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 exist.

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 preceded it.

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 bawdy in-joke.

Directed by:
Shohei Imamura


Written by:







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