Imamura's Warm Water Under a Red Bridge

Aaron Gerow gerow
Wed Nov 7 21:00:59 EST 2001

Here's my review of Warm Water, which appears in today's Daily Yomiuri. 
While I think it is very important to see the evidence of "resistance" to 
the male fantasy in the film, especially in the comedy framework, I think 
in the end the fantasy elements overwhelm such contrary moments.  Shimizu 
Misa is not good enough to work against the fantasy, and the dominant 
context of iyashi makes it too easy for male viewers to read the film 
according to their fantasies.

                     Shallow heroine mars Imamura film 

                     Aaron Gerow Special to The Daily Yomiuri 

                     Akai Hashi no Shita no Nurui Mizu 

                     (Warm Water Under a Red Bridge) (two and a half 

                     Dir: Shohei Imamura 

                     Cast: Koji Yakusho, Misa Shimizu, 

                     Kazuo Kitamura, Mitsuko Baisho 

                     For better or for worse, women have often been at 
the center of Japanese cinema. While genres like samurai or yakuza films 
have formed distinctly masculine visions, great masters from Kenji 
Mizoguchi to Mikio Naruse and Yasuzo Masumura have concentrated on 
strong, if sometimes tragic heroines who complicate male-centered 
Japanese society. Some may prove too convenient a symbol of melodramatic 
suffering, but all take their proud place at the center of the narrative. 

                     Shohei Imamura's women have significantly been 
unique. From Haruko in Buta to Gunkan (Pigs and Battleships, 1961) and 
Tome in Nippon Konchuki (The Insect Woman, 1963) to Sadako in Akai Satsui 
(Intentions of Murder, 1964)--they have all been tough, physical, if not 
manipulative creatures, whose preternatural life energy confirms 
Imamura's basic belief that we are all just industrious animals under our 
civilized veneer. 

                     Yet Saeko (Misa Shimizu), the heroine of Akai Hashi 
no Shita no Nurui Mizu, (Warm Water Under a Red Brodge) is unlike anyone 
ever seen in Imamura's previous work, if not in Japanese cinema as a 

                     She has a water problem, but not like anything 
you've heard of before. Water accumulates inside her body, so much so 
that when she has sex, it gushes forth in fountains at the moment of 
orgasm. Intercourse, it seems, is the only way she can expel the water; 
without it, it merely builds up and, she says, makes her do "bad things" 
like shoplifting. 

                     In some ways, she is not unlike her Imamura 
predecessors: the daughter of a shaman in a phallus-worshiping cult, she 
is a woman of desire, moved, through water, the most fundamental of 
elements, by her basic physical self. 

                     Yet she is ultimately less the self-possessed 
creature of Imamura's previous works than a woman who all too easily 
fulfills the nostalgic fantasies of the contemporary male. That, 
unfortunately, makes her, and the film, less interesting. 

                     In the movie, that contemporary male is Yosuke 
Sasano (Koji Yakusho), a middle-aged salaried worker who, a victim of 
corporate restructuring and separated from his wife, has come to realize 
that his guaranteed life was but an illusion. While vainly looking for 
work, he begins socializing with the homeless camped by the Sumida River, 
especially one named Taro (Kazuo Kitamura), who is known as the 
Philosopher for his advice on life. 

                     Just before Taro dies, he tells Yosuke of a treasure 
hidden in a house by a red bridge in a town on the Noto Peninsula. Half 
suspicious but with little else to do, Yosuke heads off to that town and 
discovers Saeko living in the house Taro mentioned. While he finds no 
treasure, he is delightfully intrigued by another find: Saeko. Although a 
college graduate, he starts working on a local fishing boat so that he 
can help relieve Saeko of her excess water. 

                     If Taro complained of a modern civilization that 
repressed our primitive desires, Saeko becomes Yosuke's means of 
achieving that freer sexuality. She effectively brings him back to life, 
just as her water, trickling down from the house into the nearby river, 
causes bushes to bloom out of season and saltwater fish to swim upstream. 

                     Akai Hashi no Shita no Nurui Mizu is a comedic 
fantasy, with the music especially playing up the slight absurdity of the 
situation. Yet clearly this is also a male fantasy--Saeko is what any 
down-and-out salaried worker would desire: willing to sleep with a man on 
first meeting, while still healing his wounded soul. 

                     This may appeal to an age where the keyword is 
iyashi (healing), but it renders Saeko rather one-dimensional. In a short 
scene at the end, she may complain that men want her for her water, not 
for her self, but this crucial problem is never fully developed nor 
adequately solved. 

                     Shimizu, who is costarring with Yakusho for the 
first time since Imamura's Cannes-winning Unagi (The Eel), also doesn't 
offer Saeko's character sufficient depth to make her more complex than 
her waterworks. She is clearly desirable, but with little of the 
tenacious force of previous Imamura heroines. 

                     Akai Hashi no Shita no Nurui Mizu thus offers male 
spectators a fantasy of returning to the amniotic fluids with all their 
comforts. What it says to women who have already left the womb, however, 
remains a mystery to me. 

                     The movie, in Japanese, is currently playing. 

Aaron Gerow
Associate Professor
International Student Center
Yokohama National University
79-1 Tokiwadai
Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama 240-8501
E-mail: gerow at
Phone: 81-45-339-3170
Fax: 81-45-339-3171

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