The Sea Is Watching (2002) Poster

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8/10
A sweet and authentic film
wilted_iris9 November 2004
Contrary to some people's summaries, the women depicted in the film are not geisha. They are oiran (prostitutes) living outside the most famous pleasure districts, and their lives and experiences represent the lives of a great number of Tokugawa era women. I can't say the stories were particularly enlightening, but their charm lies in just how typical they are. The themes are universal and everyday: love, friendship, and sacrifice.

I did greatly enjoy the art direction and the acting. I felt like I was getting a glimpse of a time and place I can never otherwise glimpse. The actors, especially the 4 women who played the main oiran, were a thrill to watch. I'd only recommend this movie to people who want a taste of Japanese culture, or to those who enjoy quiet and emotional stories. It's a great example of both.
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A precious gem of a movie
sekander26 September 2004
Finally, after 2 years, my Japanese roommate hunted down this DVD.

This was the screenplay Kurosawa was working on when he died. While it isn't on the grand scale of some of the master's works, and it was directed by one of his disciples, it is a precious gem-burnished and gleaming as you inspect it from all angles. What a deft touch making the lives of prostitutes so compelling, and in the final scene, even heroic. The featurette with the DVD shows how Kurosawa was enamored with the "chic" of old Edo. It goes a long way to explaining the loving look of the film. Not to mention, the opening music theme is haunting and entrancing.
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10/10
A Feast of Cinema
choden23 August 2004
A wonderful film to watch with astonishing scenes and talented actors, such as Misa Shimizu and Nagiko Tono. After 15 minutes of watching, your eyes get locked on the screen and you do nothing but breathing in the atmosphere of the film waiting what the destiny will bring to the characters. This film makes you leave your position as a standard audience, it takes you in, it makes you a part of the story... Costumes and settings are brilliant; especially the district of the okiyas is skillfully built. It is definitely not very Akira Kurosawa, however it still gets a lot from the master, especially the stylistic story telling tells us we're in a distinguished land of cinema which is quite far from hollywoodish flamboyance.
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9/10
A charming movie
jodilyn10 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not sure how I missed this one when it first came out, but I am glad to have finally seen it.

This movie takes place in and around the 19th century red light district of Okabasho, Japan. It tells the tale of prostitution, caste systems and women who are strong in a society based upon the strength of the samurai code of Japan.

It is uniquely Akira Kurosawa! Even though he died before he could direct this movie, his adaptation of the screenplay shows. His view of the Japanese world and caste system is renowned and sheds light upon how these systems interact with each other. The characters may revolve around each other, but the caste system stays intact when each character goes back to the world they belong in. The samurai warrior who drifts into the good hearted and loving prostitute's world goes back to his life, while she embarks on a another road with a man who is part of her caste system..lowest of the low. Many prize the world of the samurai above all others, but yet, it is the lower caste inhabitants who can support each other and who can love without restraint. The samurai in this movie turns out to be the weak one, while the classless lovers prove to be the honorable ones.

The movie deserves a higher rating. It is a tale of survival of women in feudal Japan. During this time frame, men were thought to be the survivors..the strong ones while women were thought to be just mindless and weak property. This movie highlights the strength of Japanese women and how they did what they had to for survival, and how their strength enabled the Japanese culture to continue on as it has.

I recommend "The Sea is Watching" to anyone who is a fan of Akira Kurosawa and even if they're not a fan. It is a lovely, quiet and soul sustaining movie, and one to be treasured for any movie collection.
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10/10
lack of knowledge maybe?
esilabet12 April 2004
I can understand those who dislike this movie cause of a lack of knowledge.

