Film Review: A Scene at the Sea

I have been trying to diversify my film watching recently and see films from a variety of countries. This has inevitably turned me to Japan.

From the few live-action Japanese films I’ve seen, two have been Takeshi Kitano’s. Primarily known as a comedian and game show host in Japan, creator of the massively successful Takeshi’s Castle, he is known abroad for his work as a filmmaker and actor. His third film, A Scene at the Sea (1991), is a peaceful, beautiful, and at times, strange work about a young man who is determined to learn how to surf.

The film follows Shigeru, a deaf young man who works as a garbage collector, who finds a broken surfboard and fixes it, so starting a career as an amateur surfer. The fact that the main character is deaf means there is very little dialogue. The storytelling role is given to the performances, cinematography and soundtrack. All of the actors are excellent, capturing a lightness and joyous energy that creates a refreshingly whimsical tone for the film.

Much of the characterisation comes through body language and physical motifs, care being put into the way characters move. With the combination of a sports context and a deaf character, physicality is incredibly important. It is used very well here.

The cinematography also complements the performances and story. Long, static shots and beautiful use of colour and subtle movement pull the audience in to the stiller moments of the film. Keeping the characters at a distance, we can take in their surroundings, and with many similar shots being used throughout the film, it helps to create a rhythmic feel to the narrative, returning us to familiar points.

There are plenty of these static moments, which are pulled together by a beautiful soundtrack. The haunting, yet optimistic music written by Joe Hisaishi evokes the early 90s setting as well as Shigeru’s mild-mannered, peaceful nature. For me, the soundtrack was the best part of this film: it wonderfully captured a feeling and an aesthetic, creating an ethereal atmosphere that lies over all the other elements.

A Scene at the Sea is a meditative, relaxing experience; a subtle, down-to-earth story punctuated by moments of beauty and tension. Kitano excels at creating atmospheres that are tied to his characters.This is no exception. Taking an interesting, yet silent protagonist, he builds a world around him where he is both a piece of the puzzle and a central figure. The story is equally ephemeral, flowing gracefully from start to finish.

Another hard find, but the DVD is available on Amazon

3.5 stars


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