Warm Water Under A Red Bridge (2001)
Another entry in the recent Japanese series "geriatic directors turn brilliantly mad". This one from 75 year old director Shohei Imamura. First observation - it's definitely not the steamy sex-romp that the Hong Kong DVD case might have you believe. Far from it in fact. It's quite a gentle, very quirky somewhat philosophical character driven romance.
A man in his fourties loses his job when the company he works for goes bankrupt. In Japan, with the tradition of 'employment for life', this is a hard situation to be in - especially with an estranged wife and child nagging for money. On something like a whim he travels to a small village to follow the directions of a friend that just passed away, who told him of a treasure that he left behind 40 years ago, in a house by a red bridge. When he arrives, he meets the woman that now lives in the house and through rather unusual circumstances ends up in bed with her. The woman has a strange secret, a source of shame - and the source of the 'Warm Water' under the Red Bridge. The two embark on a peculiar relationship, and when the man gets a temporary job on a fishing boat he begins to blend in and adapt to the small village way of life.
The movie is a slightly surreal meditation on life and love, and what is really of value in each of them. The message is an encouragement of individuality and independence of thought, an affirmation that 'strange' and 'different' are words closer to 'good' than 'bad'. The characters are all a little bit tragic, beaten down by life, but in their own community they find that life can be beaten back.
It's a slow paced movie, quite touching and gently funny. It's mostly character & dialogue driven, and both are well developed. I believe it's based on a novel, which usually does imply good character and dialogue if the director has enough skill to adapt a written work to a visual one. After nearly 50 years in the business, Imamura clearly has that skill.