Imamura's Warm Water Under a Red Bridge
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
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"
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
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.
International Student Center
Yokohama National University
Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama 240-8501
E-mail: gerow at ynu.ac.jp
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