14 April 2012

Terracotta 2012 Review: Himizu


It is rare that I have to sit through a movie as gut-twistingly bad as Himizu. I mean, I’ve seen some bad movies here and there. But most of the time, bad just means boring. Himizu on the other hand was actually painful to sit through. To put it in perspective: this is the one time I have regretted going to the movies as a critic. Had I made the mistake of seeing Himizu on my own time, I would have walked out of the cinema well before the ending. Instead I had no choice but to sit and endure this ghastly piece of cinematic excrement.

Himizu is a Japanese film and adaptation of an anime of the same name. The film is set in the aftermath of the March 11th tsunami, using recordings of the devastation to establish this backdrop. The lead character is Sumida (Shota Sometani), a young man ignored by his mother (Makiko Watanabe), and abused by his father (Ken Mitsuishi), whose one wish is to one day have a normal life. His aim is supported by two people: Keiko (Fumi Nikaido), Sumida’s schoolmate who is completely infatuated with him, and Shozo (Tetsu Watanabe), an affable company boss ruined by the tsunami, who camps in Sumida’s backyard.

The main problem with Himizu is that this is a live action film that behaves as if it is still an anime. There’s a lot of nonsense you can get away with if you’re a Japanese cartoon. Ridiculous amounts of screaming, excessive amounts of brutal violence, unrealistic displays of enthusiasm, panty shots: in anime, these are simply things that happen. Maybe it’s just because the mind does not hold a cartoon up to the same standards of realism as it does a film. Maybe it’s something else entirely. What I do know though is in a live action film, all that looks nothing but silly. What might actually be emotionally resonant in an anime drew only chuckles in a live action film.

Now, normally I would love a bit of comic lunacy. But Himizu tries to keep all the anime stuff, and does its damndest to be dark and super-serious too. The result is a film veering between two completely different tones, each undermining the other. All the violence, the horrible people, the terrible things that happen to pretty much everyone: all that darkness loses all impact as soon as the screaming starts up again. And yet, that screaming isn’t even funny because of all the darkness that preceded it.

This film then fails to inspire any emotional reaction. But this would only be enough to make it a bad film. What makes it an actively painful viewing experience is the fact that the main character, Sumida, is about as unlikeable a prick as I have ever seen onscreen.

See, in anime, there is this character template known as the bishonen. This is your tragic hero stereotype, like Heathcliff or Edward Cullen, a character plagued by a dark past that has made them both perpetually miserable and unbelievably sexy. Done right, these sorts of characters can be great tragic figures brimming with dark charisma. Done wrong, they’re nothing but dull, lifeless buckets of angst. No prizes for guessing which category Sumida falls into.

But Sumida as a character is not just dull. He is loathsome. His constant moping and sneering contempt for anyone who has the temerity to care for him, makes the movie’s attempts to have us sympathise with him feel as fruitless as a Scottish kitchen. Himizu constantly toys with the idea that Sumida might kill himself, but I doubt I was supposed to be so hopeful that that might happen. I sat there for 2 ½ hours watching Sumida sulk, mope and punch Keiko (seriously, what the fuck Japan?!), and marvelled that any sane human being thought that this might inspire empathy.

Let me wrap this up with a parable. In the very first episode of NBC’s Community, the character of Jeff Winger demonstrated how easily humans can be made to care. He takes a pencil, names it Steve, and then snaps it in two. A name was enough to make me wince. It is pretty easy to make someone care for a character: the hard thing is getting someone to loathe one. And yet, Himizu manages it. This is a film so bad, that had I a choice between watching it again, or watching a film about Jeff Winger’s pencil, I would choose Steve: The Movie. Anything would be better than Himizu.

Reviewer: Adam Brodie
Release Date: June 1st, 2012 (UK)
Directed By: Shion Sono
Cast:Shôta Sometani, Fumi Nikaidô, Tetsu Watanabe, Mitsuru Fukikoshi

Film reviewed at 2012 Terracotta Film Festival, London

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