Based on a screenplay by the late filmmaking legend Akira Kurosawa, Kei Kumai’s THE SEA IS WATCHING follows the lives of women residing and working at a brothel in Edo-era Japan. Amidst the daily rountines of tea and gossip, the ladies of the Ashi No Ya house, inevitably get emotionally involved with their clients. Young, naive O-Shin (Nagiko Tohno) falls for an inexperienced samurai, even though he is from a higher social class. Meanwhile, her big-sister figure, Kikuno (Misa Shimizu), has both a thuggish boyfriend and a kind, older man vying for her affections. Eventually, Ryosuke (Masatoshi Nagase), a troubled wanderer, visits the brothel, and he forms an unlikely connection with O-Shin–one that may have a lasting effect on her life.
Filmed entirely on a set that recreates pre-20th-century Japanese village life, THE SEA IS WATCHING focuses on the brothel and its denizens with a tight lens. Although the actors turn in fine performances, the real stars of the show are the costumes and sets, which recall an era of Japanese history that few contemporary films touch on. Surprisingly romantic, this tribute to Kurosawa is an enjoyable outing, strengthed by Kumai’s vivid vision of the past.