First of all, those girls are not Geisha, but brothel tenants, and one that don't know the difference will not understand half of the movie, and certainly not the end. This is a complete art work about the women's life and needs in this era. Everything is important, and certainly the way they dress, all over the movie means more than words. To those who thought it was a boring geisha movie, I'll suggest you to read a bit about this society before making a conclusion that is so out of the reality. This is Kurosawa's work of is life, and I'm sure that the director understood the silent meaning of Kurosawa's piece to the right intellectual range.
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8/10
A portrait of women
frojavigdis23 January 2004
My boyfriend and I both enjoyed this film very much. The viewer is swept away from modern life into old Japan, while at the same time exposed to very current themes. The characters are realistic and detailed; it has an unpredictable ending and story, which is very refreshing. The story is made up of mini-plots within the life of several geisha living together in a poor city district. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who is interested in a realistic romance or life in old Japan.
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9/10
must see!!
turtle_chokers31 March 2005
A tragically wonderful movie... brings us to a Japan that does not exist anymore. Despite Hollywood's technical expertise, I have yet to see a (hollywood) movie that can match the authenticity of the atmosphere in this small town by the river near the sea... Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai looked liked the last installment of the Lord of The Rings in trying to capture rural Old Japan.

If you like serene but intense story lines, this is a must see film. It will be a respite from hollow flashy films much like the last 1000 blockbusters you saw. I think this is one of Kurosawa's better stories.

Even if it's a movie about geishas and brothels and the complicated rules that govern life in such settings, it did not turn into a skin flick. The characters are full of depth and act with much intensity.
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one word,masterpiece
bosscain15 May 2004
this movie just goes to show that you dont need big explosions,muti-billion dollar computer graphics,or highly over paid actors and actresses to make a good movie, All you need is a excellent story line and plot. which the master of all japanese films,Akira Kurosawa pulls off brilliantly. I recommend this film to all that love a epic period piece. and for those that enjoy Kurosawas earlier works. 10/10
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I love this film
aet2n25 September 2004
This has become one of my all time favorite films. The cinematography is beautiful; it has an interesting plot; I like the characters. I am not crazy about some of Akira Kurosawa's samurai flicks (he wrote this movie) but I adore this film. This is probably my favorite Japanese film. I highly recommend it. I don't think you have to know anything about Japanese culture either. I heard that one criticism of Kurosawa's works is that he doesn't have many roles for women and tends to focus on men. This film really shows his ability to write about women and create wonderful women characters. But the great thing is that it isn't just character development. There is a good plot also. Everyone should see this film
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8/10
In Memoriam: Akira Kurasawa
gradyharp28 November 2005
'Umi wa miteita' ('The Sea is Watching') was Akira Kurasawa's swansong to film: his adaptation of his favored novelist Shugoro Yamamoto's story into a screenplay he intended to film was his final mark he left on a brilliant career. Director Kei Kumai pays homage to both Kurosawa and Yamamoto in presenting this visually stunning transformation of word to image.

Set in 19th century Japan, the story explores the lives of the women of a Geisha house whose sole purpose in life is to earn money by pleasuring men. The house is run by an older couple who are genteel and the geishas are an enchanting group of women who know their trade and take pride in their careers. Each has a reason for turning to the life of geisha. Oshin (Nagiko Tono) supports her family who live in a neighboring village, Kikuno (Misa Shimizu) has customers both good and evil whom she manages to sustain with her stories of her higher caste. Oshin befriends an endangered samurai, falls in love with the gentle fellow, only to find that he must not marry out of his caste and leaves his pleasures with Oshin to marry his promised betrothed. Oshin's heart bruises easily but is always supported emotionally and physically/monetarily by Kikuno and the other geishas.

A handsome samurai Ryosuke (Masatoshi Nagase) enters Oshin's life and develops the first trusted and devoted relationship with her. Kikuno is beset by problems, deciding whether to accept the humble love of an old man who wishes to marry her, and coping with a rich but abusive customer. All the while the sea is watching and as a typhoon destroys the geisha house and street, Oshin and Kikuno sit atop the roof waiting for the promised rescue by Ryosuke. The manner in which the story ends is one of sacrifice, love, and devotion. The sea is watching and will find protection for true love.

