Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (2002)

Jody Beth Rosen

Director Shohei Imamura might be Japanese cinema's answer to Tom Waits.

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge

Director: Shohei Imamura
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Misa Shimizu
Distributor: limited
MPAA rating: not rated
Studio: Cowboy Pictures
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-05-03 (Limited release)

Director Shohei Imamura might be Japanese cinema's answer to Tom Waits. For several decades, both artists have concerned themselves with society's wretched refuse: drifters, freaks, mystics, philosophers, wanton women, and the bottom rungs of the working class. The septuagenarian Imamura has a few years on baby-boomer Waits, and this makes it easier to forgive the discrepancy between the miraculously high quality of Waits' recent work and the triteness of the humor and symbolism in Imamura's newest film, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge.

Adapted from a novel by Yo Henmi, Warm Water follows a newly unemployed Tokyo office drone named Yosuke (Koji Yakusho) to a small fishing village near Kyoto, in search of a stolen Buddha statue a friend claims is hidden in a seaside house there. Upon arriving, he meets a young woman in a supermarket. Saeko (Misa Shimizu) is attractive but peculiar -- for one thing, she's shoplifting when he finds her. But even more bizarre is the water pouring out from between her legs, collecting in puddles at her feet.

Yosuke follows Saeko to her home, where he is greeted by her grandmother, who is senile but blessed with the ability to tell fortunes with uncanny accuracy. With no time wasted and no formalities, Yosuke and Saeko are soon having sweaty, animalistic sex -- and again, here comes the flood. It's a longstanding problem for Saeko, not only a sign of her arousal, but also a source of great embarrassment. She worries she's nothing more than a novelty for the men who make love to her.

This lends itself to some interesting ideas about the subversion of gender roles. Saeko regularly becomes "backed up" and needs to release this "life force" within her. But as her relationship with Yosuke progresses, he's under constant pressure to ease her biological ills. It's rare for a male filmmaker to examine the bedroom politics of obligation, and Imamura is gutsy for turning the tables.

Unfortunately, this theme exists alongside a more explicit message: the importance of asserting one's masculinity (free will) against the monstrous women whose gale-force sexuality feminizes men and drains them of their strength and "vital essence." Imamura articulates the very things men dread: impotence, and the sense of being "whipped."

Saeko's early scenes with Yosuke are beautiful, tugging at the awkward sweetness of attraction, the moment-to-moment flip-flop between the shy and the sexual. Watching them copulate for the first time seems as voyeuristic and dirty as cheap homemade porno, but there's almost an innocence to how they go about it. The suit-and-tie, staid Yosuke comes alive in the thrall of this woman. It's the best sex he's ever had. Relationships often start out this way: fresh, unpredictable, breathtaking. You take the plunge in the spirit of experimentation, and try to withhold judgment about your partner's perversities. Saeko would be lucky if she were just, "HOT WET HORNY AND WAITING FOR YOU!!!," as the e-mail spam messages say. But her flow is so heavy she's become a fetishized freak show.

But as a couple, these two don't have much to go on besides Yosuke's unusual fetish and Saeko's need to fulfill that through release, and as a result, we don't have much to watch. The shock wears off almost immediately, but Imamura insists on making Saeko's "water" a running gag. The contrast between pleasure and eventual discomfort isn't stark enough to illustrate any underlying message Imamura might hope to express about the politics of sexuality.

There's a side plot involving Yosuke finding temporary work with a crew of fishermen. It's here that Imamura unleashes some potent visual commentary, with a glimpse of the lifestyle and politics of the blue-collar Japanese fishing culture. Imamura is not afraid of including a little dirt, and the fishing boat is caked in slime, the crates slathered with mud in every crevice. These scenes are awash in a ruddy, Godardian sense of socially observant neorealism.

Warm Water's feminine half is softer but never Hollywood-slick. The color palette offers subtle blues and sea-greens, pale yellows, eggshell whites, and a few hints of vibrant red. We see the stunning gleam of refracted sunlight -- off a mirror, off the camera lens. It's like amateur photography, but in the best sense: It's the beauty of human error and natural interference with the sanctity of the shot. Imamura's small town looks like exactly the kind of small town it represents -- peeling paint, rotting wood, bums, nothing quaint and cute designed to draw tourists. The sea is ever-present; the life of the villagers depends on it, and we are invited to enter this world.

Modest as this existence is, it's incredibly charming, sometimes too charming (for instance, the recurring presence of an African marathon runner, serving no obvious purpose other than to provide comic relief, sort of like Eddie Murphy's talking donkey in Shrek). The psychic grandma and her exotic bird are cloying too, although it is the grandma who is the subject of one of the movie's significant (and blatantly obvious) punch-lines.

I was hoping for some mixture of pop-erotica, science fiction, social statement, and magical realism, and expecting more by way of the latter three. Two scenes deliver: one among the cloudy lights of a blue-green spiral tunnel inside a water-research facility, and one in a fetal position surrounded by psychedelically colored chakras. Regardless of how well the scenes work with the story (the story's a mess -- it doesn't know whether to be an Amélie-style sugary gumdrop, a Marxist manifesto, or a Philip Roth novel), they create some lovely intervals, a change of scenery, a chance to take stock of everything going on in the film.

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, like its title, is overbearingly precious and pretentious. Yet Warm Water is brave, ambitious, philosophical, visually striking, and often funny. It's terrific conversation fodder, to be sure -- even a cursory plot summary will inspire marvel, laughter, or disgust.

Ultimately, I'll have to file this one away as a companion piece to David Lynch's epic fever-dream Mulholland Drive: Both films promise so much, sparking and crackling with the potential to be white-hot classic, but neither ever quite manages to burn the house down.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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