As Noise (2017) had its official release in Japan – still playing till the 14th of March in Theatre Shinjuku, we took it as an excellent chance to revisit Matsumoto’s passion project and, according to us, the best movie of 2017. While the difference between the old cut and the final version are minimal, the re-framing of the narrative’s conclusion is reason enough to provide our readers with a re-review.
Other screening dates:
- Japonské jaro (Olomouci, Czechia): 2/4/2019, 18:00.
- Nashville Japanese film Festival 2019: 4/19/2019 (More info later).
- The Roxie Theater (San Francisco) in May (Check the site for updates)
- Spectacle Theater, Brooklyn (New York) in May (Check the website for updates).
8 years ago, Misa Sakurada (Kokoro Shinozaki), a member of the underground idol group Luuka, lost her mother in the Akihabara massacre. By becoming successful as idol, she faintly hopes to be able to see her mother again. Since the incident, her relationship to her father has been problematic. As she struggles through society and with no one to turn to, a feeling she didn’t knew before starts boiling in her body.
While Rie (Urara Anjo) lives with her father and bedridden grandfather, she isolates herself, avoiding any kind of contact with her father. She finds solace in her relationship, but then an unexpected thing happen. Rie’s father, who is unable to connect with his daughter, finds relief in his infatuation with Misa, who reminds him of his daughter.
Ken Ohhashi (kousuke Suzuki), a part time worker for a shipping firm in Akihabara, lives together with his mother. All is well, but when Ken’s mother suddenly disappears, Ken starts losing his emotional stability.
The power of Noise as narrative lies in the very slowness by which the subjective reality of each character, i.e. Misa, Ken and Rie, is explored. By serenely painting their interactions or the lack of interactions, Matsumoto is able to bring each the complexity of each character sensibly to the fore and underline the effects capitalist society in general and the lack of deep supportive social connections in particular can have on a subject. Each narrative is characterized by an emptiness and a feeling of being disconnected. As solitude permeates each character’s lives, the only familiar feeling each character seem to have is an insecurity about their future. The narrative furthermore vividly reveals the perverse effects of money and how it often organizes the social bonds people enter into and maintain – one such effect being the draining of any subjective sincerity in human interactions.
Misa, Rie as well as Ken aim to find some form of connection, how superficially it may be, in a Tokyo marked by a certain hopelessness (Narra-note 1). Misa’s life is a concatenation of short ‘fake’ superficial connections – connections created by the exchange of money, either as idol or as service-provider in the soft-erotic business. Besides highlighting this superficial relational dimension, Noise provides an interesting insight in certain dimensions of the underground idol scene, e.g. the unpolished dancing and singing, the importance of fan-interactions, self-promotion-events, hand-shake events,…etc..
Rie, for that matter, has a certain connection with her boyfriend, but this safeguarding connection eventually falls away, leaving her alone with nothing more than the impersonal communications she has through mobile phone. The very fact that the safeguarding connection ultimately falls away also raises doubts about which function Rie had for her boyfriend (Narra-note 2). Ken is driven to a point where he, as subject, is not able to find any other choice than the decision he made – a decision to rescue him from his hopeless situation, from his lack of future.
The beautiful frustration that characterizes the greater part of the narrative is the lack of true communication or, in other words, the failure of a communication able to create a true social bond. As another subject to direct one’s subjectivity to seems to be lacking, the speech-acts and conversations are more often than not superficial – speech either remains empty or is stuck in the process of finding a way to be expressed (Narra-note 3). Nevertheless, both Ken and Misa make the transition to formative speech. In Ken’s case, his speech ultimately is able to be addressed to the Other and Misa finds a way to address her father (Narra-note 4). Rie, for that matter, stays silent on a subjective level. As the narrative thrives on framing the lack of true human connection between subjects, it should not come as a surprise that Noise paints each character’s family situation as dysfunctional – each familial context fails, due to particular personal and societal reasons, to provide the necessary security and warmth (Narra-note 5, Narra-note 6).
The cinematography of Noise stands out by its fluidity. Matsumoto shows a preference for a concatenation of (often lengthy and often slightly shaking) moving shots, while adding some fixed shots into the mix (cine-note 1, cine-note 2). The cinematographic fluidity is furthermore supported by his thoughtful use of various cinematographical techniques, such as slow-motion, cross-fade, playing with depth of field, and so on, and the powerful electronic music of Banvox, music that proves to be crucial to the composition of various scenes and the overall atmosphere of the narrative space (cine-note 3).
From a compositional viewpoint the three narratives are beautifully mingled with each other. As one narrative string fluidly flows into another, each character is given a continuous presence in the narrative space and the narrative space as such is underlined as a presence. The narrative space of Noise is painted – courtesy of Kentaro Kishi – in slightly washed-out colours, giving the narrative space a bleak atmosphere that does not fail to empower the solitude and isolation that permeates the various narratives. This atmosphere is further enhanced by the subdued but powerful performances of each actor/actress. Especially the performance of Kokoro Shinozaki is nuanced, deep and emotionally powerful.
Noise is a subdued but very powerful narrative about the importance of human connection and the far-reaching subjective effects capitalistic society can have on the subject. In this respect, Matsumoto, the staff, and the actors, in an attempt to find an answer on the riddle of what drives a subject to go on a killing spree, have succeeded in creating a moving narrative that questions Japanese society as such and the effects this society has on the social fabric that under normal circumstances would give a subject a safe place to speak from. This questioning – attentive to the complexity of its subject matter, framed with thoughtful cinematography and brought to life by deeply nuanced performances, will long linger in the spectator’s mind.
For those who haven’t seen Noise (2017) yet, we politely urge you to see this wonderful gem, our top movie of 2017, whenever you have the chance.
Cine-note 1: There is furthermore a nice mix of close-ups, medium shots, … etc.
Cine-note 2: The moving shots mainly follow the movement of the characters in the narrative space. This has the effect of focusing us on his subjective presence of the character in the narrative space.
Cine-note 3: The flashbacks are almost solely used in Misa’s narrative. Flashbacks return to that point in the past where Misa’s father hears the news of the death of Kaori Sakurada, Misa’s mother, or focusing on Misa in those moments around the time the mass murder took place.
Narra-note 1: Note that Misa, Ken as well as Rie have no true Mother in their lives. Misa’s mother died in the incident. Ken shares the house with his mother, but she fails to act as a Mother on a symbolic level for him. In Mie’s family constellation there is no woman present to be able to take up the function of the Mother.
Narra-note 2: The relationship between Rie and her boyfriend, as is made evident, is not built on a meeting of two subjectivities. More often than not, when they are together her boyfriend plays Pachinko, while she indulges into social media on her smartphone.
Narra-note 3: Ken’s narrative voice is often a subjective voice, but this voice is only addressed to himself. It is a solitary communication, without another subject as address. While the taping of his voice is done to deliver death threats to a certain woman, this taping short-circuits the act of speech-exchange, disabling true communication.
Narra-note 4: With formative speech we mean that the speech, directed to an other, gives expression to the subjective position the subject occupies. Ken’s position is a position of a subject without a future, a subject that no one understands, while Misa, in her position, is finally to give expression to her anger and able to put her father into question.
Narra-note 5: In the case of Misa, the presence of father’s trauma and the aspect of the mothers dead isolates both members of the family from each other and from others.
Narra-note 6: While the shot of Ken in Akihabara is present in the international cut, Matsumoto’s decision to make it the final shot serves the goal of the narrative better. It is a shot that directly evokes a possible answer to the question why some people are driven to commit indiscriminate killings such as the Akihabara Massacre.