In this bleak tale of victimisation and sombre loneliness, there is not too much light. Director Sion Sono (Suicide Club, Noriko’s Dinner Table) helms this semi-adaptation of the dystopian manga comic of the same name, leading viewers into a hole of despair as the fallout of the March 11th, 2011 Tokoku tsunami influences the backdrop of two forlorn teenagers who apathetically rally against the evils of their current situation.

Has the point been made clear yet? This is not a happy film...

Shota Sometani (Life Back Then, A Man with Style) plays Sumida, a 14 year old boy forced to leave school and run the family boat business once entirely bereft of useless and abusive parents. Surrounded by homeless victims of the tsunami, Sumida is consistently abused by the sporadic reappearances of his father, who never fails to remind him that Sumida should just kill himself. Simultaneously, Keiko (Fumi Nikaido – Ringing in Their Ears) stalks her classmate, Sumida, lusting after his ambivalent nihilism. She too must deal with abusive parents who consistently preach to her of how she should kill herself as life would be so much easier. As Sumida loses all that was never close to him, Keiko seeks to bring our begrudging anti-hero back to normality – recreating him as a “well adjusted adult”.

What seems like such a simple and formulaic stab at art house sentiment soon descends into obscurity as one theme is layered on top of another. Sumida tears off on an aimless rampage to solve the evils of society at the end of a knife by sauntering around cities in a melancholy sulk; overtly illustrating to the audience that the character is suffering from a serious case of alienation. The filmic narrative of this endeavour is juxtaposed quite harshly with quick cuts to barren waste lands of debris and wreckage in the immediate wake of the tsunami, constantly reminding the viewer that we are to draw distinct parallels between the narrative and the contextual background. On top of this, the film offers an intense layering of Japanese World War Two historicism, pointing out the never ending suffering of the society. But to what end? More often than not, these bold visual and thematic statements are left at a loose end; untied and left hanging far from the plot.

At times it would seem that Sono would wish to channel the cinematic talent of acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams), establishing still framed portraits of heavy characteristic contemplation. However, Sono has the impatience (sans brilliance) of a Gaspar Noe (Irreversible, Enter the Void), scoring the film with clichéd classical music mismatched to the on-screen narrative. Simply put, the emotional tone of the film and character’s narrative cannot be aptly conveyed to the audience within the framework provided by the director. Himizu seems cluttered by endless themes and the ceaseless juxtaposition of inception and execution. It can seem like a forced marriage of expressionism and DeSica-esque neo-realism.

Nevertheless, acclaim is to be had as the two leads of the film rightfully received the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Young Actor and Actress at last year’s Venice International Film Festival. Indeed, credit where credit is due! Given the overly complex and painfully didactic screenplay with which they had to work, Sometani and Nikaido negotiate the complexities of their roles with tremendous style and discipline. The tragedy of their individual stories is unified through performative patience and careful delivery. Certainly, it is up to them to disseminate the majority of the films thematic and symbolic bulk to the audience – portraying vanity, greed, alienation, victimisation, and the crisis of choice through a densely conceited screenplay.

Ultimately the film suffers from some of the questions it asks. It is, at times, having a temperamental crisis of generational identity, lost in between several differing cinematic styles. Nonetheless, it is this ambiguity that gives the film significant lift – honestly offering a characteristic glance at what it can be to be so lost in the aftermath. While at times beautiful and sombre in its brief poignancy, Himizu cannot latch on to the morality it so badly wants to convey. Sumida and Keiko deliver a magnetic and eclectic drive to the film that would otherwise have been grounded; poetically lost in its own alienation. What’s more, the film is so depressed by itself that each glimmer of happiness or joy tends to reflect a sarcastic tone, further alienating the audience from the film.

However, it is always refreshing (a word not easily associated with this film!) to see such raw and untamed ambition attempted in cinema. The team have indeed bitten off more than they can chew, but it is interesting to watch them relay aspects of a suffering culture in their own filmic voice.