Satoshi Miki, known from his comedy Turtles are surprisingly Fast Swimmers (2005), his award-winning Adrift in Tokyo (2007), and his absurd sci-fi film about identity theft, It’s me, It’s me (2013), is finally, after a break of 4 years, back with a new film. Is Miki’s latest a glorious return of his style of comedy to the silver screen or does he deliver, for his stature, a disappointment?
One night, after being off the stage for a while, Shin/Sin (Sadao Abe), a popular rock star, makes his comeback. People love him for his amazing voice, but little do they know that this voice is made possible by a highly dangerous form of vocal cord doping. The night of his comeback, the side-effects of the doping radically problematize his ability to perform – his throat bursts.
At the same moment, in Kichijoji, Fuka (Riho Yoshioka), a singer, is left by her bandmembers due to her inability to sing at an audible level for an audience. The very same night, a dejected Fuka encounters Sin, who was, until he crashed, driving hysterically around town on a pizza bike.
LOUDER! Can’t hear what you’re Singing Wimp is a narrative that explores in a lighthearted and musical way the subjective trajectory of Fuka to bring her voice to the Other. To go immediately to the heart of the problem presented in the narrative: How should we understand Fuka’s small voice?
At first glance, Fuka seems to have a desire to on the stage and sing – a desire to deliver a message to the Other by singing, but her voice, due to being so quiet, does not reach this Other. Obviously, something hinders her, but what? What obstacle makes it impossible for her to reach the Other with her voice?
What hinders Fuka is, in our reading of the narrative, nothing other than a certain fear. She is unable to share her personal signifiers with the Other as audience because she is afraid to reveal herself as subject – that is, in essence, what she means when she states that that she wants to keep her feelings close to her (Narra-note 1). While Fuka shows herself on stage – underlining her desire to perform, she fails, due to her fear, to bring her subject in play.
Shin, whom she meets in the most unusual circumstances, decides to help her, decides to help her break her subject out of the prison of her emotionally flat ego (Narra-note 2). Shin aims to help her by breaking down, with verbal violence, the protective walls of her ego and lure out her subject – Fuka, of course, does not consider these unasked-for aggressive attacks as help. For instance, Shin confronts her directly with her false dream to find her own real voice one day. He calls it out for what it is: a lure to hide that something is, in the present, not working, a false goal in the future that hides her fear to put her subject on display for the Other.
Shin’s aggressive verbal attacks, these attacks trying to force Fuka to bring her subject in play at the level of her speech, appear ineffective. Yet, due to his insistent attempts, he ultimately causes Fuka, just when her subject bursts forth in her speech, to lose her voice completely (Narra-note 3). Luckily, the loss of her voice is only temporarily. Is this event enough to put things in motion and allow Fuka to overcome her fear of showing the Other her subject via her personal signifiers or will she remain attached to this fear and keep her subject safely locked behind her safe emotionless façade?
The background upon which Fuka’s narrative plays out offers a rich and pleasing and lighthearted blend of different musical worlds. The place where Fuka lives, for instance, has a hippy aesthetic, Shin’s world is a world of metal/rock, and Fuuka’s street performance has an indie-pop flavour. But that’s not all, Miki also finds time to touch upon other musical styles as well, like tango-styled music and punk-music.
In the sequence featuring punk-music – and this sequence is one of the highlights if not the highlight of the film, Miki does not hesitate to add a subtle critique on punk as such. When punker Jimetsu (Eiji Kotoge) states that they do not care for law or order, Shin sardonically responds that they still decide the order of their setlist. While some might contend that Shin’s response is but a pun, such reading fails to account for the truth it subtly touches upon. The very fact that these punkers decide the order of their setlist underlines that they are still defined by the Other, the Other as language and law. Moreover, the punker’s musical societal protest is only pleasurable because it takes places within the Other with the signifiers borrowed from this Other (Psycho-note 1).
Miki’s narrative is, sadly, far from perfect. The narrative might offer an abundance of silliness and absurdity for the spectator to enjoy, the many puns and pun-like overreactions fail to provide the comical highs they intend to engender. But what is even more problematic about LOUDER! Can’t Hear What You’re Singing Wimp is that Miki forgets to strengthen the drama of the myriad of moments central to the narrative’s unfolding. As Miki’s narrative lacks any kinds of comical or true dramatic highs, Miki ultimately delivers an emotionally flat narrative that is unable to satisfy the spectator in any decent way.
Miki’s composition stands out due to its energetic compositional dynamism – an energetic dynamism that does not fail to keep the spectator engaged at the level of the visuals. This energetic dynamism is not only evident in the visually pleasing and evocative sequence by which the narrative opens, but also in the fact that, to frame his narrative, Miki relies on camera-movement – spatial as well as following, a diversity of more extravagant camera-angles, and a variety of other techniques, like slow-motion, zoom-ins, shifts in colour-design, dramatic lightning, use of film grain, and use of fish-eye lenses, … etc.
While moments of compositional rest are of course present, these moments of rest are not marked by a removal of said dynamism, but by a diminishing of the compositional energy. These moments of rest are, thus, characterized by a more slow-paced dynamism (Cine-note 1). Yet, as such pace-changes are rather sparse, one cannot help but feel that Miki’s energetically paced narrative undercuts the narrative’s ability to touch the spectator with the blossoming romance it stages and keep said spectator engaged with Fuka’s trajectory to overcome her fear of the Other.
Another problem with Miki’s composition is that certain scenes are marked by a subtle mismatch between the musical accompaniment and the visual composition. These mismatches – there are two or three of these moments in the narrative – do not fail to subdue the emotionality of the acting or oversell the “drama” depicting on screen (Acting-note 1).
LOUDER! Can’t hear what you’re Singing Wimp might be a pleasant genre-bending comedy narrative, but his narrative misses the various sparks that would have allowed all the diverse thematical ingredients of the narrative blend into one heartfelt and satisfying experience about overcoming one’s fear of letting the Other hear one’s subjective voice and the importance of finding an Other to sing for. As it is, Miki’s LOUDER! Can’t hear what you’re Singing Wimp is a jack of all trades but a master of none.
Narra-note 1: The fact that Fuka performson the street implies that her signifiers are addressed to someone, to a specific Other that is different from the audience in front of her. In our view, this Other is no one other than Fuka’s mother.
If Fuka, at the end of the narrative, succeeds to sing with a loud voice, it is, mainly, because she has found another Other (i.e. Shin) to sing for.
Narra-note 2: Why does Shin, who is with or without voice-doping in danger of losing his voice in the real, decide to help Fuka? The reason, while never truly explicated, is closely linked with his own personal tragedy.
Narra-note 3: Note that Fuka also has moments where she can speak normally. Speech in these moments is, in most cases, speech (e.g. excuses) that avoid (bringing) her subjective position (into play).
Yet, in the soba-restaurant scene, Fuka, slightly under the influence of the delicious soba, succeeds in vocalizing her own desire in a direct and clear way – a desire to overcome her subjective obstacle to sing for the Other. This is a central moment in the narrative because it is only from this moment on that one can say that Fuka has fully assumed her desire to sing as being her own desire.
Psycho-note 1: One could even contend that the punker by utilizing signifiers and music affirms the Other as law.
Cine-note 1: Only in very rare instances Miki utilizes a static shot.
Acting-note 1: The performances are decent, offering a balanced mix between moments marked by unsubtle overacting – moments that, while not hilarious by any means, succeed in keeping the unfolding of the narrative lighthearted, and moments characterized by more subdued and more emotionally subtle performances.