Watanabe’s third feature film is a very peculiar production, featuring a silent protagonist but constant talking, black and white cinematography, and a repetition that seems to be more meaningful than ever.
Yusuke Mizuhara works as a lifeguard at a swimming pool, situated in a rather quiet suburb of Tokyo. He is a loner, and his life is dominated by an unwavering routine, that begins the moment he wakes up in his house, continues at the swimming pool and at a cinema after work, and finishes in his house again. Even the smallest details are dictated from this routine, as the time and the place he spends his break, for example. Apart from watching a movie each day, his only entertainment is listening to the news from his car radio and reading about them on his computer. However, the news he listens to, always deal with terrorist acts, war, and violent incidents in general, from all around the world. Eventually, he is temporally relocated to another pool along with Koji Shirasaki, a colleague he has to drive to work with his car, and who never seems to stop talking.
Watanabe directs a film that deals with the concept of routine and the way it can enslave man, as it transforms him into a robot that only lives to follow it, to the point that he becomes completely anti-social. Furthermore, through the concept of the news, Watanabe makes a point of how horrible the world we live in is, but at the same time shows how all these awful events end up being nothing but sounds one listens to, in order to pass his time, with a passivity that, in the end, makes him function like a zombie. Furthermore, he seems to say that this, unfortunately, is the concept of the modern Japanese man, who only cares about his job, to the point that he neglects everything else around him. Lastly, this may be a critique for Japan, who, through the agreement with the US regarding the inaction of its army, remains a spectator in what is happening in the world now.
The pace is rather slow and rather repetitive, but Yuji Watanabe’s tense music, occasionally gives the sense that something very bad is going to happen, although, in the end, this is just a misconception. The presence of Shirasaki on the other hand, provides a distraction to the routine of the film, as he is rather talkative, although also a social pariah. The moment where he tries to explain the generation gap through the differences of “Dragonball” (the manga/ anime their generation dealt with) and “One Piece” (the one of the current generation) is the most funny scene in the whole film, along with the one he states that he is not actually talkative. His presence, however, becomes tedious after some time, particularly for Yusuke, although he does not convey it physically, at any point.
Woohyun Bang’s black-and-white cinematography suits the “colorless” world Yusuke lives in, perfectly, as his attention to detail mirrors Yusuke’s attention to his routine. The shots where he stands above the swimming pool are very beautiful, while the various images presented during the end of the film have an ominous meaningfulness, regarding humans, who do not seem to be so different from animals, particularly fish. Hirobumi Watanabe’s own editing retains the slow and repetitive pace of the film, without any kind of exaltations, apart from the aforementioned scene.
Gaku Imamura, in his debut, gives a silent and naturalistic performance that highlights his character’s indifference on everything that goes on around him. Some close ups on his face show his irritation, particularly during the time he spends with Shirasaki, but even these feelings, never actually reach the surface, leaving a question for if he actually feels anything. His eyes, however, are rather terrifying at moments, leaving me with a wish to see him in a role of a serial killer, eventually. Hirobumi Watanabe himself as Koji Shirasaki has a rather difficult role that has him speak non-stop for quite some time, and he delivers in wonderful fashion.
Evidently, “Poolside Man” demands patience from its audience, through its slow pace, lack of dialogue and any kind of action, and repetitiveness. The fact, however, that Watanabe manages to present so many comments and thoughts in such a laconic setting, makes the film a must-watch, particularly for fans of art-house films.