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Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Shohei Imamura) 2002

As a follow-up to his Palm D'Or-winning The Eel (a film that I liked a great deal), Japanese director Shohei Imamura delivers Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, an oddball comedy that reuses Koji Yakusho, star his last film. The film's plot is fairly simple, and seems a response to Japan's current financial crisis. An unemployed actor begins a journey to retrieve a golden Buddha, that was supposedly left by a drifter friend of his in a house next to the title's eponymous red bridge. When he arrives, he sees a woman leaving the house, whom he follows. He sees her shoplifting, and confronts her. She reveals to him that she is cursed with an affliction that causes her to fill up with water that can only be released if she does "something wicked."

She leaps on him, and the audience is treated to one of the year's more audacious scenes as she begins to spray massive jets of water from her crotch, as they have sex. The film, at this point, is exciting because of its sheer unpredictability. Unfortunately, this does not last, as the film settles into what feels like a pastiche of two popular comedy sub-genres: the gross-out sex comedy (American Pie, There's Something About Mary) and the "zany town" comedy (Waking Ned Devine, Chocolat). The film keeps piling on familiar elements until it feels like it is a parody of the genres (a feeling that the film's final two shots really pound home). From the gross out camp, we are treated to exaggerated ejaculation (Scary Movie), impotence jokes, and a vomit scene. From the zany town comedies, there's a dose of magic realism (Chocolat) and a town populated solely with "colorful" characters. The two elements of the film coalesce into one in one of the film's later scenes. A fistfight in the street makes its way indoors into the home of a ship captain, one of the villagers that has not yet been revealed as zany. Not surprisingly, he has an apparent amateur pornography ring operating out of his house: his zaniness is his predilection for sex comedy behavior. A more unfortunate side effect of the film's inspiration is its predictability. 

The film's message, that a predictable professional and family life are not necessarily desirable, seems tailor made for modern day Japan. The film speaks to post-millennial tensions in a few scenes. A character laments that she expected the 21st century to be different, but finds it more of the same. Ironically, she later describes one of a water treatment plant's exhibits (the film is loaded with heavy-handed water metaphors) that excites her as "so 21st century." It seems that the film is loaded with these sorts of contradictions. Like many adaptations from novels, the plot has too much material to give justice to the main theme. Despite some amusing moments along the way, the film lacks originality to distinguish it among the films it seems to draw its inspiration from (even if I can't fathom Imamura watching Freddy Got Fingered).


October, 2001

Jeremy Heilman