Melting Sounds (2022) review [OAFF 2022]

Introduction

After various successful shorts, Kahori Higashi finally tries her hand at creating her first feature film. Collaborating with Moosic Lab, Kenmochi Hidefumi of Wednesday Campanella, and Xiangyu, an up and coming artists, Higashi sets out to deliver a new kind of ‘sound movie’.

Review

Upon returning to her grandmother’s former home, Koto (Xiangyu) discovers that an old man named Take (Keiichi Suzuki) has taken up residence in the garden. While she tries to confront him with his act of trespassing, he silences her by stating that he is recording. By following him around, she quickly comes to understand that Take has dedicated his life to recording sounds of everyday life and burying the cassette recorder, while playing, in the ground, thus creating what he calls ‘sound tombs’.

Feeling that he means no harm and does not pose a threat, she lets him stay in the garden and tries to form a bond with him. Not that much later, a young man called Yamada (Amon Hirai) and a woman Hiroko (Uno Umeno) visits them to inform them that they need to leave the house as it will be soon demolished. Koto refuses.    

Melting Sounds (2022) by Kahori Higashi

Melting Sounds is a narrative that is about nothing other than the subjective importance of establishing meaningful bonds. With a refined elegance, Higashi reveals that a pleasure born from relational interactions will always be superior to an enjoyment attained by pushing buttons and swiping touch screens.

In this sense, Melting Sounds can be read as subtle commentary on the negative impact of the gadget (e.g. mobile phones) on our social life and the bonds that gives us, as subject, a place within society. Such blossoming of gadgets celebrates the imaginary, the image. Yet, such indulgence in the image slowly empties our bonds of meaning and frustrates the relational needs of subjects.   

Melting Sounds is structured around two riddles, a riddle related to the old man called Take and the riddle of Koto’s wandering. The first riddle concerns the meaning of Take’s act of collecting sounds. Yet, it is not only the act as such that is mysterious, but the seemingly compulsive character of this act. His recording is, as he himself reveals, not function of a desire – I want to collect sounds, but of a necessity – I have to collect sounds.

Melting Sounds (2022) by Kahori Higashi

As the narrative unfolds, the spectator slowly comes to grasp that the act of recording and burying is a subjective response to the loss of his sister, an attempt to deal with her death. Yet, while this symptomatic act highlights the subjective impact of her loss, Take also underlines that he has not fully accepted her death. As her body was never found under the rumble of the landslide – there is no material proof of her death, he can exploit the dynamic of doubt to avoid the radical confrontation with her death.   

In our view, Take’s symptomatic behaviour is born from his refusal or inability to accept her death. The act of burying sounds of life ‘alive’, which echoes the unfathomable disaster of being buried alive by a landslide and signals the failure of inscribing the traumatic loss within his subject, might in a certain sense be Take’s final attempt to finally come to terms with her radical absence.  

The second riddle concerns Koto’s wandering. What kind of function does it have? What does her existence as a wandering job-hopper echo? Some might say that she is trying to run away from something. Other might argue that she is searching for something. It is via her statement that having a house is not important that the spectator hears the cause of her wandering echoing. Koto feels, in a certain sense, robbed of a place she can call or is willing to call home (Acting-note 1). Her wandering is, as becomes evident as the narrative further develops, caused by being subjected to a familial structure that was not good-enough, a dynamic in which the motherly and the fatherly position did not function properly (Narra-note 1 (spoiler)).

Melting Sounds (2022) by Kahori Higashi

Higashi brings the narrative of Melting Sounds visually alive with a balanced mix of static and floating and shaky dynamic moments. Yet, as the narrative progresses, she relies more and more on static moments to frame conversations and other interactions. Such reliance on static moments enables the cast to breathe life into their characters and give their interactions a pleasing genuineness and, at times, also a heart-warming light-heartedness.   

Given the importance of sounds in the narrative, it is natural that the sound-design is great. The playful light-hearted musical decorations are effective in lightening up the mood and elegantly reminding the spectator of the positive impact of forming bonds with others, beyond the addictive surplus-enjoyment of the gadget.

The scopic pleasure of the narrative is function of Higashi’s effective use of depth of field – giving certain moments within the composition a pleasant softness – and of her thoughtful exploitation of colours and light to create beautiful nuanced colour-gradations and enhance many of her elegant shot-compositions.

Kahori Higashi’s debut is, in short, impressive. Melting Sounds is visually pleasant and the charm that oozes from its lead ensures that the message of this sweet little narrative – i.e. subjective happiness is to be found in relational interactions – warms the spectator’s heart. The endless concatenations of screens might offer a shot of enjoyment, but these shots cannot help the subject in finding a place he can call home within society.

Notes

Acting-note 1: Xiangyu’s presence elegantly carries the narrative. Her performance is one of the main reasons why this film is so satisfying.  

Narra-note 1: Koto’s wandering is thus quite clearly driven by a lingering hope to find a place she can call home and a desire to establish bonds that she can consider familial.

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