Riding out the big wave

 

Directed by Sion Sono. Starring Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaidou, Tetsu Watanabe, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Megumi Kagurazaka Club, IFI, Dublin, 129 min

SION SONO may have begun life as a poet but, to date, the Japanese film-maker has stayed clear of airy lyricism. Fine pictures such as Cold Fish and Guilty of Romance – loaded with risqué images – seemed eager to shock the viewer into submission.

The director’s latest work, dealing with the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, does not risk confusion with a bowl of petunias. There are outbreaks of violence, repeated acts of cruelty and strange moments of uneasy lasciviousness. But it does feel a little bit less like trial by atrocity. The more you brood upon it, the more interesting it seems.

Loosely based on a Manga by Minoru Furuya, Himizu concerns itself with Sumida (Shota Sometani), a young man whose family run a boat-rental business in a slightly desolate rural enclave. His mother has recently flown the coop and his violent dad, who pops in for occasional fisticuffs, has incurred a massive debt to local gangsters. Poor Sumida is required to find the money or suffer the violent consequences.

It’s not all gloom (or it shouldn’t be). Chazawa (Fumi Nikaidou), a pretty school chum who is in love with the hero, is on hand to cast enigmatic glances and recite French poetry.

For all its stubborn peculiarity, the film does occasionally slip into romantic clichés. The employment of Mozart’s Requiem and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings – two of the most overused pieces in cinema – demonstrates a near criminal lack of imagination.

For the most part, however, Himizu emerges as an unsettling, properly disturbing meditation on the challenges posed by growing up in forbidding circumstances. Composed of clean digital images, featuring spooky cutaways to the aftermath of the tsunami, the film is infused with brooding tension and looming pessimism. By encouraging the subsidiary characters to remain distant, the director puts Sumida’s torment into effectively stark relief. A striking finale just about makes sense of the extended running time.