The photography by Kazuo Okuhara is breathtakingly beautiful: night scenes with glowing lanterns and colorful geisha interiors are matched with recurring glimpses of the sea both calm and turbulent. The acting is a bit strained for Edo art, but the characters are well created and keep the story credible. The one distraction which is definitely NOT something Kurosawa would have condoned is the tacky Western music score that sounds like cheap soap opera filler except for the isolated moments when real Japanese music on authentic instruments graces the track. But in the end there is enough of Kurosawa's influence to imbue this film with his brand of dreamlike wonder that will always maintain his importance on world cinema. Grady Harp
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9/10
Beautiful in every way....stunningly photographed.
crazymane2000@yahoo.com24 February 2007
It helps immensely if one is familiar with the culture and time period in which this film takes place. First of all, these ladies are NOT geisha, they are oiran (prostitutes)in the Yoshiwara-type "green houses", circa 1860, give or take.. This should help clear up some details which may be confusing to the unaware. The film deals with issues of loyalty, love and, perhaps most importantly, how people deal with adversity, both their own and that of others in their immediate environment. That plus the outrageous photography together with the hauntingly beautiful music, make for a lovely ride. Just plug it in, suspend your disbelief and enter their world. You won't be disappointed.
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9/10
Kurosawa is dead. Long live Kurosawa!
catsoup27 September 2006
This is a wonderful movie about a brothel in a fishing village, that could be best described with scene constellations and direction of old Kurosawa's works, combined with Dostoyevski's topics of human psychology (O-shin - Sonia Marmeladova ), Shakespeare's drama and Hans Christian Andersen's tragic and cheerfulness. The screenplay is wondrous, the scenes are colour- and beautiful some scenes stay really imprinted in my mind. The plot is interesting and unpredictable - each of the characters is very well developed and interesting - there is also a little action, so if you don't like all the sentiments you'd also come to your costs - . It is not about mysterious Geishas and proud Samurai with their Bushido pouring all out of them, but about life, work and kinds of people found everywhere at any time. A lovely and fascinating tribute to Kurosawa, certainly worth seeing.
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10/10
Very good Japanese poetry
bart-robbrecht17 February 2006
This is a very fine and poetic story. Beautiful scenery. Magnificent music score. I've been twice in Japan last year and the movie gave me this typical Japanese feeling. The movement of the camera is superb, as well as the actors. It goes deep into your feelings without becoming melodramatic. Japanese people are very sensitive and kind and it's all very well brought onto the screen here. The director is playing superb with light an colors and shows the audience that it is also possible to let them enjoy a movie with subtle and fine details. Once you've seen this movie you will want to see more from the same director. It's a real feel good movie and I can only recommend it to everybody.
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A beauty of truth.
sharitbilly20 April 2004
The simple story of a timeless truth. A lovely Cinderella-type story. I highly reccomend watching this film with good friends and a bottle of wine. This is a quaint story about a brothel girl in constant throes of unrequetted love from her clients. This happens over and over until the climatic ending of the movie where she is trapped in the brothel by a deadly flood. I saw this movie in my Japanese class. That was the only reason I didn't let myself cry. You will really love this movie.
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About Kurosawa
Korben Dallas3 July 2004
I have seen this film and I found it terrific! I liked it very much. I think the Japanese culture is very different from our occidental culture, but this does not affect the enjoyment of it. I enjoyed it so much. I love Kurosawa and with this story I respect him more.

I've followed Kurosawa since Rhapsody in August, the seven samurai, dreams (I adore it) Vivir (I don't know the name in English) and so on. Kurosawa was a genius and one of the best movie directors of our time. It's a pity he has passed away.

The movies has beautiful locations, and the music captured me. The ending scene was great. The characters are very sweet; O-Shin is a adorable young woman.
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10/10
Excellent ensemble piece worthy of stage as well as screen
GlojoPSU31 March 2006
Kurosawa weaves a tale that has a cast of characters as diverse as any Shakespearean drama, and the acting is true to the story, with each star playing their role as a part of the larger tale. It is touching, funny and intriguing in all parts. The character development is near perfect, the cinematography is vivid and engaging, and the story draws you in.

I would like to say that the "Samurai freaks" and those obsessed with late 18th and 19th century dynastic tales of Japan may snub this film as not Kurosawa's best work. Perhaps not his best, but even at his worst, Kurosawa is better than many of the best. This story is so based in elevating the mundane lives of ordinary people in a time of great change, that it is timeless, despite being set in the not-so-distant past.

