NOISE expresses a societal struggle on the personal scale
“Anybody with hope couldn't possibly understand how I feel”
Not since Takahisa Zeze’s Heaven’s Story (2010) have I seen a Japanese film, or any film for that matter, that confronts such acute desperation, a constellation of souls crumpled by resilient grief and dire circumstances which also treats physical spaces distinctly as environs for the expulsion or generation of pain. Not since Partners in Crime (‘Gong Fan’ dir. Jung-Chi Chang 2014) have I seen a film of such intuitive movement and spontaneous visual poetry applied to the darkness of youth. Not since 21 Grams (dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2003) have I seen a film so ensconced in the radiating effects of a tragedy that also uses fragmented character threads and ambiguously skewed timeframes to reveal the inevitability of disconnection within that of connection.
Somehow Matsumoto Yusaku’s directorial debut Noise (2017), of which he is also producer, editor and writer, accomplishes all the above in a seemingly effortless but incredibly honed manner. Noise leaves little to no room for hope (that “little” is expressed so obliquely as to be implied rather than shown), no real space for levity or comfort, no framework for simplistic resolve or intervention for relief, no victory won without a catch. Matsumoto wisely and uncompromisingly sits with the discomfort of disappointment and desperation, and yet there is a sense of the air, of movement, of the bristling urban space of Tokyo that shifts between ambient and oppressive affect. One might describe Noise as nihilistic. One wouldn’t be wrong per se, but Noise is so rich in its characterizations, so close to its people, places and histories so as not to be nihilistic in and of itself (read: not bearing an agenda to convince us that nihilism is the right position to hold) but expressive of individuals who cannot see escape, who have no choice but to either claw their way out of cycles of defeat or burrow further down, and sometimes it is unclear which result an action will yield.
Following several character threads that weave in varied degrees of tangentiality, Noise takes place eight years after the 2008 “Akihabara Massacre”, a real life event in which Kato Tomohiro murdered seven people and injured 12 by driving into a crowd and launching into a stabbing spree in the busy gaming/otaku district of Tokyo. Kato was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death, a decision upheld in 2015 after appeal. The massacre was the high-water mark of キレる (Kireru), sudden acts of rage and violence being committed by Japanese youth in the face of generational/familial alienation, strains of constant extracurricular study and unemployment (and many other factors besides). “Kato has explained in past testimony that his motive was to vent his pent-up anger at society and demonstrate to all of his tormentors, including people he claimed had been harassing him in an Internet forum, of the consequences of their actions.” (wikipedia)
Noise extends from this real life trauma, and radiates like a ringing in the ear shared by its fictional characters who represent the residual life of tragedy. Matsumoto’s film follows Misa (Shinozaki Kokoro) an “comfort massage girl” by day and an aspiring underground pop-star by night whose mother was killed in the incident and whose father is a distant and abusive gambling addict, Rie (Anjo Urara) a disaffected teenager who leaves her home and her aging workaholic father also in pursuit of idolhood, and Ken (Suzuki Kosuke) a solemn destitute delivery boy struggling to study for exams after work in his dilapidated apartment and beleaguered by his absentee mother and who turns up only to bleed him of his meager earnings. In her wake are debts and debt collectors, each of which fall upon Ken to endure. He leaks his rage in small ways, threatening transgressions made anonymously over a payphone, but he is escalating toward something demonstrative… and public. The reflective and reflexive qualities between Rie and Misa are compelling and communicate, among many things, two possible outcomes from similar circumstances.
Poverty both economic and emotional, drive the tragedy of Noise . While most individuals are willing to simmer in the struggle, some boil over, and a trend of such criminal outburst began to foment in the 1990’s, albeit that the trend is on the decrease since 2003 and that youth crimes constitute one-tenth the average of other developed nations (The Economist). A New York Times article from 1999 looks at the very issue of rising teen-aged violent crime in Japan, the salient of which involve bludgeoning and dismembering. “A perverse effect of Japan's extraordinary economic rise has meant that the intense sense of national purpose that drove the last generation to study long and work hard in order to rebuild a nation destroyed by war has given way for many to meaninglessness and apathy. What is worse, after 10 years of unprecedented economic stagnation (referring in part to the “Lost Decade” of the 90’s after the housing bubble burst, not dissimilar to what happened in the US in 2008), record unemployment has begun to shatter the implicit social compact that seemed to justify so much of the self-sacrifice that this society demands. Suddenly, at the end of an educational rainbow built of cram schools and scant social life for teen-agers, people have discovered there may not be a job at all.” (Howard W. French) Sound familiar? Noise is born of this milieu and thusly contextualizes, getting under the skin of the city and into the lives of its characters with uncommon closeness as they express a societal level crisis with incredible nuance.
Kentaro Kishi, whose acting resume includes several Iguchi Noboru titles like Tokyo Gore Police and Robo Geisha, takes his turn behind the camera as Cinematographer and behind the scenes as Production Designer and the results are magnificent. Kentaro’s incredibly nuanced sense of light, color, and tone help tell a nonlinear story of fragmentation, isolation, disappointment and irreconcilable grief entwined with flourishes of ambition. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the exemplary color grading work by Shuko Hoshiko who helped perfect that sense of light and color and thus is inseparable from the depth of its potent effect on mood and the identity of of that radiating trauma, and differentiating qualities of spaces and times. Banvox’s tonal soundtrack creates a bed of anxiety within the film, rising when it needs to, subsiding when it needs to and thus breathes with the tensions of the characters in a vital and visceral way. It is the “ringing in the ears” I mentioned earlier.
Matsumoto’s editing is truly the powerhouse of storytelling here. It is poetic, fractious, invasive, psychological without being psychol-analytic. Combined with Kentaro’s sensitivity in regards to framing and distance Noise generates oscillating feelings of intimacy, intrusion, anonymity, respite and isolation. Despite its ghosts, the Akihabara intersection represents a space of transient respite for some of the characters. The bright, radiant-yet-soft light expresses a momentary calm that can never last for its passersby.
Noise is represented by Philly-based Rain Trail Pictures (worldwide sales rep) and is in the process of procuring a distributor outside of Japan. Noise enjoyed a few screenings at the Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn earlier this month. It is playing one night only in San Francisco on the 21st of May at the Roxie Theater, but will soon have a VOD release date. Fingers crossed for more east coast screenings! Check back with Cinema76 to find out when you can experience NOISE!
Presented here are the names of those who died in the 2008 Akihabara Massacre, which experienced its 10th anniversary last year. May we say them and remember…
Fujino Kazunori (age 19)
Kamaguchi Takahiro (age 19),
Nakamura Katsuhiko (age 74),
Miyamoto Naoki (age 31),
Matsui Mitsuru (age 33),
Koiwa Kasuhiro (age 47),
Mutō Mai (21).