Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Warm Water under a red bridge / Akai hashi no shita no nurui mizu (Shohei Imamura, 2001)

Without a job when his firm goes bankrupt, a man in his 40s looks unsuccessfully for work, talks on his mobile phone to his distant wife who’s moved away, and hangs out with a derelict, a homeless philosopher in a blue tent, who counsels him to live in such a way that he will not have regrets—and when the old man dies the man decides to go seek the treasure the old man used to tell him about, in an old house covered with trumpet vines, by a red bridge. The man goes there and sees a beautiful young woman. Shortly afterwards he sees her shoplifting cheese in a store; she is standing in a pool of water. He goes to the house, and the granny gives him a paper with a prophecy of good fortune written on it.

The girl tells him somehow water builds up inside her and she has to do something wicked to vent it. And when they make love she becomes an ecstatic fountain. So the man takes a job on a fishing boat, and he hurries back to her whenever she signals him from the shore with a mirror. After a while, though, the constancy of the relationship starts to “cure” her, and the water diminishes. The man is not happy, and he becomes unreasonable and jealous. The poor woman is miserably unhappy, too, because whenever she has taken a lover they have all have been that way when the water subsides. The fountain seems to be just exotic sex to them, while the water seems like a curse to her.

When the man confesses he’d initially come for the treasure, she laughs bitterly—the treasure was in her grandmother’s “pot.” At last, the man realizes the old philosopher had tricked him into discovering this wonder, and that he himself had been the man the grandmother had always waited for. The girl retreats sadly, accepting defeat and preparing herself for his departure. But he tells her he’s staying, and the she she tells him she loves him—and out of the seashore grotto where they are making love, a fountain of water emerges, and a rainbow.

It’s a fable about desire, isn’t it? But there’s more than just a succession of ebbing and endings. There's the promise of renewal and constancy. Sweetly optimistic magic realism.

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