17 November 2014 | Barev2013
5th Screen Incarnation of Famous Mishima Novel
Toho's latest edition of "The Sound of Waves" (Japanese title "Shiosai") is the fifth screen adaptation of the famous Mishima novel. The first version in B/W directed by Senkichi Taniguchi for Toho, came out in 1954 on the heels of the first publication of the book which was an immediate best seller. The original film version, partly because of a nude scene considered quite daring for its time, was also a hit. This was followed 10 years later by a wide screen color version put out by NIKKATSU in the Olympic year, 1964, as a vehicle for the first of the great female youth idols, Yoshinaga Sayuri. This was another box- office winner, and Sayuri is still, at forty, a big star much in demand. In 1971 shortly after the death of Mishima Toho quickly slapped together a listless third version which, along with the new faces it introduced, was quickly forgotten. The fourth "Shiosai" directed by Nishikawa Katsumi, again for Toho, was released during Golden Week, April 1975, and featured the "Golden Kombi" (golden combination), super idol Momoe Yamaguchi and her future husband, sub-idol Miura Tomokazu, in the roles of the young lovers. Like all Momoe flicks this one also did well at the wickets.
The current "Shiosai" while distributed by Toho, was actually produced by HORI Productions which is primarily a music talent agency. Chiemi Hori (no relation to the boss), the young lady who plays the heroine "Hatsue", is a Hori-Puro protégé -- to wit, a teenage idol popular with the high-school crowd both as a singer and from a recent TV series entitled "School For Stewardesses". While it would be fatuous to compare Miss Hori to such illustrious superstar predecessors as Momoe-chan and La Yoshinaga in terms of overall allure, she is nevertheless, as a direct consequence of her relative plainness, far more like the rustic heroine one envisions from Mishima's verbal description than either of the others. Moreover, under the savvy direction of Tsugunobu Kotani she turns in a respectable and wholly credible performance. In addition, Shingo Tsurumi, an unknown newcomer (and also a Hori property) is the embodiment of "Shinji", the shy rustic hero of this idyllic tale -- certainly more so than his immediate predecessor, the suave and urbane Mr. Miura.
The Mishima story does not lend itself well to star show-casing and director Kotani seems, prudently, to have aimed at the most faithful representation possible of the atmosphere of the novel and the intentions of the author. In this he has succeeded admirably, partly, we may surmise, because he was not saddled with the burden of tailoring the material to the personalities of established stars. The result, beautifully photographed by veteran cameraman Kenji Hagiwara with an almost ethnographic eye for detail, is in every respect a director's film, arguably the best 'Shiosai' that has ever been made. The only big name in the cast is Tamba Tetsuro in an important supporting role as Hatsue's overbearing father, the richest man on the island. Kotani says that one of his biggest problems was trying to keep Tamba under control. "He has such a powerful personality that he tends to blow other actors away. I'm not sure even now if I was able to restrain him enough ..."
While the details of Mishima's adaptation of the romance of Daphnis and Chloe (which, according to biographer John Nathan, Mishima called his "joke on the Japanese public") will be completely familiar to those who have read the story, for those who know only the title, the basic plot is as follows: Opening with a voice-over narration intoning the first lines of the novella, "Utajima is a tiny island, population 1,400 ..." an aerial camera zeroes in on the actual island Mishima used as his setting. On the boat where he works we meet Shinji, the innocent young fisherman, and soon thereafter, at the fish market, Hatsue, an 18 year old girl who is a fledgling diver (ama-san), the traditional occupation of the women on the island and It is, of course, love at first sight, for both. However -- Fly in the ointment -- Shinji was sort of promised to a more sophisticated lass, Chiyoko, who has gone off to the mainland to study for a while. Shinji and Hatsue tryst at an abandoned WW II observation bunker, and there ensues the celebrated nude scene in which, drenched to the skin and seeking shelter from a sudden squall, they both disrobe before a roaring fire -- but stop short of you-know-what -- by mutual consent. "We can't do this until we're married" -- (This is after all 1954 Japan, and the remote provinces at that).
Well, in such a close-knit community gossip gets around quick, and the word, spread by CHIYOKO, the erstwhile fiancée back from the mainland and burning with jealousy, is that Shinji and Hatsue have been ... dare I say it? -- fornicating wantonly! Actually, as we know, they have not been -- and the rest of the story centers on the angst and tensions of the lovers and their respective families, stirred up by all the wagging tongues and vicious rumors. Eventually, all is happily resolved (except for poor Chiyoko, who is left out in the cold) -- thus concluding this breathtakingly innocent romance. I say "breathtakingly innocent" without the least trace of cynicism, because personally I found "Shiosai" to be not only a most welcome relief from the morbid horror films ("Fright Night"), bird-brain fantasy films (like, 'Back to the Future") and mindless violence flicks that keep pouring from the screen these days -- in that sense a breath of fresh air, but also - - on cinematic grounds alone, a small gem of a picture. ----------------- Originally written by Herman Pevner for the MAINICHI EVENING NEWS, TOKYO, Tue, Nov. 5, 1985 NOTE: "Herman Pevner" will become Alex Deleon, when he GETS Back to the Future in L.A. (circa 1986)