Based on the Manga by Minoru Furuya but altered slightly to include recent events, Himizu tells the tale of two disturbed 14-year-olds trying to find hope in a devastated post-quake Japan.

Opening with documentary-style handycam footage of the disaster sites, we are immediately given a taste of the bitter flavour that will permeate the rest of the film. Then enters Sumida, a coldly nihilistic teen whose goal in life is to be nothing more than ordinary; living in a ramshackle hut with some older homeless folks, he assumes he’ll one day take over his father’s business renting boats. Then his mother abandons him and his father racks up a rather large debt to the Yakuza then goes on the lam leaving Yuichi to deal with it. Though he does occasionally return to mock and belittle his son, urging him to commit suicide. To add to these hardships he has a very intense and obsessed girl named Keiko following him around.

Keiko’s home life is hardly any better. Her parents are in the process of building a gallows in their living room for her to end her life on. She attaches herself to Sumida and, despite being constantly physically and verbally abused by him, slowly earns his trust and friendship. Together they seem to find some kind of solace while violence rages around them.

There’s also a sub-plot concerning one of Sumida’s elderly friends befriending a pickpocket in an attempt to learn his skills and pay off the debt which involves the burglary and murder of a violent (Japanese) Neo-Nazi youth, complete with SS bolts shaved into his hair and Swastika flag prominently displayed.

Though very different than previous works such as Cold Fish or Love Exposure – in fact I’d say it has more in common with something like Wakamatsu’s Go, Go Second Time Virgin than these titles – Himizu still retains Sono’s unmistakable thumbprint. It’s an incredibly powerful film with a palpable undercurrent of emotional instability running throughout. And whether it’s Keiko’s uncomfortably hyper state or Sumida’s homicidal outbursts, the looping Mozart piece that serves as the score only works to heighten things.

With the constant references to the country’s state, nuclear power and mass stabbing epidemics, Himizu is perhaps Sono’s message of hope to Japan in the wake of disaster: in spite of all odds the teens manage to “never give up!”.

There’s a 72 minute Making Of and a selection of deleted scenes as extras. Clearly the Making Of is the stand-out extra here both in terms of quality and quantity and it’s not just focused on making the film, there’s interviews with actors and producers which helps it from becoming too stale.

DIRECTOR(S): Sion Sono | COUNTRY: Japan | YEAR 2011 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 Widescreen | REGION: 4 / PAL | DISCS: 1

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