I would heartily recommend this to any movie buff, and especially to those who are likely to continue on to read the novel on which the film is based.
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3/10
Often Done Before And Far Better.
net_orders17 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Viewed on DVD and Streaming. The sisterhood of the bordello. Prostitutes with hearts of gold. Customers falling for their pleasure service providers and Vice Versa. Do these themes seem familiar? All and many more well-worn subplots have been inserted into this mundane movie. It begins with the nonsensical choice of translated lyrical title--if anything is "watching" (besides disappointed viewers) it's a nearby river that is ready to flood and destroy things (again?) with the next tsunami. It ends in a physical mess (see below) and is pretty much a melodramatic mess in between. The script is pedestrian and attributed to Akira Kurosawa. It's easy to see why he was never allowed to make it into a movie. The studio-bound exterior real/virtual sets and the dressings/drawings/glass-shot-paintings thereof are well done except for the closing scenes (see below). Cinematography and sound are fine. Film score is light weight. Subtitles need a good grammatical scrubbing. They are frequently too long and often appear/disappear literally in an eye blink. However, inscriptions (like those on lanterns) are subtitled! Direction is undistinguished and workman like. Acting is uneven, amateurish, and far from riveting. Actors' makeup is atrocious. It subtracts rather than adds to the attractiveness of actresses. Male actor wigs are patently phony looking with visible seam lines. The story's conclusion is ridiculously contrived and as phony as the studio-bound outdoor set it takes place in. The latter seems to suffer from a lack of an adequate budget (if the film was shot linearly, perhaps the budget ran over and cuts were made at the end?). Shots of women perched in a rooftop (to avoid flood water) wearing "their best" colorful kimonos in daylight with an obviously artificial nighttime star field backdrop are far more amusing than dramatic. It's daytime TV soap opera masquerading as a movie. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
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6/10
Well, ain't that purdy
sitenoise18 July 2010
The Sea is Watching starts off as an attractive film; rich colors, effective photography, nice framing, fetching prostitutes. Then it goes melodrama, followed by silly, culminating in corny which brought a smile to my face before the surreal kicked in. It never stops looking good, though. I give it high marks for that.

There's nothing particularly new or groundbreaking story-wise, but it is a charming, sometimes funny, bittersweet tale of the inhabitants of a samurai-era brothel whose entire district ends up under water. Plot-wise it focuses on the love lives of two of the working girls: Kikuno (Misa Shimizu) plays an elder to the younger girls and enjoys being the object of pursuit, never giving in to the suitors who want to take care of her and take her for their very own; and Oshin (Nagiko Tono) who, against the advice of those around her, seems to fall in love with every one of her clients. One of them, a sweet samurai type, visits her often and convinces her that her "fallen soul" and "soiled body" can become pure again—just like a person's hair, nails, and teeth fall out and grow back. "A body can become pure again ... it would be too horrible for words if it weren't true".

Oshin is the main protagonist of the film and is meant to give it an emotional center as her heart breaks and yearns, but it never quite happens. Although Shimizu and Tono give good performances, overall the acting is not one of the film's high points. I recommend the film to those wanting a taste of historical Japanese culture and who enjoy quiet films about love, loss, and friendship. Yes, the ladies are prostitutes but they have feelings too.
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8/10
A Script from a Sadly Missed Master...
wobelix26 January 2004
The Sea Is Watching has been made from an original Akira Kurosawa script, and it is indeed a lush and warm film. Watching it will be a pleasure !

Kei Kumai as director is certainly no equal to the old but everlasting master (particularly the mass scenes in the beginning of the film has some terrible acting), but the overall mood and scenery is very enjoyable. Another thing that is missed here: Kurosawa always managed to let the characters be so much more then what they are actually showing and doing.

Probably that was his magic on set while shooting; and just maybe this script was not fully up to par yet.

Maybe we just miss the eye of the master.

