Warm Water Under a Red Bridge
(Akai hashi no shita no nurui mizu) (2001)
Directed by Shohei Imamura

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Separated from his wife and living rough in Tokyo while looking for a job, Yosuke (Koji Yakusho), an unemployed middle aged salary man, befriends an elderly vagrant who tells him how, shortly after the war, he hid a valuable statue in a house overlooking a red bridge in a small fishing town. After the man's death, Yosuke decides to see if his story was true and journeys to the town. There he encounters Saeko (Misa Shimizu), the woman currently living in the house in which he believes the statue to be hidden, and watches her as she shoplifts some cheese and, apparently, urinates on the floor. After Yosuke has followed her home, to return an earring she dropped in the puddle of viscous liquid she left in the refrigerated foods aisle, Saeko explains to him that she suffers from a condition that causes her body to fill up with water, which can only be vented if she does something immoral, such as steal or have sex. She then convinces Yosuke to have intercourse with her and, when she achieves an orgasm, sprays him with the gallons of water accumulated in her body. A relationship begins to develop between the two, and Yosuke decides to remain in the town, where he finds employment on a fishing boat.

Shohei Imamura's Warm Water Under a Red Bridge is a charming movie. Filled with a variety of odd and tragic characters whose peculiarities and sorrows are engaging rather than distracting, the film reminds the viewer of the joys to be found in people's distinctive traits and experiences. The eccentricities and troubles of the movie's characters are, consequently, both fascinating and humanizing. Saeko's unique condition, for instance, makes her more interesting and more sympathetic than she would have been without it. Yosuke's individuality is also nicely developed. He begins the movie having failed in his conventional career and his ordinary marriage, but his experiences in the fishing town and his relationship with Saeko allow him to appreciate his life in a way he apparently never did before.

Even many of the film's minor characters add to its interest and appeal. For example, while the African runner training at a nearby university, who angers the locals by fishing in a river with a net, is never developed as a complex individual, nor is his story told, his interactions with Yosuke complement the latter's own story and give the viewer both a glimpse into the protagonist's heart and some understanding of the world in which he lives. The runner is not the movie's only well utilized or entertaining supporting character by any means, however. Saeko's senile grandmother, who spends her time writing fortunes and waiting for a long lost lover, is both funny and sad, and the swaggering, chauvinistic son of Yosuke's new employer is both likeable and obnoxious. All contribute to the movie's quirky feel and emotive resonance.

More than any of the film's other elements, however, Saeko's odd condition is able to captivate the viewer and keep him engaged with the story he is being told. Not only is her ailment never presented in either a lurid or a clumsy way, but it suffuses the whole of Warm Water Under a Red Bridge with a delightfully surreal and wonderfully affecting quality. Imamura makes it clear that Saeko herself is uncomfortable with the condition, although many men find the strange experience of having sex with her to be exciting, because it is so unique. He even shows how Yosuke is, apparently, initially attracted to her for just this reason, but how he is angered that other men have similar feelings. The director, by making use of such representations, is able to stir up in the viewer an awareness both of the complexity of human sexuality and of the emotions arising from that sexuality. He thus allows the moviegoer to involve himself with the persons whose emotions he reveals. Instead of condemning their conflicts as either prudish or degenerate, Imamura uses them to elicit sympathy from the viewer so that the movie itself is made wonderfully appealing.

In fact, by emphasizing the film's characters throughout its duration, the director is able to arouse the viewer's appreciation of their uniqueness, enabling him to participate in their existence and to savor the peculiarities which make life so enjoyable. The moviegoer is, consequently, made to relish a real sense of exuberant delight.

Finally, I should note that Warm Water Under a Red Bridge is attractively although not distinctively filmed and that the acting is consistently good, although never brilliant.

While Warm Water Under a Red Bridge is not a great movie, it is well made and both engaging and pleasant.

Review by Keith Allen

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