09:42 - 6th January 2017, by NEO Staff

A Scene at the Sea

Third Window has brought another 1990s film from Takeshi Kitano to Blu-ray, and this one is often overlooked in his career. Many viewers introduced to Kitano’s films become instantly familiar with his violent dramas where he often appears stars as a key character – usually a cop or a yakuza. A Scene at the Sea has none of these things, but is still quintessential in terms of Kitano’s style. It was his third feature as a director, his second as a writer, and his first as sole editor. Despite the lack of Kitano’s presence onscreen, the pacing, visuals and minimalist dialogue are as recognisable here as they are in his later films.

The key characteristic to emphasise is minimalism – which is both the film’s strength and its potential weakness, depending on your preferences. A Scene at the Sea is more like Kikujiro and Dolls than Hana-Bi, and the plot synopsis above pretty much summarises everything that happens. There are comedic supporting roles from fellow surfers, surfing wannabes, and helpers in the deaf couple’s travels, and there is the typical tragic element present in all Kitano’s films.

So, why watch it? Well, if you’re sick of flashy, fast-moving, attention-grabbing cinema, this is for you. Kitano’s style is usually given over to alternative means of portraying violence and conflict, and there is none of that here.

Instead, the artistic compositions give the viewer all they need to know in order to understand Shigeru and Takako’s central relationship. This is quite an achievement as not a word is spoken between them through their lips or through sign language. At times, A Scene at the Sea almost comes across as a silent film. Other characters speak, but viewers won’t get the full picture from them.

Kitano’s storytelling depends primarily on the scenes he puts together and the movie’s reliance on visuals and character’s expressions rewards multiple viewings. If this makes the film sounds similar to Dolls, it is much more enjoyable and never outstays its welcome. Best of all, it includes another excellent musical score from Joe Hisaishi. Listen, watch in a great HD transfer, be enthralled and have the tissues ready for the ending.

The slow pace, minimalist story and sparse dialogue are not going to be for everyone – but if you give this a go, you’ll find here a rare romantic gem from a director better known for cinematic violence and crazy characters.
SCORE: 4/5
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