VENICE, Italy (Reuters) – Japanese movie "Himizu" is a twisted tale of abuse, violence and lost youth set against the backdrop of the devastation of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Director Sion Sono, renowned for hard-hitting, anarchic film making, wove real-life events into a screenplay he had just completed when the catastrophe struck.
"Every scene changed drastically," he told trade publication Variety ahead of Himizu's world premiere at the Venice film festival on Tuesday.
"The original manga had no hope in it, but after March 11, I didn't think I should make a film with no hope. I felt that I had to convey it in the film."
The narrative is interspersed with wide shots of flattened towns and mangled buildings destroyed by the tsunami, bringing the disaster to the big screen less than six months after it happened.
The immediacy of those images, visceral performances by the two central teenaged characters traumatized by abuse and a score that includes Mozart's "Requiem" won over many viewers in Venice, with warm applause at the end of a press screening.
Himizu is based on a manga by Minoru Furuya first published about 10 years ago.
The story centers around schoolboy Yuichi Sumida, who is regularly beaten by his father and abandoned by his mother yet wants nothing more than to live a normal life.
He lives in a shack by a lake where he hires out boats to day trippers, and on the land a small community of oddballs stay in makeshift tents, possibly because their homes have been destroyed.
His female classmate Keiko Chazawa falls in love with him, and, despite being an unwelcome distraction for Sumida, ends up trying to save his life.
Keiko is a rare source of innocence and optimism in a world where love and hope are crushed from an early age.
Keiko's parents build a gallows for her, which they paint and decorate with colored lights as they encourage her to take her own life.
Sumida is also told time and again by his father that he should never have been born, and he finally reaches breaking point by committing murder.
Despite its bleak portrayal of youth, and dialogue interrupted by screaming and tears, Sono insisted that it conveyed a message of hope.
"The entire Japanese community feels like they have no choice but to have hope, because their situation is so bad," he said in the Variety interview.
"Before I wrote the original script, even I didn't have that much hope, but that has changed drastically."
Shota Sometani, the 19-year-old actor who played Sumida, said something good had come out of the disaster.
"The young generation have started to consider many new things that they were not thinking about before the natural disaster," he told reporters in Venice, speaking through a translator. "There is a new way of thinking."
Himizu is one of 23 films in the main competition in Venice. The 23rd "surprise" picture was named on Tuesday as China's "People Mountain People Sea" directed by Cai Shangjun.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)