While cinematographical narratives about movie-making (One Cut Of The Dead (2018), Dare to Stop us (2018)) are not that uncommon, the same cannot be said about movies about writing literature or drawing manga. Bakuman (2015), based on Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s manga of the same name, proved that a live-action narrative about drawing manga could be exciting and worth seeing. Will Sho Tsukikawa’s Hibiki, based on Mitsuharu Yanamoto’s award-winning manga about becoming a novelist, follow in the same footsteps? Let’s find out in our review.
One day, a manuscript titled ‘The Fairytale garden’ written by Hibiki (Yurina Hirate) is delivered at publisher Mokuren, but due to the fact that it’s written her manuscript is refused as entry for the Newcomer Of the Year award without being read. By mere interest, editor Fumi Hanai (Keiko Kitagawa) starts reading it. As it touches her so much, she decides to digitalize the written manuscript and submit it on Hibiki’s behalf.
As Ryotaro Tsubaki (Mizuki Itagaki) and Hibiki Akui have just entered high school, they need to choose which club to enter. Both want to enter the literature club, but Takaya, the leader of some punks, tells them they do not accept new members. When Takaya threatens her to kill Hibiki if she doesn’t get lost, she simply breaks his finger – succeeding to expel the punks. Hibiki quickly befriends Rika Sobue (Ayaka Wilson), the bubbly president of the literature club and daughter of the famous writer Akihito Sobue (Eisaku Yoshida).
Hibiki, as the title implies, concerns the particularity of Hibiki as subject and her extraordinary talent as writer. The former refers to nothing other than Hibiki’s social maladaptation – the extraordinary way she inscribes herself in the social field. Much of her extra-ordinary behaviour, her easy recourse to violence, is function of the truth of literature she believes she possesses (Narra-note 1). In order to profess and install her truth of literature, Hibiki manipulates the social rules – it would not be wrong to call her dictatorial when literature is concerned.
While Hibiki plays with societal standards in a manipulative way in order to state her truth, she also acts violently without respecting the rules of the social game (for example kicking Mr. Kijima, a renowned novelist, without hesitation) – in order to protect those that are dear to her – i.e. her friend and editor. Let us note here that Hibiki explains her socially disruptive behaviour by using an in many ways socially-acceptable but personal law. Through this aspect, Hibiki also introduces the dimension of friendship into the narrative mix.
Besides this subjective focus, Hibiki’s talent makes her enter the field of literature, a field full of (unspoken) rivalry – a rivalry function of ego’s and their ideas on how literature should be, which in many cases amounts to saying “just like mine”. One such rival is the cocky Kohei Tanaka (Yuya Yagira), who also submitted his work for the newcomer’s prize. Furthermore, the fact that entering this field is function of recognition, is highlighted by the story of Yamamoto (Shun Oguri), a somewhat depressed writer with no other goal than to win the Ukutagawa prize (Acting-note 1).
This rivalry also comes to disturb Rika’s relationship with Hibiki – Rika thus forms the second subjective focus in the narrative. The fact that Hanai speaks so positive about Hibiki’s ‘The Fairytale Garden’ feeds Rika’s subjective insecurity. Rika is, in a way, split between the talent and fame of her father and the scary talent of Hibiki. It is, thus, the very danger of being revealed as lacking with respect to both persons that grounds her insecurity. This insecurity, furthermore, gives birth to her subjective struggle to find a lasting conformation of her talent. Is friendship, beyond any rivalry and beyond any subjective insecurity, able to prevail?
While the subjective focus on Hibiki and Rika, the dimension of friendship, and the evocation of the field of literature as essential to the narrative, these narrative dimensions should not detract us from the most important thematical current in the narrative: the power of literature, the power of the signifier to metaphorically touch the reader’s subjectivity, his subject, and to entice his imaginary – to find himself as ego in the image evoked by the play of the signifier. While it may seem difficult to brings this dimension in a sensible way to the fore, Hibiki succeeds in evoking this truth with an emotional touch (General-note 1).
What’s interesting about Hibiki is that most moments fit for comedy or lightheartedness are ever framed with seriousness – a seriousness giving Hibiki’s moments of violent radicalness its sensible power while revealing her social awkward ways (Narra-note 2). That, of course, does not mean there is no subtle funniness to be noted in the narrative. When some funniness enters the narrative’s unfolding, it generally originates from the way Ryotaro reacts on certain situations – his reactions are marked by a subtle over-acting commonly found in Japanese comedy.
