From pink film into mainstream cinema. Some directors, like Ryuichi Hiroki, have walked this path. Moreover, Hiroki, once the prince of youth porn, truly started to blossom after making this transition and approaching sexuality and the subjectivity of women from a less erotic perspective. He earned critical acclaim with narratives like Vibrator (2003), The Egoists (2011), It’s Boring Here, Pick Me Up (2018) and, more recently, Ride or Die (2021).
This time around, Ryuichi Hiroki ventures in the suspense genre by bringing Tetsuya Tsutsui’s manga Noise (2017-2020) to the silver screen. Can he deliver another narrative worth seeing?
Shishikari, an island that can only be reached by ferry, has been struggling with decreasing population and economic problems. Yet, Keita Izumi (Tatsuya Fujiwara) started a black-fig farm to try and turn things around for this idyllic island.
One day, while doing a delivery of black-figs with his friend Jun Tanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama), a local hunter, they encounter a strange man, Mutsuo Omisaka (Daichi Watanabe), eating some of his local produce without paying. Jun wants to confront him, but Keita stops him. Not that much later, Mutsuo gets aroused by seeing Erina (-), Keita’s daughter, play in the garden. When he comes home, his daughter is nowhere to be found.
Not that much later, prefectural police officer Tsutomu Hatakeyama (Masatoshi Nagase) and his partner Chihiro Aoki (Ayumi Ito) visit the island to investigate the disappearance of rehabilitation volunteer Kenji Suzuki (-). When Suzuki’s body is found, the launch an large-scale search for Mutsuo Omisaka.
Noise can be read as a narrative that does not only explore the fact that a violent act can have a different structure – an ethical or one of radical transgression, but also that such difference makes little to no difference to the Other of the law and, in many cases, the subject himself. Such exploration is made possible by structuring the narrative around a simple and radical opposition between good and evil. While such simple opposition could have derailed many narratives, it works well in Noise because it is expertly utilized to engage the spectator emotionally into the narrative and to give its exploration of the different structures of violence and of the subjective and social turmoil caused by the conflict between the transgression and the Other of the law the dramatic power to keep the spectator, from start to finish, on the edge of his/her seat.
Mutsuo Omisaka is, from the very beginning of the narrative, introduced as being pure evil. Unhindered by the law that structures the societal Other, he murders either due to an itching kind of irritation or is seduced to perform an act of violence by a sudden bursting forth of his perverse arousal. It is the staging of such transgressive jouissance, a jouissance that goes radically beyond the law but is aimed at regulating his equilibrium of pleasure, that gives birth to an intense loathing in the spectator.
The unhinged jouissance of Mutsuo is, in a certain manner, opposed to the mundane familial and agricultural pleasure of Keita Izumi. Izumi is not merely introduced as a family-man but also as the hope of the struggling local community, as someone who tries, as an agriculturist, to save the local community from the modern ills that ravages rural areas all over Japan. His existence is, in this sense, not only structured around the signifier father but also around the signifier revitalisation. Keita tries, in contrast to Mutsuo who utilizes transgressive violent acts to maintain his inner equilibrium, to find his equilibrium by realizing himself, as father and farmer, in the local Other.
The accidental death of Mutsuo by the hand of Keita is an event that endangers the island’s future. While Keita sees no other option than to inscribe his act of murder into the Other of the law, Jun proposes to inscribe this act of murder into the societal Other as a case of self-defence. Either way, Keita’s function within the local Other, as father and as farmer, will not only be threatened, but radically dismantled, hereby ruining the revitalization process. It is therefore that resident police officer Shinichiro Moriya (Ryunosuke Kamiki), as representative of the law, suggests to pretend the murder never happened. By not inscribing the murder into the Other of the law, he does not only aim to safeguard Keita’s position within the local community, but chooses the good of the community over the cold letter of the law.
The transgressive truth of Mutsuo’s subject is, not that much later, introduced by the prefectural police officer and confirmed by the discovery of Suzuki’s strangled body. While these revelations underline that the accidental murder, in fact, served the good of the Other, this knowledge also complicates things. Keita, Jun, and Shinichiro’s act in service of the local Other is endangered by the Law, as represented by the presence of the prefectural police on the island (Narra-note 1).
Yet, things soon get even worse, as the cover-up causes a cascade of unexpected murders, sudden slips-of-the-tongue, confessions, the flaring-up of guilt, and other surprising twists. The accidental murder, despite its ethical dimension, causes a ravage as the Other of the law, as incorporated by the subject and as presence on the island, that puts the possibility of an ethical murder radically into question and echoes the necessity to inscribe any kind of violent act into the law of the Other (Narra-note 2) (Narra-note 3).
Hiroki composes Noise with a dynamic sensibility, enabling him to give his composition and narrative an engaging rhythm, but also with a fine sense of composition, offering the spectator many pleasant dynamic and finely composed static moments. Both elements are important, not only to grant the spectator his scopic pleasure, but to engage him, via such rhythm, into the narrative as such.
What allows Hiroki to deliver so many moments of visual pleasure is his elegant use of the wide-screen ratio and his effective play with geometry – be it the geometry of nature to offer the spectator a glance at the beauty of the island or the geometry of interiors (e.g. frame within a frame) to subtly elevate certain moments at the visual level. Hiroki, moreover, elegantly creates geometrical tensions that juxtaposition sights of natural beauty and the ravage caused by violence.
What allows Noise to be so engaging and moving are the performances. Tatsuya Fujiwara finds a way to give his performance a flair naturalism that allows his position and interactions as father to be believable (Acting-note 1). Daichi Watanabe successfully channels, via non-verbal language, the evil that runs through his veins, inviting the spectator to loath his unhinged presence in the societal Other. Yet, Kimiko Yo’s performance feels a bit out of place. While her performance, due to its unintended comical flavour, might irritated certain spectator, it is luckily not able to derail the touching dramatic narrative.
Noise is a highly satisfying experience that delivers suspense as well as good dose of touching emotionality. Yet, what elevates the narrative is that it offers more – it offers a thematical depth that the spectator can think about. The narrative confronts the spectator, with its many twists and turns, the necessity for each transgressive act to be inscribed in the Other of the law as well as the fact that desire can corrupt any kind of kindness.
Narra-note 1: Keita reveals that he has given his accidental murder its ethical dimension by stating that he was a murderer who didn’t deserve to live and by underlining that they are fighting for this island. Giving such explanation to his accidental murder is an attempt to assuage his guilt caused by this act.
Narra-note 2: Mayor Hanae Shoji (Kimiko Yo) meets her death, simply said, due to her quasi-obsessive focus on getting the prefectural revitalisation grant and her arrogance about serving the good of the community. In other words, her position, as is made evident through her threatening speech, is marked by a perverse and narcissistic element. Her try aim is not so much the good of the community but her own good.
Yet, the murder of Shoji – and this complicates its ethical dimension – is born from an imaginary injury. The violent smack on her head is caused by an injury inflicted by her signifier, a signifier that confronts the subject with the frustration of his desire. As such, the murderer cannot inscribe his act within the good of the community. Yet, can the murderer inscribe his act into another kind of good?
Narra-note 3: Shinichiro struggles with upholding the lie not only because he acts a representative of the law, but because the first character of his name, given by his father, means truth. By lying for the good of the community, he betrays the fatherly instance, the name-of-the-father or the no that is inscribed in his name.
The act that he eventually commits does not resolve his inner conflict, but radically signals it to the Other, the local Other as well as the Other of the law.
Acting-note 1: Kenichi Matsuyama gives his Jun Tanabe a subtle but sensible opaqueness that plays an important role in making the finale so effective and touching.