Although director Kumai’s The Sea and Poisin won a lot of awards(10), both in Japan and Berlin, the uncomfortable nature of the subject matter for most Japanese did not help his popularity at home. Kumai as always tries to paint a completely honest and accurate portrait of the events covered by the film. The result is hard-hitting cinema that indicts the patronage system in Japanese hospitals of the time, the politicization of the medical profession and, most central to the film, the ‘poisining’ by militarization of the ethical culture of the medical profession.
Kumai’s direction is clean and straightforward. The story is told through the eyes of two interns and a nurse, who face interogation by the US Military after the war. Their responses to the interrogation generate flash-backs which show us the events in question. The film gives us a clear description of the system in which the characters found themselves, the varying moral decisions they were forced to make and their reasoning.
The cast is superb and all are seasoned actors. Eiji Okuda and Ken Watanabe are both strong as the two interns. The part of the head nurse, though it’s a supporting role, is played by Kyoko Kishida, who most will remember for her superb role as the female lead in Teshigahara’s “Woman of the Dunes (Sands)”. For the small supporting role of the poor elderly woman slowly dying in the ward who will likely never be considered important enough to warrant an operation, Kumai chose Noriko Sengoku. She has had a long career playing supporting roles, including in several films by Kurosawa and Naruse including The Seven Samurai, Floating Clouds and in Kobayashi’s Kwaidan. Toshie Negishi plays the other nurse with a significant role. She has also had a long career working for the likes of Kurosawa, Imamura, Obayashi and Miike. All give strong performances under Kumai’s direction.
This is another strong film by Kei Kumai. I know I am biased by my admiration for Kumai’s work, but he never lets me down and this is no exception. It’s not a fun flic, but it draws you into the world and psyche of some well developed characters and their times. There are also some well shot and highly dramatic operating room scenes. Enjoy this when you’re in the mood for some serious cinema.
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