Home From the Sea (1972)

15 05 2008

I am no position to proclaim this as Yoji Yamada’s greatest film, seeing as how I’ve only seen a small fraction of his work, but it is without a doubt, the most consistently great piece I’ve seen from him. Essentially, it basically just a collection of sequences ranging from awkward to overwhelmingly beautiful. Perhaps this is not the most refined film I’ve ever seen, but that most likely isn’t Yamada’s intention. While he does have a fantastic sense of elliptical compositions, more and more he seems to be turning out to be a “character-driven” filmmaker and a wonderful one at that.

Seichi and Minko, a married couple, live on a secluded island, where they make their living transporting rocks from a construction site and then dumping them in the middle of the ocean. They are well on their way to creating a healthy family within their small town. However, the times are changing and Japan’s industrial expansion ultimately forces them out of their lifestyles. While they eventually show signs of adapting to modern society, they both still long for their old means of living.

When I say that this is “less cinematically defiant” it is not a criticism but more of a forewarning that those expecting a throughly arty experience will be disappointed. Yamada’s compositions are beautiful and what-not but the film isn’t necessarily a stylistic tour de force. Instead, it is riveting but nearly neutral of a family’s struggles. Perhaps it takes some familiarity with “classic” Japanese film-making in general to fully appreciate Yamada’s accomplishment here. There is nothing in his aesthetic that is immediately striking. Instead, the photography, which I must reiterate, is beautiful, takes a backseat to all the internal drama. It is amazing that Yamada can evoke the same sense of memory as a director such as Wong Kar-Wai, without having to rely on poetic montages. While this is a visually breathtaking film, it does not dominate the screen, in a sense.

It’s evident just by the inability to “crack” the film that it truly is something special. In a way it is almost a conventional film that simply is not conventional. There’s obviously something much more than just a family with some superficial turmoil. This may all seem like textbook “art film about relationship” ideas but there’s something very odd (in a good way) about it. Really, no director that I know of comes close to reaching whatever it is that Yamada has going on here. Sure, there’s the obvious similarities with Naruse and Ozu but even then that only accounts for the amount of dialogue, which is more than likely the biggest problem. That’s not to say the dialogue is bad, but it probably threw me off more than anything, especially when it’s stacked up against long, silent sequences of moving rocks. But, this is what makes Yamada’s film so very great. Never does it feel like he has an agenda, but this almost his fault. Perhaps there is a lack of inspiration, or artistic vision? I’m not quite sure, but I do know that this is absolutely one of the best films ever. In retrospect, the difficulty I had with accepting this was merely the amount of dialogue put up against the usual Asian “plotlessness” that I love.

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2 responses

16 05 2008
Michael Kerpan

The Japanese DVD is truly gorgeous looking. If only some US or UK company would make this transfer available — with subtitles.

Of Yoji Yamada’s many wonderful films, this is probably my favorite.

19 05 2008
Dan

I agree with Michael, it’s one of his greatest films.

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