This is one lovely and sweet film, but it is no Kurosawa. To expect that might well be very silly...
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9/10
No swordplay - only the most captivating women on earth
socrates9923 May 2012
I've always wanted to know about Geishas and the women of old Japan, ever since I first saw pictures of them in high school. Something about their style and how different they were from modern women never failed to intrigue me. And when I grew up, I collected paintings and prints of them which I still have, and read any novels or articles that promised to tell me their secrets. Despite numerous attempts I never really penetrated their personalities until this obscure movie.

I only DVRed it thinking it was just another period piece with samurais and bloody battles that would be fun to watch. It was not that at all. In fact there are no sword fights. It's all about the women (not Geishas) in a red light district in Japan in a village by the sea, and especially two of them, Kikuno and O-Shin, both of which are perhaps the most endearing and unforgettable women I've ever encountered in film. And this despite the fact they are playing prostitutes sometime in the 18th century.

Their facial expressions, their hand and body movements, the way they walk and laugh, it all had me so enthralled I barely saw the time go by. And yet this movie was created in 2002. How did these modern Japanese actresses resurrect these women so completely and convincingly? I have no idea, but I admit it doesn't matter. The only female performance I find even remotely comparable is of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara. But despite Scarlett's undeniable beauty and spirit she can't hold a candle to the sheer magnetism and humanity of O-Shin or the more dignified and mature Kikuno.

My only regret is that I hadn't seen this film earlier, and that I will now have to buy this film on DVD because there is no way I can bear deleting it. For me it's a gem of the highest order though I admit I've always wanted to know women like these, and if you've had no similar notion, it might not be your cup of tea. All I can say is I do now feel as if I've been transported back to another time and place and spent time with women who have always caught my attention, and I am completely satisfied that I have gotten very close to the myth if not the reality.

Which is not to say I now know everything. Despite having watched their every move here, I still can't say I understand them, not really. I feel I could happily spend a great deal of time with them, there is something unusually pleasurable about them, but they will always be mysteriously beyond my grasp. It's even more exasperating given I can't think of any modern women inhabiting the same emotional space they do. And I have no idea why.
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6/10
Not a terrible movie
kadar19 July 2003
But not a very good one either -- long, slow, stilted, melodramatic, and sentimental. It looks like it was aimed at a popular audience rather than a discerning one.

Was this an early script by Kurosawa, or was it a rough draft in need of refinement? Whichever it was, it wasn't up to the master's usual standard.
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8/10
Vivid view of the seamier side of old Japan
Luluhalabaloo26 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The Sea is Watching was an interesting film experience. First of all, the overall feel was intense, internalized, claustrophobic, and small. Each frame seemed to be a photograph of something inside, something very focused and not part of a bigger picture. It was obvious what we were to look at in each frame. The physicality of the set itself contributed to that feeling of smallness and intensity. The lights along the middle of the road cut the road in half, and the tiny gate to the tiny settlement followed by the tiny and few cubbyholes that served as the establishments that made up what seemed to be the entire town. Even the view of the ocean was framed by a tiny landing on which one can count the number of longer grass swaying in the wind. No panoramic views. In fact, it reminded me of the Montmarte sequence of Moulin Rouge where the camera sweepingly focuses in to the windmill creating again a feeling of a small area where everything is happening.

While the acting was passable considering I really could not discern how the lines were truly delivered, I felt that the actions were overly melodramatic and nonsensical. Why Kikuno would continue carrying on the way she did when Fusanosuke announced his impending marriage really didn't seem true – people hadn't really changed that much, and the character Kikuno was so strong and resilient that even if they were busy taking on O-shin's business for naught, the reaction seemed out of character and unnecessary and distracting. Another example of odd acting was when the drunk boyfriend of Kikuno showed up and Ryosuke decided to intervene and was pushed down the stairs, the way in which he got up and menacingly came up the stairs and the ensuing fight outside among the reeds was simply unsatisfying. It wasn't that I like fight scenes – au contraire – but it seemed a little stilted and again, overly dramatic.

