The Sea Is Watching

Plagued by health problems that kept him out of the director's chair, Akira Kurosawa spent the final three years of his life crafting a painstakingly detailed script for what he hoped would be his thirty-first feature film. The screenplay is based on two short stories by one of his favorite writers, the Japanese novelist Shugoro Yamamoto (Kurosawa previously...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Plagued by health problems that kept him out of the director's chair, Akira Kurosawa spent the final three years of his life crafting a painstakingly detailed script for what he hoped would be his thirty-first feature film. The screenplay is based on two short stories by one of his favorite writers, the Japanese novelist Shugoro Yamamoto (Kurosawa previously adapted Yamamoto's tales into SANJURO, RED BEARD, DODESOKADEN and AFTER THE RAIN, the last directed by Takashi Koizumi after Kurosawa's death in 1998) and marks an interesting departure for Kurosawa: Had he lived to direct it, the film would have been his first in over 50 years to deal solely with the lives of women, prostitutes in Edo-era Tokyo. Instead, the orphaned project landed in the lap of Kei Kumai, who has crafted an exquisite film that's worthy of its provenance. The setting is the red-light district of the small town of Okabasho, where prostitutes trot about in high sandals, heavy makeup and brilliantly colored kimonos — the emblems of their trade — and raucously lure clients into the many bordellos that line the muddy streets. Young O-Shin (Nagiko Tono) works out of the "House of Reeds," where one night Fusanosuke (Hidetaka Yoshioka), a disgraced samurai, takes refuge after a drunken brawl in a tea house. O-Shin hides Fusanosuke from his angry pursuers and save his life; against the advice of the slightly older, somewhat wiser Miss Kikuno (Misa Shimizu), O-Shin also falls in love with him. Kikuno, who claims to have married into a samurai family, tells O-Shin that a whore should never fall in love with a client, especially one so far above her station. Sadly, time proves Kikuno right, and love proves no match for caste; when Fusanosuke is finally admitted back into his father's good graces, O-Shin is left with nothing but a broken heart. Once again ignoring Kikuno's warnings, O-Shin later falls in love with another client, this time the brooding, suicidal thief Ryosuke (Masatoshi Nagase), but now the real danger is the one blowing in from the sea: a terrible storm that threatens to destroy everything in its path. Kumai's film is a not just an engaging melodrama that explores the class conflict and sexual mores of feudal Japan, but a work of extraordinary beauty; you could literally hang any random frame on the wall and call it art. No doubt the master would have been pleased. (In Japanese, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Plagued by health problems that kept him out of the director's chair, Akira Kurosawa spent the final three years of his life crafting a painstakingly detailed script for what he hoped would be his thirty-first feature film. The screenplay is based on two s… (more)

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