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The initial reference surely is to stage or even puppetry. Married protagonists Miho and Toshio kneel facing the camera. As they speak, only now and then does each risk a sideways glance at the other. No less likely than puppets, they behave like naughty children, caught and ordered to keep still, sneaking verbal jabs at each other. Yet they have a child (pardon me if there were twoI forgetrecall only one speaking). If they're middle-aged children, then they're middle-aged children sadly, tragically responsible for an actual child.
Suddenly, after an excruciatingly slow 65 minutes, the two explode physically. Ineptly, ineffectively, sadly but hilariously they start thrashing at each other. Imagine Punch and Judy. Imagine a comedy duo who after a 65 minute lllooonnnggggg paaauuuussse do some brief raucous slapstick bit, then...
Elsewhere, Miho engages in verbal slapstick. "Don't call me Miho. Call me her name." In the only other physically manifest flare-up, a night scene near the film's climax, Miho jumps Toshio's former lover. If we credit her wordplay, she attacks herself. Though deadly serious, she's a clown punching itself. But then, clowns aren't really funny, are they?
Who exactly is the protagonist? Isn't it Miho? Ittoku Kishibe, playing Toshio, has an extensive filmography but a limited range. Did Oguri cast Kishibe for his limitations? What would the film have been like with a more expressive actor in the part? How does Toshio compare with Yakusho's patient husbands in Cure or Séance? In the opening scenes, Toshio's patience suggests condescension. A worst he projects a slight superiority, a perpetual smugness, a smirk not of one interestingly guilty but of one blamably resigned.
Prior to the titular death, a squad of white clad joggers courses through the film, suggesting sanity, or at least a different sort of madness, beyond yet adjacent to the world of Miho and Toshio.
This bit won't leave me: In response to Toshio's query whether bodies float, a nurse says "They float, then sink again." They. They. They. Miho isn't unique. With a long pole, still bemused, maybe curious but still damnably calm, Toshio prods the pool's depths.
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