Otherwise, while not a beautiful movie to watch, it provided an interesting glimpse into the darker side of prostitution (as opposed to the geisha). Unfortunately, perhaps it fed into our expectations of wanton women (the "honey – I'll give you a deal" comments supported by the over-stretched actions) and seriously caused me to doubt whether indeed 19th century prostitutes really acted in that way. But once inside the house, the inner workings became most interesting, vivid and real and provided a scenario I never anticipated or imagined in my romantic view of Japan in the 19th century.
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5/10
Too many poor choices in the story lines
cliff-1917 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The film is obviously based on several distinct stories, which would make it a good TV series if done right. The potential is there, making me wish I could read the original short stories. But in this script, there were far too many overly sentimental plot twists and "mass appeal" characterizations.

My biggest complaint is that the women were much more like waitresses or airline attendants than they were like prostitutes. They were all weepy "heart of gold" types, quite unlike women who really are "in the life."

***** Spoilers here ***** Of the two main stories, the first one was just implausible. Why would the women hold out such hopes for O-shin's marriage to the young samurai? More to the point, why were these women of the streets so distraught over such mundane bad news?

In the last story, why on Earth would the fallen-again O-shin lose her head to yet another man? As I said, this is more in keeping with flight attendants than prostitutes.

I also found the music terrible, so sweet it made my stomach hurt. It's as though the director couldn't decide whether this was to be like a daytime soap opera or a "slice of life" portrayal of a voiceless strata of society.

In conclusion, this seems to be part of a genre that is more common in Asia than elsewhere, fantasies in which kind-hearted naive men help to soften the hearts of prostitutes. I have seen several Thai movies and a few Chinese ones that fit this mold. Compare it to the British film "My Son the Fanatic" and you can see why I find this stuff silly.
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7/10
absolutely beautiful but lacking
MartinHafer23 July 2005
Artistically speaking, this is a beautiful movie--the cinematography, music and costumes are gorgeous. In fact, this movie is prettier than those directed by Akira Kurasawa himself. In this case, he only wrote the movie as it was made several years after his death.

So, as far as the writing goes, the dialog was well-written and the story, at times, was interesting. However, the story was also rather depressing yet uninvolving in some ways--after all, it's the story of a group of women who work in a brothel. It's interesting that although prostitution has been seen as a much more acceptable business in Japan, the women STILL long for a better life. This reminds me a lot of the movie Streets Of Shame, though Streets Of Shame's characters are a lot less likable and more one-dimensional.

So, overall it gets a 7--mostly due to everything BUT the writing. It's too bad that the weakest link in this movie is the story by the great Kurasawa.
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Boring movie about Japanese Geishas
AltuKayar4 April 2004
I did not like the movie `The Sea is Watching' very much because it was a rather slow movie. Its slowness is bad because I could not taste some of the feelings because of that slowness. Love was one of that feelings I am talking about. The movie is about the sense of belonging, freedom, and love however, there are also cultural things prevailed in it and those cultural elements are like big woodden beams in a river that prevent it to flow properly and decrease the speed of the stream. For instance, the non-talking communication between people prolonge the speeches and it makes all the thing slower.

As aforementioned the film was not an outstanding movie about the common human emotions and desires like love, freedom or belonging. I rather consider this movie as a more documentary type movie about Japanese geishas. I can say that I have learned nearly everything about geishas because 95% of the movie was shot in a geisha village and geisha house and the movie is full of speeches, traditions, rules and things about geisha life.

Besides that there are also a couple of samurais in the movie but little insight is given about them. The samurais in the movie are also weak characters and they are also very young, far from wisdom. Samurais were not that satisfactory for me.

In addition to these, there were also good things about this movie. First of all, most of the movie is shot in a single house in general but the interesting thing was that during the movie the characters gather in different parts of the hosuse and this gatherings are long. Therefore, while watching the movie you can (at least I can) feel like I am someone from the house and I am with them because I knew the house very well, I mean you could get into the house, it is very well shown to the audience I think.

There were also good symbolic visiuals in the movie like the sea symbolizing the freedom or the bushes between the sea and the village as the symbol for the obstacles in the way to freedom. And all the story is connected with these symbols at the end of the film. I good script but unexciting execution I can say.
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