‘If my films are messy,’ says director Shohei Imamura, ‘this is probably due to the fact that I don’t like too perfect a cinema.’ Neat and tidy Imamura’s latest certainly is not, but it does take you aback the way the septuagenarian director has reshaped the themes in his previous offering The Eelothe woman offering a male outsider a new startointo a way-out comedy with room for surreal imagery, psychological probing and social concern. Careworn, doggedly amiable Yakusho Koji (Shall We Dance?) returns as a Tokyo salaryman recently made unemployed. With a demanding wife on the end of the ‘phone, he takes his chances among the city’s down-and-outs, where one old soak regales him with tales of buried treasure out in the provinces, in a house just beside a red bridge. Subsequent investigation reveals that the place still exists, inhabited by a cranky old woman and her daughter, who, as Yakusho’s about to discover, gushes gallons of water every time she gets aroused . . .
With each lusty encounter replenishing the nearby river and local fish stocks, it’s possible to view the lover as some Earth Mother figure, but Yakusho’s subtly witty performance also underlines a potentially fearful attitude to female sexuality (there in The Eel too), while Imamura, true to the campaigning spirit evident in his earlier career, also suggests the dubious legacy of Japan’s ’60s industrial pollution scandals. Typically, he leaves the viewer to sort everything out, fills the margins with the usual throng of dodgy characters, layers affectionate sincerity just below the surface, and shoots everything with the unruffled control of a true master.oTrevor Johnston.
Japan, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 120 mins.