The cinematography of Hibiki consists of a natural mix between fixed shots, fluid following movement, and equally fluid spatial movement. While intersubjective interactions and speech-interactions are generally framed with fixity, moments of movement are most often framed with following movement. The spatial movement – often used to frame interactions between subject and an object or to introduce a certain narrative space, fluidly disturbs the duality both fixed and following shots tend to create (Cine-note 2, Cine-note 3).
The cinematographical composition has some truly refreshing moments, e.g. the opening of the narrative. It is through these moments that the cinematographical staging of the narrative becomes somewhat more than just another standard straightforward affair. The framing of the narrative’s spaces is either marked by a subtle greenish overlay or marked by a yellowish tint (Colour-note 1). While this colour-design has no important narrative function, it does not fail to turn Hibiki, by infusing – irrespective of which tint marks the narrative space – a sort of subtle softness into the framed narrative spaces, into a truly pleasant viewing experience.
The pleasing fluidness of the cinematographical composition is further enhanced/supported by the subtle but ever present presence of musical pieces. While these musical pieces are generally atmospheric in nature – infusing a certain atmosphere into the narrative space, these musical pieces, at times, also become subtly communicative of those emotions literature can evoke (Narra-note 3). The fact that the cinematography enables the spectator to get into touch with the moving power of the signifier and the excitement present in the field of literature forms the mainspring of the spectator’s investment and enjoyment in Hibiki’s narrative.
Yurina Hirate succeeds in bringing the contrast between her bookish-nature and her violent radicality – a radicalism concerning literature – in an enjoyable way to the fore. Due to this clear contrast, the moments of her radical behaviour, her social unfit ways to state her truth, are sensibly felt – each moment enticing for what Hibiki will violently do in the future. Rika Sobue, for that matter, is a charming presence on the screen. Besides evoking her bubbliness in a charming way, she also succeeds in sensibly communicating the doubts and insecurities of her character.
As the quality of live-action adaptations of manga ranges mostly from true garbage to something enjoyable but nothing more – only seldom something of a pristine nature is attained, it is pleasing to see that Hibiki has succeeded in becoming a more enjoyable adaptation than the standard good-but-nothing-more live-action adaptation. While the great performances of the cast and the pleasing framing of the narrative spaces play its role in raising the narrative to greatness, it is the very fact that the narrative is able to sensibly evoke, as a result of its various parts, the moving power of literature that makes Hibiki truly great.
Narra-note 1: Very early in the narrative, more concretely when Hibiki meets Rika for the second time, it is made clear that her truth about literature is the only truth. There is, in other words, no room to accept any difference at the level of her truth.
Narra-note 2: Do note that, in some instances, a satisfying funniness can be found in Hibiki’s outrageous actions. One such moment is when Hibiki attacks – with a foldable chair – the conceited and slightly narcissistic Kohei Tanaka.
Cine-note 1: Interactions between subject and object concern, for instance, the act of reading the manuscript, the talking on the phone, and the act of writing a manuscript.
Cine-note 2: Note that fluid following shots and fluid spatial shots are also used to frame speech-interactions. What’s different in these cases is the focus. In the case of following shots, the emphasis is put on the movement, while in the case of spatial movement the focus is to shift the focus as the interaction is framed or to underline, as the movement halts, an aspect (e.g. the book Hibiki’s reading) in the narrative space.
Cine-note 3: In some rare instances, cinematographical movement does not answer to any of the “rules” we made explicit.
Narra-note 3: One such moment concerns evocation of the excitement Hanai has while reading Hibiki’s manuscript.
Acting-note 1: Yuya Yagira, once again, succeeds in bringing a dislikable figure sensibly to life. And Shun Oguri impresses with his subdued moody performances as a depressed writer yearning for recognition.
General-note 1: Spectators that do not have a strong affinity with literature may not be able to fully feel the power of literature the cinematographical narrative evokes.
Colour-note 1: One time in the narrative, a dramatical shift to reddish colours in made. This reddish shift seems to communicate Hibiki’s anger at being questioned about the true writer of her novel – an indirect questioning of her talent.