Warm Water Under a Red Bridge
Shohei Imamura’s Warm Water Under a Red Bridge
is the kind of quirky little fable I wish more old master directors would try their hands at. It would be nice every once and a while for a world renowned filmmaker to make a simple, lyrical and original short story of film to distract audiences away from the heavy, intellectual side of cinema, and refreshingly Imamura’s film does just that. It is no more than an inventive fairy tale, where a laid off office worker, Sasano (Koji Yakusho) travels to a small coastal town to find a treasure he heard about from a homeless philosopher. At the house where the treasure is hidden he discovers Aizawa (Misa Shimizu), a pretty woman whom Sasano finds has the unique problem of welling up with water which compels her to do wicked things to release it (Sasano sees Aizawa stealing cheese in a market standing in a puddle of water, and once Sasano introduces himself she immediately jumps on him and starts to make love, when she climaxes she releases gallons of water that trickles through the house and into the river adjacent to it). Sasano quickly falls in love with this charmingly strange woman, who’s water seems to act as a strange inspiration for him and he takes up a local job as a fisherman and starts living the life any cramped up office worker would secretly love to have.
Imamura fills the movie with a soft, gently humor and he surrounds Sasano’s quest for “treasure” with the town’s ever-so-slightly peculiar inhabitants, a grandmother who has been waiting for the return of her lover for decades and hands out hand written prophecies to anybody who’ll take them, an African runner who is going to college in Japan on a scholarship, people who all sit at the side of the tale, but add subtle texture to Sasano’s tale. The kind of background character quirkiness found in Warm Water Under a Red Bridge
is typical of Japanese cinema, but Imamura handles it in an offhand way, lending grace to the most simple things, filming them not to offer some profound comment on Japanese society, but just to flesh out Sasano’s surrounding.
Meanwhile Sasano’s search for material wealth turns into a quest for happiness, which he finds in the freedom of his new job and the time he spends with Aizawa, who is contrasted as lovely and sweet compared so Sasano’s demeaning wife in Tokyo. The film is leisurely paced, and while it spends most of its time following Sasano’s rediscovery of life it also hints at the importance of Aizawa’s unique property. Her water gushing is sweetly humorous and as it inspires Sasano to stay in her town it suggests the power a woman has to change men. The townspeople all seem to view Aizawa differently, one calls her a monster, another was driven crazy by his love for her, the town’s fishermen by the river appreciate how her warm water attracts a variety of fish, and yet another man wants to use her for fetish pornography. Whether the metaphor of Aizawa’s water really lies any deeper than this is not very important, as the film seems to have few aspirations past Sasano’s fulfillment of his life, it is ridiculous, sweet, and simple in a slightly surreal way. Mr. Imamura’s quiet little movie about a city cramped office worker transformed by a unique woman may be a little overlong, as he takes great time to setup both the atmosphere of Sasano’s life (which is initially attracted to Tokyo’s riverside populated by a philosophizing letch, and finds a similar contentment at Aizawa’s riverside house), and the small people who are in the background of his life. The time Imamura takes is never tiresome, but Warm Water Under a Red Bridge
could use some trimming, for a gentle and soft fairy tale like this tend to benefit from a brief running time. Regardless, Imamura takes the extra time to paint a lovely, meticulously timed, snowy ending that includes one of cinema’s best ending lines (and images) as Sasano’s fantasy life reaches its climax.