HomeReviewsThe House Where the Mermaid Sleeps (Japan, 2018) [Japan Foundation Film Tour 2020]
The House Where the Mermaid Sleeps (Japan, 2018) [Japan Foundation Film Tour 2020]
3 February, 2020
“No parent should have to bury their child,” goes an old saying, although sometimes, refusing to do so can be infinitely worse. Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s drama The House Where the Mermaid Sleeps, tackles head on the issue of filial departure, presenting a nearly impossible conundrum. What is the right thing to do when the impending death of a child knocks on the door? It is a well-acted, slow paced drama that poses a lot of interesting questions to the audience, even if it does not necessarily offer much in the way of answers.
Harima (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and Kaoruko Harima (Ryoko Shinohara) are in the
throes of a divorce when a swimming pool accident renders their daughter,
Mizuho (Kurumi Inagaki), with irreparable brain damage. While her brain is
dead, Mizuho’s heart continues to function, and by Japanese law the hospital
requires the parents’ consent before they can declare her officially brain
dead. This is too difficult a decision for Kaoruko, especially since the
doctors cannot predict the child’s fate with absolute medical certainty. As
such, they decide to keep Mizuho alive for as long as possible. With the help of
Kazumasa’s advanced medical technology company, the family manages to not only
keep Mizuho’s heart functioning, but also stimulate her muscles with
electrodes. One of the company’s researchers, Yuya Hoshino (Kentaro Sakaguchi),
devotes his time into perfecting the technology to better suit the needs of the
young girl. But despite all this, there’s never an indication that Mizuho’s
brain will resume functioning.
the passing months, the rest of the family begins to grow skeptical of their
decisions, as the burden of care and social embarrassment drives a wedge
between them. Tensions escalate, and a single moral question threads throughout
the film: are they doing the right thing by keeping Mizuho in a perpetual
vegetative state? Is she anything more than a corpse on electrodes? Kaoruko
begins to feel isolated as she’s the only one to still believe in Mizuho’s
future, while the rest argue for the contrary.
The House Where the Mermaid Sleeps puts a fresh spin on a very old story. Society at large seems to have come to a decision regarding people in a vegetative state. Almost always, it is better to pull the plug. But when considering the possibilities of modern technology, the decision becomes all the more complicated. Technology brings new hope, but also new despair when one has to come to terms with its limitations. The film tackles this subject matter in a novel and unpreceded way, posing a heart-wrenching moral question that can feed into our collective obsessions. The actors are superb in representing each of their characters’ point of view, keeping the interest afloat in a very slow paced drama.
whereas the film holds high ambitions, it appears uninterested in allowing them
to evolve all the way through. Aside from pace issues and one-too-many slow-motion
shots, which are admittedly only minor annoyances, the film goes rather easy on
its characters and chooses not to expose them to the most serious repercussions
of their actions. Any doubt regarding Mizuho’s status (alive or dead) is
disposed of quickly after a rather artificially escalated argument. So is
Karuoko’s long-drawn obsession, resolved by a single dream after which she goes
from denial to acceptance in a heartbeat. The ending is emotional and sad, just
like most of the film, but flattens the moral ambiguity that the film begins
with, offering the characters the easy way out.
House Where the Mermaid Sleeps is
not perfect, but it starts a conversation that will undoubtedly appear again in
cinema, politics, and our lives in general. It’s a well-executed, well-acted
family drama that, despite a rocky ending, will give everyone something to
John Atom is two things: a molecular physicist by day and a devout cinephile by night. His love for Asian cinema started way back in high school when one rainy night he decided to pick up a rather peculiar-looking DVD of a movie called Oldboy... and he was hooked! Since then, he’s watched just about every Asian film he could get his hands on, and plans to continue doing so. More recently he’s developed a new interest in science fiction, particularly in the interdependence of science and SF, and how one may influence the other.