Filmhounds Magazine

All things film – In print and online

A Story Written with Water (Blu-ray Review)

3 min read

Radiance Films

True to its title, 's 1965 film operates like a rippling pool of water, ebbing unpredictably, often in a volatile fashion, but other times with a striking placidity. A Story Written with Water is a film shrouded in shadows, giving it an endlessly fascinating and mysterious quality that ensures its very slow pacing is rarely an issue. It is simplistic to compare this to the works of Yoshida's countryman Yasujirō Ozu, but there are some similarities in terms of the static camerawork and child-parent relationships. However, where Ozu conducts his domestic scenarios with rigid realism, Yoshida opts for more experimental fare; A Story Written with Water is as told as much through dreams as it is through current reality.

Shizuo, a reserved young man played by Yasunori Irikawa, is about to marry Yumiko (Ruriko Asaoka). Haunted by familial memories, he spurns her sexual advances in what we think is a desire to wait until after marriage. Jump forward a couple of scenes and Shizuo is having an affair with another woman; Yoshida constantly throws in these surprises in A Story Written with Water, where affairs are rife and everyone seems to be having sex with the wrong person. 

In addition to Shizuo's cheating, he also has a strong attachment to his mother Shizuka () that verges into unnerving Freudian territory throughout A Story Written with Water. Yoshida, along with co-writers Toshirô Ishidô and Rumiko Kora, help tell these sordid attractions and tormented feelings through vivid flashbacks that seep directly into the present, where affairs, abuse, and hints of incestual attraction, bolstered by deceit and indiscretions, see events spiral out of everyone's control. It is a dazzling, beguiling experience, told both experimentally and with a matter-of-fact simplicity. Most importantly, the screenplay is fantastically structured, revealing the most dramatic parts of its plot carefully.

On a visual level, A Story Written with Water is sensational. Shots that see Shizuo isolated in his surroundings or consistently odd angles contribute to the warped narrative. The camerawork keeps you guessing, whether it is through the distressing spin around a dramatic scene or switching to POV in some of the film's most sordid moments. Toshi Ichiyanagi's original score affirms this hellscape further, with harsh and unpredictable rhythm and instrumentation. 

A Story Written with Water runs perhaps just too long for the story it is telling, but its nightmarish tone makes it too compelling to lose interest. As we follow Shizuo and many of the other characters on their journeys, we realise there is real stagnation in the present, despite the wish from many of them to break free from it. They are frozen in time by memories and grief; Shizuka in particular is an almost ghostly presence, not aging between past and present, stuck with guilt and regrets. 

A Story Written with Water is another exquisite release from Radiance Films, cementing it as one of the best curators around for releasing and celebrating the films of Japan, amongst other countries. Yoshida's film will finally be getting a Blu-ray release, meaning more people can see this twisted familial drama that screams in the face of tradition. This feverish nightmare of sex, lust, and sordid longing is not to be missed.

Special Features

  • High-Definition digital transfer
  • Uncompressed mono PCM audio
  • Archival interview with director Kiju Yoshida (2008, 3 mins)
  • New interview with star Mariko Okada (2023, 11 mins)
  • Interview with scholar Jennifer Coates, author of Making Icons: Repetition and the Female Image in Japanese Cinema, 1945-1964 (2023, 22 mins)
  • Trailer
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork
  • Limited edition booklet featuring new writing by scholar and author Alexander Jacoby
  • Single pressing of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings

A Story Written with Water will be released by Radiance Films on 25th March