Sparkling seas sound like hopeful things, especially if you’re a majestic seagull flying far above, bathed in perpetual sunshine. But then, perhaps the water below is shining with the shards of broken hopes which float on its surface, is its beauty treacherous or in earnest? So asks the singer of the title song which recurs throughout the film as if to undercut even its brief moments of happiness. There is precious little joy to be found in the lives of the two protagonists of Oh Seagull, Have You Seen the Sparkling Ocean? : An Encounter (鴎よ、きらめく海を見たか めぐり逢い, Kamome yo, Kirameku Umi wo Mitaka: Meguriai), only pain and confusion as they try to rebuild their ruined lives in an uncaring city.
Katsuo is a drifting young man, one of the many to have escaped the mining industry after the pits began to close down but now finds only temporary manual work available to him. In Tokyo, he works as part of a window washing team, gazing into high rise office buildings which are a world away from his precarious hand to mouth existence. In one particular window he spots an office lady attempting to straighten her stockings in an otherwise empty room. Smitten he decides to pursue the woman though she is far from interested in a peeping tom of a window guy who’s coming on far too strong.
Kumi has her own problems. Like Katsuo she’s found herself in the city after escaping a life of poverty and the unwanted attentions of a relative in a fishing village. Her sights are set a little higher in the increasingly consumerist environment of ‘70s Tokyo, hence her high rise career and desire to find the right kind of husband. However, even here, she doesn’t seem able to get away from possessive men and is stalked by an ex-boyfriend who just won’t take no for an answer.
Eventually Kumi and Katsuo grow closer but on a visit to the beach come across an injured seagull which Kumi immediately tries to bury despite the fact it isn’t actually dead yet – better to die than live on in shame, says Kumi. Katsuo disagrees and decides to take it home and nurse it back to health though Kumi breaks up with him because of it. After a chance encounter the pair get back together but their fragile love story is under attack from every possible direction.
Katsuo and Kumi have each led difficult lives though they have very different ways of coping with trauma. Katuso has retreated into a fantasy world inspired by Gaugin’s famous painting Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?. When he first meets Kumi, all Katsuo can talk about is Resipuruko and how wonderful everything will be when he gets there. The speech exasperates Kumi who at first feels stupid for not having heard of Resipuruko, but then cheated to discover its just a made up place of the kind that children create out of fun. Nevertheless, Resipuruko continues to become a symbol in their lives, a place of hope and peace in which they would be able to live together freely and in comfort, away from the difficulties of everyday city life.
Katsuo is cheerful and optimistic. Not exactly forward looking but proceeding in the name of hope. Kumi is driven more by fear and resentment, constantly looking behind her rather than ahead. Though Katsuo’s life has not been easy, Kumi has experienced more suffering with less agency which has left her with far less capacity for making the best of things. Like Nina in Chekov’s play, she is the seagull – something beautiful, destroyed, just because it could be. Katsuo’s efforts to heal the wounded bird run in parallel to his desire to save Kumi but then, the seagull wants to be free and Kumi is forced to feel as if she never will be.
At one point Kumi says she and Katsuo are on different sides of an invisible window and it’s true that they’re opposites in many ways – he thrives on fantasy, she is destroyed by reality, but they could be perfectly happy together if it weren’t for the vagaries of fate. Oh Seagull, Have You Seen the Sparkling Ocean? : An Encounter, is a tale of tragedy as young lives are ruined by time and circumstance, leaving them with only broken hearts to face the unfair world before them. Resipuruko exists only in a spiritual sense, but it can be called forth if you believe in it enough. Dreams are fragile things, whether realistic or fantastical, but they, like the seagull, deserve their time to fly unfettered.
Original trailer (no subtitles)