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Umi wa miteita (The Sea Is Watching)
Written: Akira Kurosawa
Directed: Kei Kumai
Staring: Misa Shimizu, Nagiko Tono, Masatoshi Ngase

The Dead Have Risen And Are Making Movies


Okay, so I love geishas. LOVE them, like in a "Hey that's a little freaky" kind of way. Truthfully, I have this general fascination for all things Japanese: food with an over abundance of seaweed and fermented bean curd; vending machines that dispense high-school girls' underwear; hotels rooms that are smaller and less comfortable than a coffin; Sumo wrestling, anime, origami, all of it. But most of all, the whores. I read 'Memories Of A Geisha' a couple years ago and I got hooked on the idea of these overly made up, impossibly dressed women being paid huge amounts of money to sit around, look pretty, play some awful sounding two-string guitar and make conversation with business men who they ply with alcohol so as not to have to sleep with them. Brilliant.

Before he died Akira Kurosawa wrote his final screenplay. I'm sure it wasn't his final screenplay out of any choice of his, more fate's. Damn you fate! The Sea Watches follows the stories of one o-chaya -- that's the Japanese equivalent of a whorehouse… the best little whorehouse in Kyoto! Specifically the story centers on O'Shin (Tono), a young geisha who has yet to grow jaded by her profession and is constantly falling in love with whoever wanders through the door. While the movie is focused on this one girl, it is the rest of the house, which brings this movie to life-- the richness and depth of their characters. While the movie has a grand, epic feel to it - kind of like Seven Samurai, only with whores - it's this human element that makes it such a brilliant movie.

Free Williamsburg
Film Archive

2003

Garage Days
Dirty Pretty Things
Buffalo Soldiers
The Sea Is Watching
Garmento
Capturing the Friedmans
The Eye
28 Days Later
Spellbound
Cowboy Bebop

Washington Heights
Better Luck Tomorrow
Confidence
View From the Top

Laurel Canyon

Spider
Spun
Ordinary Sinner
Dark Blue
Chaos
The Quiet American
XX/YY

2002

Intacto
Empire
Max
Hell House
Good Housekeeping
Roger Dodger
Spirited Away
Punch-Drunk Love
Bowling For Columbine
Scarlet Diva
Full Frontal
Sex and Lucia
The Powerpuff Girls Movie
Read My Lips (Sur Mes Levres)
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Barleby
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Human Nature
Shot in the Heart
Jim Brown: All American
Stolen Summer
Curve
Ram Dass: Fierce Grace
Storytelling


What works best in this movie is what often makes documentaries so interesting. You get the opportunity to see inside a world that you know little to nothing about. The formality and pomp of the geisha is so strange and intense that it feels not just foreign, but alien. Kurosawa's craftsmanship couple this with six extremely strong, deep and comprehendible characters who are, on the surface, pieces of this formality, but underneath very obviously young, innocent girls in various stage of maturity. Kurosawa expertly ties the universality of these characters with an ancient, feudal world that must be just as strange to a Japanese audience as it is to an American.

The one negative thing I can say is that it falls apart a little in the ending. What is a slow, cresting build up turns into a shallow wave with no real climax and a very empty conclusion? The movie ends basically as you think it will from the outset, but the journey there at the end feels hurried, and the characters suffer, they look less important and more like bitchy, whiney children.

The Ratings

One genuflecting director

Kumai was either possessed by the spirit of Kurosawa, or lived in fear of being struck down by his wrath. Consequently the entire movie smacks of the great director. More than just his script, everything about the movie feels like a fond remembrance of the man, as though the movie is as much a tribute to him as a piece of art in his collection.

One Samisen

Thankfully there's only about two minutes of this awful accursed instrument in the movie. As much as I love all things Japanese, any culture that ever thought a sound like this is pleasant can't be all that cool. I guess there's a flaw in every diamond.

Three Hipsters

The ending not withstanding this is a great movie. The pace is slow and deliberate, but that's just how Kurosawa movies are. Maybe it's just my gross fascination with geishas but the subject matter is interesting and thoughtfully delved into. I doubt that anyone will actually go see this movie, which is a damn shame cause it's well worth it.

--B.C. Edwards
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[email protected] | July 2003 | Issue 40
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