Review: A SCENE AT THE SEA あの夏、いちばん静かな海 (1991) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 9 May 2011

Review: A SCENE AT THE SEA あの夏、いちばん静かな海 (1991)

Mention the name of Takeshi Kitano, regular fans of his work will immediately pictured him as the man who is famous for ultra-violent crime genre that characterized in such movies including VIOLENT COP (1989), BOILING POINT (1990) and SONATINE (1993). But his third feature (after VIOLENT COP and BOILING POINT), A SCENE AT THE SEA is surprisingly a radical departure that typifies his work. Instead it's a delicate human drama that features no gangsters and of course no sense of shocking violence whatsoever. Such result might alienated (most) of his die-hard fans but those who are game enough for a change of pace to watch Kitano in different light will be somewhat pleased.

The movie tells a story of a dumb and deaf garbage collector named Shigeru (Claude Maki), who happens to chance upon a broken surfboard left somewhere on a pavement. The surfboard has somewhat captured his attention, and he can't resist of taking it back with him. Soon he begins to fix the broken surfboard by carving a Styrofoam board as replacement. His passion of surfboarding eventually grows into him, as he will go to a nearby seaside to practice the sport. His mute girlfriend, Takako (Hiroko Oshima) often accompanies him and watches him progress his surfboarding skill from time to time. At first, Shigeru is often ridiculed by a bunch of local surfers but he hardly cares anyway. He will use every spare time he has after working hour to master his skill. Even when he breaks his surfboard, he never gives up and determines to buy a new one. But it's too costly for him. Still he's willing to wait until he gets his salary and quickly buys a new surfboard from a local specialty shop. This is where the surf shop owner, Nakajima (Toshizo Fujiwara) subsequently takes notice of his sheer determination. He is so delighted until he stops by at the seaside to offer him a wetsuit and encourages him to enter in a surfing contest called Chikura Surf Classics. Shigeru's first attempt at the competition is forfeited when he fails to hear the announcement of the category. However, his persistence spirit begins to impress the surf crowd and it doesn't take long before he and Takako are accepted as part of the group.

Directed in a minimalist style, Takeshi Kitano favors everything in his picture in as static as it gets. Despite his radical departure in term of thematic approach, he never abandons his trademark filmmaking style. Long takes, symmetrical compositions, impassive reaction shots, and delicate editing remain evident here. At first, the movie might put you off-balance but if you invest your time continuously, you will be rewarded (and subsequently surprised) by the lyrical beauty Kitano offers here. You've gotta love the way how he weaves his story bit by bit that slowly grows into you.

A SCENE IN THE SEA also offers some of the most striking and memorable images in an ordinary situation that will keep your attention intact: Takako sits patiently on the beach folding her boyfriend's jeans; the Buster Keaton-like antics between two bumbling idiots who gets so carried away about surfing; one of the local surfers who keeps tripping down onto the sand each time he's off to the sea; Shigeru and Takako laughs at the scene of a man accidentally cycled down into the sea; and a scene where one of the surf chicks flirts with various members of male surf crowd by getting them to peel oranges for her.

However, the best scene (at least for me) is the one where Shigeru is forbidden to board the crowded bus with a surfboard in his hand. He is forced to get off the bus, leaving Takako inside. While Takako is inside the bus standing amongst the crowd, Shigeru takes a long walk back home before he begins to jog. In the meantime, the bus empties more passengers after passengers and there are plenty of seats available. But Takako remains in the same standing position and doesn't bother to take a seat, even though an elderly woman asks her to. Halfway along the journey, Takako decides to ring the bell and departs. She begins to run back, and eventually she manage to reunite with Shigeru along the way. It's actually a simple scene, but it's their wordless exchange that carries a certain emotional weight. In other way, it simply works as an oddball but genuinely heartfelt love story between these two mute protagonists. Yes, it's unconventional but it's the one that made you feel for them.

Acting is perfectly subdued, with genuinely expressive performances by Claude Maki and Hiroko Oshima in which both of them are virtually dialogue-free. The rest of the supporting actors are equally credible as well.

Apart from Kitano's fine direction, Joe Hisaishi's (a regular composer of Hayao Miyazaki's animes) score is ethereal that blends traditional Japanese music with eastern percussion and a hint of European-style jazz rhythm. It's a beautiful score that reflects the calming nature of the movie here.

Finally, the poetic and bittersweet finale. It's best not to reveal here. You just have to see it for yourself.

A SCENE OF THE SEA may not have been a fan favorite, but there's no denying that Takeshi Kitano's radical departure here is a piece of work worth praising for.

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