The protagonist in the newest film by director Naoko Ogigami, appropriately titled “Ripples” (波紋 Hamon), hides her anger beneath a facade of calmness. However, she soon realizes that even the smallest choices can create a series of significant consequences. While Ogigami’s signature offbeat humor and distinct viewpoint remain present, the storytelling in this movie has a slightly more dramatic tone.
The film “Ripples” will be shown at the Camera Japan Festival.
The story begins with a prologue, which takes place after a made-up ecological disaster. It introduces the Sudo family who live in a peaceful suburban area. Yoriko Sudo, a woman in her fifties, is defined by her roles as a wife to a salaryman named Osamu (played by Ken Mitsuishi), a mother to a rebellious young man named Takuya (played by Hayato Isomura), and a reluctant caregiver to Osamu’s bedridden father, who is still able to touch her inappropriately. Due to the earthquake, water is scarce and possibly contaminated, making bottled water a valuable commodity. One day, Yoriko gathers everyone for dinner, but Osamu has mysteriously disappeared. Jumping ahead a few years, Yoriko has adapted to a stable and controlled life on her own. Her husband is gone, her father-in-law has passed away, and her son works in another town. She enjoys living as a single woman and works at a supermarket during the day. She is deeply involved in an unconventional religious group called the Ryokumei-kai, also known as the Green Life Water Society. She spends her time praying and studying intensely, and her home is filled with expensive bottles of pure holy water. Her once-colorful garden has transformed into a dry Karesansui, or Zen Garden, where she meticulously rakes gravel every day to create the illusion of ripples in water.
Eventually, Osamu returns after a period of absence. He is facing a terminal illness and expresses his desire to spend his remaining time with his wife, as he claims. Yoriko is taken aback and somewhat disappointed by his reappearance, but she feels compelled to let him stay in her home due to his emotional manipulation. His return disrupts the peaceful waters of her life and threatens to destroy the balance she has carefully constructed. Yoriko receives little support from Mizuki (played by Hana Kino, who bears a striking resemblance to Masako Motai, a frequent actress in Ogigami’s works), a janitor at her workplace who becomes her friend. Mizuki’s down-to-earth and sarcastic nature provides some solace for Yoriko, but even she has her own hidden struggles.
During the release of her previous film, “Riverside Mukolitta,” I had the opportunity to interview director Ogigami. During our conversation, she shared that the main plot of Mukolitta was inspired by a real story she had seen in a TV documentary. It’s possible that other real-life events of post-disaster also influenced this film. However, whether my personal speculation about the source material is true or not, “Ripples” remains a truthful and compelling depiction of how we respond to trauma and fear, and our efforts to rebuild after a shattered reality.
The “Ripples” utilizes the symbolism of water and its inherent qualities, such as clarity and calmness, in several instances. One prominent example is in relation to Yoriko’s devotion to a cult-like religion. In Buddhism, water is often used as a metaphor for the journey towards enlightenment, and the Ryokumei-kai water is meant to purify the mind of impurities through generous monetary donations. Additionally, the holy water aids devotees in overcoming fear, which explains the popularity of such cult-like religions after tragic events. Yoriko has buried her fear and anger beneath a facade of tranquility, stemming from the financial and familial struggles she faced during the disaster. However, this facade is fragile and easily disrupted by unforeseen events.
View our recorded conversation with Naoko Ogigami.
The characters in “Ripples” are complex and elusive, making it challenging to fully sympathize with any one of them. While we are drawn to Yoriko, she is capable of displaying unkindness, selfishness, and prejudice. Osamu may seem unlikeable, but we cannot help but feel for a man who has left his family due to a shocking event and now relies on expensive cancer medication. Mizuki is another damaged individual who struggles to repair the wounds in her home and her soul, using a fabricated facade to cope with her trauma. Even the cantankerous old man who constantly demands discounts from Yoriko is a victim of the financial burden faced by the elderly population.
The diverse range of colors is a major strength of the movie. Drawing on the symbolism of water, “Ripples” implies that we are all individual drops, each containing a complex universe of emotions and fears held together by a fragile barrier, yet still capable of creating ripples that extend outward. Through clever visuals, Ogigami illustrates the physical ripples that form as characters engage in intense and sometimes hostile confrontations; these ripples also impact other interconnected individuals in a chain reaction.
The commentary in the movie addresses a variety of important environmental and social concerns, all of which are linked to the fear they evoke. These include the rise of religious cults as a means of comfort, financial stress, support for marginalized communities, and prejudices.
Mariko Tsutsui has been highly praised for her portrayal of neurotic and unstable women in two of Koji Fukada’s works: as traumatized wife Akie in “Harmonium” and broken nurse Ichiko in “A Girl Missing”. In her latest role, she takes it a step further and showcases her talent for incorporating comedy into her already impressive dramatic repertoire. Her quick-witted reactions to Osamu’s careless behavior in her sacred space add a humorous touch to the film. Through her performance, she has crafted a character that is simultaneously strong, vulnerable, emotional, annoying, and sympathetic, making the poignant ending even more comical, poetic, and hopeful.
To sum up, Naoko Ogigami’s “Ripples” showcases her skill in offering a unique outlook on common topics and portraying the nuances of human relationships, all while finding amusement in everyday life.