Bringing together large scale catastrophe with small scale drama, Himizu follows the story of two teenagers coming to terms with their own existence as well as the dramatic, drastic and tragic alteration of their environment.

Chazawa (Fumi Nikaidô) has enough problems with school-life, especially as she really does fancy fellow classmate Sumida (Shôta Sometani) and will do anything to try and be with him. But Sumida is having a really tough time and the world seems to be against him. His mother has left home to be with her lover which leaves him in vague control of the family’s boating business, in an area affected greatly by the recent dreadful tsunami. In many ways it is hardly surprising that Sumida’s mother left because his father is a violent and drunken man, who owes the local yakuza a lot of money, and who only returns home to beat his son up and remind him how worthless he is. Chazawa attempts to revitalise the boating business and generally help her friend, although many of her attempts are rejected by Sumida, resulting in her accumulating an increasing collection of grudge stones. Meanwhile he has an alternative lifestyle plan of his own – to become a violent vigilante ridding the country of evil-doers, starting with the yakuza who are demanding he repay his dad’s debts.

In some ways Himizu is strangely and tangentially, almost obliquely, reminiscent of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet which depicts a violent and dangerous underworld hidden beneath society’s respectable veneer, as though the tsunami swept away the bright, clean, ordered Japan that lies within the audience’s perception of the country to reveal another world, one of chaos and disorder. It explores the rottenness behind the normality of daily life through the growing pains of two teenagers who are trying to find to some form of structure to their lives, in the wider context of the aftermath of the horrific tsunami.

This is a consistently engaging and occasionally harrowing drama with Sumida as the stoic but angst-ridden teenager who begrudgingly accepts Chazawa’s friendship as she tries to maintain purposeful optimism in spite of increasingly unfavourable odds. Their parents have abandoned them, Chazawa’s mother has even set up a noose in the living room, just in case her daughter decides to do the decent thing and kill herself. Sumida’s parents have simply abandoned him. And yet neither of the teenagers give up.

Adapted from the manga by Minoru Furuya, Himizu this is a well constructed drama that is harsh and occasionally shocking but also heart-rending. Lead actors Shôta Sometani and Fumi Nikaidô, who who give remarkable performances, deservedly won the 2011 Venice International Film Festival Marcello Mastroianni Award.

An accomplished film from the ever reliable Sion Sono (Suicide Circle (2002), Love Exposure (2009),Cold Fish (2010)) it is good to see that Himizu is getting cinematic distribution. At turns disturbing and uplifting, Himizu is occasionally a hard watch but one that makes for gripping viewing. Hopefully more provincial audiences will get the opportunity to view one of the year’s most compelling dramas on the big screen.