your local cable provider, Yoko Suzuki’s arrival window is measured in years,
but at least she will wait patiently for days if you happen to be out of the
house. Patience comes naturally to an android, but her curiosity develops over
time. The mortal humans using her services are strange indeed. Sion Sono cranks
things down for his austere, low-fi post-Fukushima science fiction allegory The Whispering Star (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.
singularity has come to pass, but with a whimper rather than a bang. Evidently,
the invention of teleportation made humanity so lazy, it is nearly rendered us extinct,
largely leaving the universe to androids like Suzuki. She has been on a fourteen-year
mission to deliver old school packages to humans strewn throughout the known
universe. Why do they hire her services, often for trivial shipments they could
easily zap across space? She would like to know that herself.
if Sono’s ascetic vision were not surreal enough, he gives everything further
layers of significance by filming the scenes of deserted alien worlds in abandoned
Fukushima neighborhoods, using displaced locals as his supporting cast.
Admittedly, very little actually happens, but it always looks disconcertingly
eerie. Hideo Yamamoto’s black-and-white cinematography is often starkly beautiful,
especially during the arresting final sequence.
is no question Whispering Star represents
the auteur at his auteuriest. However, the quiet power of (Sono’s wife and “muse”)
Megumi Kagurazaka as Suzuki cannot be overstated. She subtly but undeniably
commands the screen. The film is also a minor triumph of prop and set design,
particularly the Levittown-ish tract house style space freighter Suzuki
commands. It is ridiculously whimsical, yet looks more real than most early
1980s Star Wars knock-offs.
That said, if you crave artificial colors and
flavors, like narrative and dialogue, Whispering
Star will drive you to distraction. Nor can we accuse him of being
excessively shy when making his points. We quickly deduce Suzuki might just be
more human than the surviving biological humans (a theme that will turn up in
another Japan Cuts selection). However, the adventurous will find it rewarding
to see these strange worlds through her stranger’s eyes. For Sono fans, it is a
can’t miss film, just because of its personal significance within his body of
work. Recommended for those who appreciate demanding science fiction in the
tradition of Aleksey German’s Hard to be a God, The Whispering Star screens
this Saturday (7/16) at the Japan Society, as part of Japan Cuts 2016.
Labels: Japan Cuts '16, Japanese Cinema, Sci-Fi films, Sion Sono