My introduction to Sogo Ishii came in the form of his voltaic cyber-punk films. Between Crazy Thunder Road, Burst City and later Electric Dragon 80,000V I thought I had Ishii pretty well figured out. Not until last year when I stumbled upon August in the Water, did I make the shocking revelation that in addition to his kinetic rebellious wastelands, he has the temperament to make something truly nuanced and cosmic.
Ever since her recent move, Izumi has felt a change in her body. Her senses have made her aware of impending danger on a planetary scale. A star diver, she feels psychically linked to dolphins. The film opens with her impetuously jumping in a tank with them, which catches the eyes of fellow students Kyushu and Ukiya. Kyushu is clearly smitten with her but Ukiya is more curious than anything. He contacts a computer savvy friend who discovers that the date of a big diving competition coincides with a serious impending astrological disaster. This alone may seem like a coincidence but other strange things have been happening. A massive heatwave is in effect and a mysterious disease that turns your organs to stone has plagued the city.
At the diving tournament Izumi begins to feel disoriented and uncomfortable. When confronted by her angry coach for her poor performance, she explains that the water feels "hard" but she'll do her best. In a final attempt to redeem herself she dives and the water temporarily turns to stone, something no one can see, but she can feel. She clumsily falls into the water and sinks. Kyushu immediately knows something is wrong and jumps in to save her. She falls into a coma and initially the doctors fear the worse.
Miraculously a few days later she regains consciousness. This near death experience becomes an awakening of the metaphysical kind. Every detail comes into focus. Molecules in leaves, particles in the air. She can see things that others can't. She doesn't care about school anymore, and her budding romance with Kyushu fades into the background. She has gained the knowledge of what her role in the Universe will be.
She's drawn to a particular spot in the forest where UFO's have been spotted. There's a giant meteorite with etchings, it's like a magnet for her. The crisis that is effecting the city, and possibly one day the entire world, is alien in nature and Izumi is the only one with the cognizance to do something about it - though the force driving her is much larger than human actions.
What makes this film so special is how softly it steps on very big subjects. When dealing with the universe, aliens, mysterious illnesses and ecological concerns, it could so easily be schlocky and ineffectual. Ishii captured the essence of a Pure Moods tape and transforms it into an engaging tranquil science fiction narrative. It tells a story mostly in the form of sounds, textures and a dream-like atmosphere. Giving details only when completely necessary; truly an immersive film experience. He creates a magical environment using only visuals present in reality. No crazy effects, just the transcendental cosmic beautify of what exists in nature.
The soundtrack is possibly the most perfect auditory experience I've ever had watching a film. Hiroyuki Onogawa creates an eerie minimal soundscape that reflects an alien language, singing water drops, dolphin speak and the somber echoes of a dying planet. The marriage of sight and sound are nothing short of masterful.
August in the Water takes new age principles/pataphsyics and makes a film that is even more relevant today than it was twenty years ago. Both in theme and Proto-Vaporwave/Seapunk aesthetic. This film lives and breathes in it's own realm. I feel as though August in the Water is existing even after I've turned it off. It's presence lingers in those little microscopic molecules Izumi was talking about. Like the smell of water evaporating into air.
Because it's fairly obscure and I was lucky enough to track it down I'm making Hiroyuki Onogawa's serene experimental score available to download.