“There must be lots of people out there who wish now that they’d died in the war.”
In post-WWII Osaka, a young boy (Nobutaka Asahara) befriends the son (Minoru Sakurai) of a riverside prostitute (Mariko Kaga).
Kohei Oguri’s little-seen debut film (currently unavailable to English-speaking audiences) remains one of the finest movies ever made about childhood friendship. I rented Muddy River as a region-coded DVD with Chinese subtitles, using a computer-generated translation program to help me decipher what the characters were saying. As a result, I inevitably lost much of the nuance of the dialogue, but fortunately, most of the film’s power lies in wordless interactions, facial expressions, beautiful cinematography, and a haunting film score.
Oguri perfectly captures the details of children’s interactions with each other: the excitement over showing off a trick or inviting a new friend to one’s home; the illicit thrill of spying on adults as they watch sumo wrestling on television in a bar. But he also skillfully portrays the harder lessons of childhood, such as witnessing a violent death, or having to stick up for a new friend when everyone else rejects him. Each scene in Muddy River carries weight and meaning, but the movie is never overbearing; instead, Oguri simply allows us to witness a kind young boy as he comes of age, while life — both harsh and exciting — carries on around him.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- A simple yet powerful evocation of a childhood friendship which transcends class
- Excellent use of riverside locales and sets
- Round-cheeked Nobutaka Asahara as Nobuo
- Takahiro Tamura and Yumiko Fujita as Nobuo’s well-meaning parents (seen below in their attempt to make Kiichi and his sister Ginko feel comfortable during dinner)
- Kiichi smiling and doing somersaults to express his delight after Nobuo defends him in front of some neighborhood boys
- Stunning black-and-white cinematography by Shohei Ando
- A truly heartbreaking ending
- An appropriately elegiac film score by Kurodo Mori
Yes, though you may want to wait until it’s been released with English subtitles.