Warm Water under a Red Bridge
review by Dan Lybarger, 28 June 2002
Japanese director Shohei Imamura’s
latest film is an odd but ultimately satisfying blend of the
sophomoric and the sublime. The seventy-five-year-old Imamura
juggles social commentary, magical realism and gold old-fashioned
dirty jokes into a tale that both baffles and intrigues.
Koji Yakusho, the star of Imamura’s
The Eel, portrays yet another white-collar sad sack. The
catch is that this time his character, Yosuke Sasano, has all the
aggravations of the employed even though he’s lost his job. He’s
also got a nagging wife (Toshie Negishi) who doesn’t live with him.
All he gets from his job interviews are tactful rejections. Like a
lot of his countrymen, Yosuke has devoted most of his adult life to
a company that has folded and can’t seem to get his bearings back.
Yosuke’s very real and common
(especially in present day Japan) malaise provides an appropriate
counterpoint for the strangeness that ensues. An old man (Kazuo
Kitamura) who told Yosuke a series of outlandish stories has
recently died. Before he passed on, he told Yosuke how he has hidden
a golden Buddhist statue in a house near a red bridge in a small
village. Yosuke’s skepticism about the story vanishes when he
discovers during a commute that both the bridge and the house still
Inside the house lives Saeko (Misa
Shimizu), a gorgeous young woman who immediately infatuates Yosuke,
and ends up enlisting him to help her with her bizarre affliction.
Saeko’s body gradually fills with gallons of water, and the only way
she can properly shed is by committing a sin like shoplifting. The
most effective treatment, however, turns out to be an orgasm.
Yosuke soon discovers that he is
especially good at administering this cure, causing Saeko to gush
with a massive flood of water. During these moments of ecstasy, the
town’s river benefits enormously from Saeko’s contribution, becoming
a major fishery. Needless to say, Yosuke joins the crew of a fishing
boat and makes no plans to return to the city.
All of this weirdness might have
been a racy bore, if Imamura and his co-writers Daisuke Tengan and
Motofumi Tomikawa (working from the book by Yo Henmi) hadn’t create
likable characters. If Yosuke and Saeko weren’t a relatively decent
people trapped in an entertainingly absurd situation, a viewer might
want him to get back home to his responsibilities instead fooling
around in the village. Fortunately, both his Yosuke and the locals
are interesting enough to make his stay worthwhile.
Even some of the antagonists in
story are painted affectionately. A mean biker ends up becoming
Yosuke’s friend and even helps him get a job on a fishing boat. When
one of Yosuke’s old friends appears later and competes with him in
the quest for the gold statue, he also demonstrates a good side that
wasn’t immediately apparent.
The exotic ingredients that make up
Warm Water Under a Red Bridge don’t always jell. With three
credited writers, the film sometimes feels a bit disjointed, and the
last quarter of the movie, involving a dark secret from Saeko’s
past, feels slow and off-putting, lacking the giddy wonder that
Some additional exposure to
Japanese culture or to Imamura’s previous movies like The Eel
and Black Rain might make Warm Water under a Red Bridge
seem a little less quirky and confounding. Still, Imamura’s
affection for his characters prevents the movie from becoming a