in that juxtaposition. Yuichi has become so emotionally inured due to the beatings he receives from his father that he has retreated into a dark, nearly silent shell. He is almost completely unwilling to open himself up to anyone or anything. On the other hand, Keiko’s lifelong preparation for her upcoming death at the hands of her parents has somehow opened up wells of emotion in her, and she feels as though she has to cheer people up for as long as she lives. Keiko goes far beyond optimism into the realm of desperation, which then becomes so pronounced that it feels like optimism again.
The two clash, but Keiko tries to become friends with Yuichi despite his protestations. Eventually, they end up sharing most of their scenes to the extent that everybody thinks of them as friends. Although Yuichi remains sullen, her presence does seem to have some kind of positive effect on the people other than Yuichi. Keiko tries to revamp the boat house. As a result, it finally begins to have some business. Yuichi’s father comes home for the last time one night and suddenly things become even more complicated than before.
The last part of the movie is emotionally brutal. Not all people will enjoy the descent into darkness, but it is appropriate for the material, and leads to a powerful climax that will be a source of joy for anyone who is in love with the movies. I strongly recommend Himizu, the best of the 25 movies I watched at this year’s TIFF. - Oded Aronson