2011 / 129m - Japan
Drama, Thriller
Himizu poster

Nowadays welcoming a new Sion Sono film is quite the event. Over the past few years Sono worked really hard to establish his name, with great success I should add. His films are welcomed on the biggest film festivals of the world, urging him to produce new projects to keep the momentum going. Himizu is his latest film to appear on DVD and it's clear from the start that Sono won't be running out of fresh ideas very soon.

screen capture of Himizu

People first noticed Sono (Cold Fish, Love Exposure, Ekusute) when he released Suicide Club (riding the Japanese suspense wave), but his real break-through came with Love Exposure, his megalithic, pompous and schizophrenic masterpiece. It's not my personal favorite, but it's clear that a man who can pull off such a stunt has talent to spare.

Himizu contains clear, left-over traces of Love Exposure's impact, but it's a different type of film altogether. Himizu is gritty, dark and often mean-spirited, but delivered with a surprisingly light-hearted tone of voice. If Gaspar Noé (Enter The Void) and Tim Burton (Alice In Wonderland) would ever agree to adapt a manga together (the original Himizu manga was penned by Minoru Furuya), the result might be thrown in the same corner as Himizu. Chances are quite slim this will ever happen though, so it's a good thing that Sono is filling this gaping void.

The events of Himizu take place right after the fatal tsunami that hit Japan last year. The 14-year old Sumida lives alone with his mother in a run-down shack, surrounded by a group of homeless people who stranded in the neighborhood. Left behind by his father right after the disaster, it doesn't take long before Sumida's mother takes off as well, leaving Sumida to take care of himself. It's simply too much for a young boy to cope with, so even though the people around him are willing enough to help out, Sumida slowly starts his descent into a painful and destructive depression.

screen capture of Himizu

Visually Sono is making good progress. While the camera work is far from strict and obsessively controlling, it's clearly not a quick handycam job either. Every once in a while Sono throws in a couple of beautiful static shots, alternated with an agile and dynamic yet captivating camera. There's is plenty of attention for lighting too, making for some very moody and atmospheric scenes.

The soundtrack is impressive, to say the least. There is a selection of well-known classical songs (Barber's Adagio For Strings) and some more pop-oriented film music, but it's the bits of distorted, raging noize that really make an impression. Whenever Sumida boils inside the soundtrack goes in the red, making his feelings tangible. Subtle it ain't, but it's stunningly effective nonetheless. The soundtrack as a whole is a bit chaotic, but the same could be said about the film (which, to be very clear, I never experienced as something negative).

The acting too is nigh perfect. The actors faced the difficult challenge to transfer the dramatic and dark impact of the film while at the same time keeping the light-hearted tone of voice. The result is a combination of strong dramatic scenes mixed with some serious overacting. It's a peculiar effect that is sure to deter some people, but it's essential to the overarching feel of the film. Sometani and Nakaido deliver performances that are sure to be remembered while the secondary cast doesn't lag far behind.

screen capture of Himizu

Himizu is a very uneven film, but by design. Sono banned any form of subtlety completely, resulting in a bold and loud film with no intention to back down. Couple that to the stark contrast between dark subject matter and an almost comical atmosphere and you have something quite unique. Clearly not everyone is going to accept this, so if you prefer soft caresses to harsh blows you might think twice before getting started on this one. Then again, if you appreciate Sono's strong-willed lack of conformity you're in for another two hours of pure cinematic pleasure.

The first fifteen minutes where a little though, but once Sumida starts his descent into madness the film never back down. Strong visual language, a superb soundtrack and quality acting make Himizu into a memorable experience. All these things add up to another unique and career-defining film for Sion Sono. Sono fans shouldn't hesitate to go out and see Himizu, others might do well to watch the trailer first in order to determine whether they can stomach Sono's unique style. Now on to Sono's new film.