This past decade, Japanese cinema has seen the emergence of young talent whose films have on the whole been challenging, daring, provocative or downright outrageous. With film festivals falling over each other to get hold of the latest Kitano, Kore-Eda or Aoyama and with directors like Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike churning out minor and major masterpieces at assembly-line rates, the longing for the "glory days of old" would seems well and truly behind us.
Although the best thing anyone had to say about Nagisa Oshima's Gohatto (1998) was that it was "not bad", some of his contemporaries still turned out to have unexpected aces up their sleeves. Recently there was 70-year old Kinji Fukasaku's hellraising Battle Royale (2000), 78-year old Seijun Suzuki's mad-as-ever Pistol Opera (2001) and of course 74-year old Shohei Imamura's Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, which manages to pack in treasure hunting, deep sea fishing and female ejaculation.
Koji Yakusho (yes, him again) plays Yosuke, a man going through a baffling streak of misfortune. Not only is he unemployed, his wife has left him and he is forced to spend his nights among the bums at a riverside shantytown. When an old fisherman tells him of how he once stole a golden Buddha from a temple in Kyoto and hid it underneath a house by the sea, Yosuke goes off in search of the lost treasure. Though he knows the name of the town, his only clue as to the location of the house is that it's situated at the foot of a red bridge.
It turns out the owner of the house is an attractive woman named Saeko. Saeko has a secret that manifests itself as soon as the two spend their first inevitable night together: whenever Saeko is physically excited, gallons of warm liquid gush out from her. The liquid runs through the house and into the river outside, which not by coincidence is abundantly populated with sizeable fish, much to the pleasure of the local fishermen.
Yosuke finds his male ego well boosted by this dramatic display and pretty soon the two are at it on a daily basis. He loses all interest in the treasure he originally came for, until the blossoming relationship is tested by the realisation that their love might be curing Saeko's peculiar ailment and that she is no longer able to keep the juices flowing.
Enriched and enhanced by a set of intriguing subplots and running gags, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge emerges a thoroughly enjoyable, funny and lively film. The screenplay by Imamura, Daisuke Tengan and Motofumi Tomikawa, based on two stories by Yo Henmi, presents Saeko as the personification of fertility, the woman around whom flowers bloom and animals proliferate and who can turn a greedy man into a self-sacrificing lover. Suitably, images of water abound: rivers, the sea and of course Saeko's own secretions. Though female ejaculation is normally the subject of specialist pornography, Imamura manages to handle it in a way that is non-exploitative, funny and even tender, in no small way thanks to Misa Shimizu's portrayal of Saeko as an enigmatic yet emotional woman, who learns to deal with the insecurities about her peculiar bodily function through her love for Yosuke.
Though many say it's doubtful whether the aging Imamura has any more films left in him, judging from the liveliness and spirit witnessed by Warm Water Under a Red Bridge he is not ready to fold up his director's chair quite yet. He has already come back against odds and expectations (including his own) twice, with this film and its predecessor Dr. Akagi (Kanzo Sensei, 1998) and we can only hope that he will continue to surprise and baffle us with works that eclipse what a lot of young upstarts are capable of.