Sometimes just staying afloat takes everything you've got.
Every once in a while Nikkatsu Studios surprises us with a restrained and serious movie, and Jûhassai umi e, for which you see a poster above, falls into that category. In English it was called Eighteen Years to the Sea, and the long and winding plot starts when top science student Aiko Morishita sees fellow student Kaoru Kobayashi win a game of death against the leader of a motorcycle gang. The game is to see who can wade into the ocean farthest weighed down by rocks and not drown. Aiko gets all hot and crazy watching this macho contest, and later tries the same game with her friend Toshiyuki Nagashima. They only look like they're trying to commit suicide.
The weirdness is just beginning. When a student at Aiko's school jumps to his death from a building, she's not horrified, but fascinated. Aiko and Toshiyuki decide to play another game of death, this time with pills, each taking one at a time, not planning to die, but risking overdoses in the pursuit of... we're not sure. Call it the search for some sort of nebulous existential revelation. In any case, they do overdose, but both survive. Those around Aiko come to understand that she has a screw loose. Meanwhile Kaoru, whose macho contest against the gang leader was the trigger for all that has happened, starts dating Aiko's sister.
We'll stop there with the plot description. Suffice it to say that, via the circuitous route director Toshiya Fujita takes to reach his destination, viewers are reminded that life can be hard—apparently even for gorgeous young college students. We don't mean to be glib. It's just that for uncounted millennia someone from both our mother's and father's branches of the ancestral tree had to survive cold, predators, disease, injury, poverty, human malice, and more, generation after generation, just to have their genes culminate in our existence. We would never risk casting all that hard work and luck aside seeking a fleeting insight. But that's just us.
Fujita, on the other hand, clearly thought he had something deep to say. The running time alone tells you that—Nikkatsu movies were often just over an hour long, but this one unspools for almost double that length, clocking in at an hour and fifty minutes. That's a lot of ennui. A lot of ennui. But Jûhassai umi e is good. Maybe even very good. It premiered in Japan today in 1979.