|Umi wa miteita 2002 Japan The Sea Is Watching|
It's hard to imagine what this could have been had Kurosawa lived long enough to direct it. There's nothing particularly new or groundbreaking story-wise, but it is a charming, sometimes funny, bittersweet tale of the inhabitants of a samurai-era brothel whose entire district ends up under water. I guess there's a big metaphor going on there. Plot-wise it focuses on the love lives of two of the working girls: Kikuno (Misa Shimizu) plays an elder to the younger girls and enjoys being the object of pursuit, never giving in to the suitors who want to take care of her and take her for their very own; and Oshin (Nagiko Tono) who, against the advice of those around her, seems to fall in love with every one of her clients. One, a sweet samurai type, visits her often and convinces her that her "fallen soul" and "soiled body" can become pure again—just like a person's hair, nails, and teeth fall out and grow back. "A body can become pure again ... it would be too horrible for words if it weren't" true.
Oshin is main protagonist of the film and is meant to give it an emotional center as her heart breaks and yearns, but it never quite happens. Although Shimizu and Tono give reasonably good performances, overall the acting is not one of the film's high points. Everyone is attractive and polite enough so I ended up not minding it but can only wonder what this could have been with, perhaps, a stronger cast and a more accomplished director at the helm. I do recommend the film to those wanting a taste of historical Japanese culture and who enjoy quiet films about love, loss, and friendship. Yes, the ladies are prostitutes but they have feelings too. On the flip side there's a little samurai manly stuff, but no fighting to speak of.
Summary: 19th century. Oshin is a prostitute in a brothel of a red-light district. A disgraced samurai, Fusanosuke, rushes in the brothel seeking for a refuge, because he had wounded a powerful samurai. Oshin hides him from the authorities and falls in love with him, against an older prostitute's, Kikuno's, misgiving. Fusanosuke advises Oshin to cleanse herself by giving up her line of work. Believing falsely that this is a promise for marriage, she turns her customers over to the other prostitutes, who are happy to help her. Funasukoke leaves to be reconciled to his family, but, when he returns, he reveals that he is engaged and is going to marry his fiancé.
Some time later a desperate itinerant, Ryosuke, appears and Oshin falls in love again. Meanwhile, an older man asks Kikuno to buy her contract and marry her, but she is entangled with an old abusive customer of hers. One night, while the madam of the brothel is away to thermal baths, a storm hits the area and everybody tries to flee. Ryosuke kills Kikuno's customer who tries to steal madam's money and runs away. Oshin and Kikuno stay at the roof hoping for a rescue from the flood. Ryosuke returns by a boat.