WARM WATER UNDER A RED BRIDGE
directed by Shohei Imamura
with Koji Yakusho and Misa Shimizu
runs Sept. 6-12 at Grand Illusion
How can I describe this movie without making it sound like porn or a gynecological text? Warm Water Under a Red Bridge is, literally, about a woman's copious vaginal discharge during sex. That is, she gushes when she comes. Still with me? But what could be the premise for something you rent at Blue Video is instead treated like the Farrelly Brothers by 77-year-old director Shohei Imamura (The Eel). There's basically no nudity in Bridge, and when Saeko "vents," it's like she's got a seltzer bottle between her legs—spraying her befuddled new lover, Yosuke (Koji Yakusho, The Eel, Eureka), in a running slapstick gag that's more bawdy than smutty. Her condition turns out to be only one of the oddities the unemployed Tokyo salaryman encounters in her isolated peninsula village, a place teeming with eccentrics and tangled history. Although the local color becomes rather too precious over two meandering hours, Bridge is an often amusing story of Yosuke's midlife crisis and gradual self-reinvention.
Directed on a wild goose chase to Noto by his now-deceased pal Taro (a.k.a. The Philosopher), Yosuke talks occasionally by cell phone with his estranged wife. Her branding him "a perpetual loser" makes clear what little incentive he has to return to his old life. Instead, in a beautiful, bucolic village hemmed by ocean waves and snow-topped peaks, he accepts a comically brusque job offer to become a fisherman. (It's more like a threat.) No less direct is Saeko (Misa Shimizu, The Eel), who shoplifts for the sexual thrill and beds bewildered Yosuke within hours of his arrival.
"I'm so ashamed!" exclaims Saeko of her cervical fountain, but Yosuke is turned on by the waterworks. (Each session of coitus is followed by much mopping and drying.) Her steaming torrent courses through the gutters and drains until Imamura shows it entering the river below—where the fish go wild, and three old fishermen comment upon the commotion like a Greek chorus. Water, sex, life cycles—they're all interrelated, you see.
Casting off his inhibitions, Yosuke returns to the natural, organic order of things. The Philosopher reappears periodically in flashback and dream to counsel him. "Lose your free will and you lose your humanity," he declares. Standard stuff, and while Bridge resembles a simple Capra-esque dropout fantasy, a Lost Horizon for office drones, its earthy, oddball humanism and whimsical flourishes defy such easy categorization. (The oom-pah score certainly undercuts any imputation of seriousness to the film.) Imamura takes the coarse and makes it seem almost refined.