Directed by Shion Sono
Written by Shion Sono
Acclaimed director Shion Sono may still be fresh off the debut of his Guilty Of Romance, which premiered at Cannes earlier this year, but only four months later, he is back again. This time around, Sono brings an adaption of Minoru Furuya’s psychological thriller manga Himizu, a twisted tale of a middle-school boy’s state of mind and how he deals with stressful situations. The good news is, Sono’s latest most resembles his four hour long countercultural romantic masterpiece, Love Exposure. The bad news is a good portion of the film’s running time is played at an almost unbearable high volume, with most of the cast shouting their dialogue. Needless to say, either bring some ear plugs or sit far away from the loudspeakers.
Originally conceived as a straightforward adaptation, Sono altered the script to include the aftermath of last March’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and set out to the very core of the areas which suffered the worst. There he shot several scenes amidst the devastation left behind, and the result is heartfelt. The decision to present the characters against the backdrop of the catastrophe makes for a far more relevant and emotionally resonant feature.
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Sion corkscrews his many subplots with ease: a pickpocket thief on the verge of a big score, an extremely bleak coming-of-age story, a twisted teenage romance, the usual Yakuza out for money, a neo-Nazi drug dealer, a whorish mom, a bastard of a dad, custom-made gallows for a daughter by her mother, public massacres, sadomasochistic neighbours and so much more. The description hints at a dark fairy tale, but Himizu is sugarcoated with hope, and at the forefront of it all is a group of good-hearted souls who try their best to do good in the face of any threat. Sono directs an inspirational film that encourages the Japanese youth to “never give up” and reminds them that it’s important to have aspirations in life.
With Himizu, Sono effortlessly juxtaposes scenes of stylized violence against the heart wrenching disaster-ridden landscapes, the tragic family drama and a bittersweet high school crush. Cinematographer Sohei Tanikawa, using a Red camera, demonstrates his talent by constructing long tracking shots set against the wasteland and under the constant, endless rain. The soundtracks mostly consists of classical pieces: Mozart’s “Requiem”, Barber‘s “Adagio For Strings” repeat throughout, and the sound design, cuts at the ears like a razor, amplifying the pic with surprising immediacy. By the third act, Sono struggles to find a coherent tone, and the extreme tonal shifts sometimes make the pic feel like two movies crammed into one, but regardless of its missteps, Himizu spotlights some of the director’s best work. There is enough here for a 20-minute highlight reel. The opening montage of the post-tsunami ruins is extremely moving. Later, a shootout between our protagonist and the Yakuza recalls the best of Tarantino, and a first-rate Hitchcockian murder sequence will leave you flabbergasted. The crane shot alone is worth the price of admission.
With Himizu, Sono’s brilliance is to take the onslaught of all the high-pitched comedy and hyperbolic fury and shape it into a narrative that’s surprisingly touching. The title translates as “mole,” and Sono uses this to convey his message: Like a mole, his protagonist overcomes, no matter how muddy the outlook may be: “never give up.”
Originally published on Sept. 16, 2011 as part of our coverage of The Toronto International Film Festival.