Distant Thunder (2022) review [Skip City International D-Cinema Festival]


Takayuki Ohashi first impressed audiences with his unique sci-fi short Angel in the Closet (2013). Now, after various other projects, including his first feature film In Bloom (2017), he returns to the science fiction genre with Distant Thunder to deliver another unique and aesthetically pleasing genre-blend.   

Skip City International D-Cinema Festival


2020. A few months before a comet collision will cause the end of all human life, Ayane (Tomomi Fukikoshi) and Kanon (Miharu Tanaka) visit their parental home to meet up with their half-sister Oto (Akari Takaishi) and commemorate the passing of their father Shuji. At the dinner table, Ayane proposes to everyone to live these last months together. Of course, their return causes their past to catch up with them and remember, in fragments, how they ran away in 1999 in search for Noah’s ark to avoid the end of the world as predicted by Nostradamus.

With the end of the world near, societal unrest and class-tensions are intensifying and violence towards shelter-projects is on the rise. One of Ayane’s co-workers Shimizu was murdered during a shelter move-in and some people, who could not afford a shelter, died when their handmade one collapsed.

Distant Thunder (2022) by Takayuki Ohashi

Distant Thunder explores the faltering of the imaginary field, i.e. the crumbling of ego and its defences, due to its inability to protect the subject from the imminent infraction of the Real and the eruption of indefinite feelings this crumbling causes. Ohashi’s serene and strangely calm narrative furthermore echoes that those who do not succumb to their pain of existence and avoid becoming consumed by the unknowable and unwanted Real called death, have a minimal network of functional symbolic bonds – e.g. familial.

The element that lingers throughout the narrative spaces, reverberates within signifiers and qualifies the rather solemn atmosphere of Distant Thunder is loss as such, the creeping shadow of death. For the sisters, this loss does not merely take shape of the imminent end of the world – the evaporation of the fabric of society and the violence the is caused by the nearing of the end, but also of the passing away of their parents. 

Of course, what is most clearly felt in Distant Thunder is the forthcoming end of human life. This unavoidable event impacts the sense and nonsense that marks human interactions profoundly. Each act of kindness is a fleeting moment of beauty. Yet, rather than this beauty originating from the sense it creates, from the imaginary connection it establishes between subjects, the melancholic elegance originates from its radical nonsensicality, from the very futility of these acts.

Distant Thunder (2022) by Takayuki Ohashi

So, if these acts of kindness are essentially futile, why do the sisters and other people from the seaside village keep enacting them? Is not because indulging in imaginary pleasure – e.g. the joy of sharing, drinking together, reminiscing together, …etc., that the silent roar of fear and the indefinite feeling of futility that is ever ready to rear its emotional head can be silenced?

As the narrative unfolds, the spectator slowly comes to realize that mere empty pleasure cannot close off the void of death that bubbles within the subject very well. The exchange of superficial pleasure and the exploitation of protective warmth of feeling connection can only fleetingly silence the indefinite feeling the subject tries to supress.

If the sharing of pleasure fails in its function, it is because this pleasure is not supported by a functional symbolic network of relationships. Those who lack such supportive structure of symbolic bonds eventually fall prey to a jouissance that complicates the subject’s equilibrium. The answers to such wild jouissance are beautifully and touchingly delineated in the narrative: either one becomes violent towards oneself or to the o/Other (e.g. the shelters). Can our sisters succeed in establishing such protective symbolic structure or will they fall apart and end up committing a destructive act?

The poetic feeling that reverberates in every frame of Ohashi’s composition is quite simply due to his desire to deliver moments of visual beauty. If he does underline the poetic dimension of the moving body by utilizing tracking shots, he either creates a satisfying visual tension via his shot-compositions or find a way to underline the inherent beauty of what he frames (e.g. a certain landscape).

Distant Thunder (2022) by Takayuki Ohashi

Luckily, Ohashi’s moments of visual poetry are not an aimless play with imagery. The fluid way he blends past and present, i.e. by letting the space of memories fleetingly materialize in the physical world, by utilizing the repetition of the signifier, or the visual similarity of the present and the past, does not only lead to touching visual moments, but also allows a sliver of each sister’s subjectivity to be evoked and resonate with the spectator. In some instances, the past even spills over into the present to elegantly highlight the very relational lack that marks our sisters and defines, despite the symbolic nature of their bonds, their attitude towards each other.

The measured rhythm of Ohashi’s composition, for that matter, does not merely elevate the beauty of certain mundane moments (e.g. baking of an egg), but also allows the spectator to feel the quality of the subject’s presence and of the narrative space she inhabits. The serene but subtly melancholic stillness that marks both subject and space comes to define the atmosphere of Distant Thunder as a whole.

Of course, the lingering presence of such solemn atmosphere is carried by the performances of the cast (Sound-note 1). While Ohashi prepares the various elements (e.g. visual rhythm, music, … etc.), only the performances can harmonize them and create an atmospheric whole where a variety of emotions can sensibly resound and reverberate (Cine-note 1). The performances of Akari Takaishi, Tomomi Fukikoshi, and Miharu Tanaka are incredibly rich and create a naturalistic conversational flow (e.g. with hesitations, refusals, …etc.) that allows the unsaid to rear its head between the vocalized signifiers. 

Distant Thunder is a strangely mesmerizing sci-fi slice-of-life narrative. While the spectator, at first, struggles to grasp the ultimate point of the narrative, the bursts of violence and pleasure that surround the sisters eventually reveals a story that illustrates, in a touching way, the importance of inter-subjective bonds, of symbolic connections, to allow the subject to use his ego to suppress one’s inner turmoil.


Music-note 1: In certain instances, the musical accompaniment strengthens the poetic effect of the imagery.

Sound-note 1: One element that plays an incredibly important role in heightening the impact of the performances, the expression of emotions, is the use of ‘sensible silence’ as a frame upon which the sound of acts and speech can echo.

Cine-note 1: For more emotional sequences, Ohashi utilizes subtle shaky framing. This decorative choice allows the emotions, as spilling out from speech-acts, to reverberate more strongly with the spectator.


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