Himizu Focuses on the Local Effects of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake


Too many films exploring the aftermath of natural disasters tend to emphasize the fates of attractive white people, even when set in other countries. (Impossible, you say?)

By contrast, Sion Sono’s intermittently refreshing yet thoroughly unpleasant Himizu focuses on the local effects of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on the residents of a once idyllic prefecture. Fifteen-year-old Sumida (Shota Sometani), like many survivors, is plagued by dreams of destruction.

Add to that an abusive father and neglectful mother and it’s small wonder he’s moody. Sumida’s would-be girlfriend, Keiko (Fumi Nikaido), on the other hand, pines for him from afar when not wallpapering her bedroom with his offhand sayings. Problem is, Sumida’s growing up prone to violence, just like his old man, and this sets the tone: Characters beat the crap out of each other for two hours when not indulging in various forms of neglect or psychological torture (Sumida’s mother eventually abandons him, while Keiko’s parents build a gallows in their living room so she can hang herself).

Sumida’s homeless neighbors, by contrast, almost act as if they’re in a different movie, offering our troubled protagonist comic advice. One, Yoruno (Tetsu Watanabe), gets the best story arc when he joins a pickpocket in a scheme to rob a local Nazi(!) to pay off Sumida’s father’s debt to a yakuza. Sono uses the 2011 tsunami to bring home the dilemma between living a worthwhile life, with its attendant risks, or living a long, uninspiring one (like the “himizu” of the title, a type of Japanese mole). It’s too bad in this case “worthwhile” seems to denote “borderline psychotic.”