The boy who didn’t want to save the world.
Sumida is a 14 years old teenager on the quest for normal life. Since his parents left him, he’s running the family business. Around him, homeless Tsunami victims & a stalker girl are all looking out for him.
FROM HATE TO HOPE
After his “Hate” trilogy – Love Exposure, Cold Fish & Guilty of Romance – Japanese director Sion Sono has decided to look into the tragic events of March 2011. The first step to this is Himizu, the live-action adaptation of the manga of the same name by Minoru Furuya, renowned for the darkness and the mature content of the story.
Usually, Japanese live-action versions tend to tone down some of the “shocking” aspects. It’s not the case here, on the contrary, Sion Sono does his best to be as provoking as possible, taking advantage of the manga’s dark tone – emphasizing violence over carnal scenes though. And yet, it’s not really another nihilist Sono film, as he tries to deliver an optimistic message.
DIFFERENCES WITH THE MANGA
Compared to the manga, this version brings some changes. The classmate “friends” of Sumida are here replaced with homeless Tsunami victims living next to Sumida’s house. So the story is more focused on the relations between Sumida, himself, his mother, his father and the stalker girl.
As for the secondary plots, the film features the meeting with the pickpocket, but it’s not as exciting as in the manga, in which this character looks like a big charismatic brother. In the film, he’s just a young crazy guy helping out an old dude. The idea behind this modification is to introduce the message of hope.
The most important change concerns the tone of the story. The manga is kind of a dark comedy, with some really ambiguous moments. Where violence doesn’t appear surprising, which reflects pretty well the state of mind of Sumida, and his existential crisis, lost between apathy and naivety. As for the film, it’s absolutely serious from the beginning to the end, underlining as much as possible the violence, craziness and despair of Japanese people.
Of course, the film is set during the aftermath of the March 2011 disasters – some footage can been seen through the film from time to time, it has this nightmarish feeling. This idea is a little bit awkward, as the original material already offered some interesting elements revealing the state of mind of the Japanese people – about its aspirations, dreams, consideration of the society… Was it really necessary to remind the audience every 10 minutes this national tragedy to make a point about Japan? The quest for normal life of a young depressed teenager wasn’t enough already to explore this idea?
But ideas need to be developed. Mostly shot with handheld cameras, Himizu tries to bring the audience as close as possible to the characters, who spend most of the film over-explaining every thoughts & doubts they have. They cry, they scream, but they aren’t that interesting nor engaging. Despite some attempts, Sion Sono doesn’t manage to explore the characters – the writing is mechanical, the characters’ development come late in the story, and only if it’s needed (for example, beyond the obvious symbolic reason, the Tsunami victims have no purpose.)
SUBTLETY ISN’T HIS MIDDLE NAME
And basically, Sion Sono is stuck in this symbolic approach, and gives too much attention to everything related to the March 2011 tragedy. What about working on some other parts of the story, and/or the characters’ development? Things that really matter? Instead of focusing on the (over) obviousness critical statement about how many Japanese people are lost – scenes in the city. In the end, the film is too long.
Besides these pacing issues, the director proves once again how much he loves European classical music, excessively using the same part of Mozart’s Requiem. At least, it brings emotions to the screen – what can go wrong with that kind of work? It does the job just perfectly.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
An independent live-action version of a dark manga, Himizu is a bold human drama, filled with an omnipresent social commentary, and the attempt to deliver a message of hope. The film is torn between all that, without knowing what to choose. The director is trying to play on every side of the story, but ultimately fails to explore the potential of the source material. It’s noisy, unengaging, over-long with with self-conscious symbolism. Hopefully, there’s the two lead young actors, they are excessive but charming. — 3/10.
Himizu is available on UK DVD/BD.
AKA ヒミズ (2011)