Set in a Japan recently ravaged by a powerful Tsunami, Sion Sono's 2011 picture Himizu takes place in a country that has essentially lost a war, not with another country, but with mother nature. Large portions of the populace have lost their homes and in tents and while what's left of the army and police forces do what they can to maintain law and order, as it stands the country is ripe for the picking in the eyes of those who would take advantage of such a situation.
In this world we meet a fourteen year old high school student named Keiko (Fumi Nikaidou) and the object of her affections, a classmate named Yuichi (Shota Sometani). Despite the fact that she's obviously carrying a pretty serious torch for Yuichi, Keiko hasn't been able to break the ice with him the way she'd hoped. She has, however, started recording what he says and taping some of those phrases to her wall. This allows her to essentially fantasize that he's with her while she's in her room… and it's a decidedly odd habit but at the same time, it's also strangely romantic. When she finally musters up the courage to blatantly confess her crush to him, she's upset when he pushes her away. He doesn't want a relationship because he's dealing with some personal issues. Rather than back away at this point, Keiko goes the opposite direction and becomes more aggressive in her attempts to convince him that she's the one for him.
Keiko's take on things starts to become less rose tinted when she realizes that Yuichi and his family have, like so many others, lost their home. They scratch out a paltry living by renting boats near the river that they have set up camp near. When it turns out that Yoichi's father is in debt to a cruel Yakuza and expects his son to help him pay that debt, things go from bad to worse and after a an incident of abuse, his father leaves and the next day, his mother as well. It all goes downhill from there…
Sono's films always deal in darkness but few hand it out in such hefty doses as Himizu. There's so little hope here, so few likeable characters and such little ‘light' that this is a tough one to really enjoy in the traditional sense of the word. All of this is portrayed with an unusual amount of distance resulting in a film that is as cold as it is unflinchingly violent and mean-spirited. That's not to say, however, that Himizu is without merit as it's quite a fascinating picture. What makes it interesting is how Yuichi ‘s character, not quite a boy but not yet a man, evolves over the span of the picture. As you'd imagine he, like most people, can only be pushed so far and while he's done an admirable job of surrounding himself with metaphorical walls to keep his emotions in check (and hence his obvious hesitation towards getting involved with Keiko) it's only a matter of time until this walls come crumbling down and Yuichi's fragile psyche alongside it. The performances by both Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikakidou work quite well in the context of the story being told and they have an interesting chemistry here.
Sono approaches this bleak universe he's created in strange ways, which for Sono, is freakishly normal. As the story builds in its first half we sympathize with Yoichi and understand why he is the way he is and why he acts the way he acts. As the story evolves, particularly after his father is introduced to the mix, things start to change and our allegiances begin to shift. Our emotions are definitely toyed with and yet we don't quite feel as if the director is manipulating us so much as he is peeling back yet another layer on the underbelly of humanity.The Blu-ray:
Himizu is presented on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Eagle-eyed viewers might note some very minor banding in a few scenes but otherwise there's nothing to complain about here. Colors are reproduced very nicely indeed while black levels are pretty solid too. Detail is quite strong, with close up shots showing off the most improvement over what standard definition could provide but medium and long distance shots also faring well here. The digitally shot production is as pristine as it should be and the image is free of any nasty video noise or compression artifacts.Sound:
Audio chores are handled well by a Japanese language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track with forced white English subtitles. Again, this is a solid effort. The score sounds quite good and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion. Dialogue is well balanced against both the score and the occasional sound effects and the track features good depth and a reasonable amount of directional activity throughout the feature.Extras:
Aside menus and chapter selection there are no extras on the disc.Final Thoughts:
Himizu is grim stuff to be sure and it borders on cinematic nihilism at times but like the director's other pictures, it will reward those who go into it with an open mind and an interest in cinematic portrayals of the dark side of humanity. The direction is as wild and unpredictable as you'd expect if you're familiar with his work and the performances are strong across the board. Feel good material this is not, but there's certainly a place for his work on the shelves of many film buffs. Olive's Blu-ray is typically barebones, and that's a shame, because it's the only weak spot in an otherwise very strong presentation. Recommended.