Yusaku Matsumoto’s debut feature film boasts clever narrative skill and a host of fantastic performances, but is simply not remarkable enough to distinguish itself as anything more than white noise.
For a movie whose synopsis consists of a vague one-liner with airs of pretension, Noise is a deceptively complicated movie. The film opens to booming dubstep and a montage of characters stumbling through the streets of Akihabara, a district of Tokyo renowned for its beautiful night views, its shops selling cheap electronics, and its reputation as the hub for all things animated. Each of these characters has a place in the movie – though what that place is exactly is not revealed until about an hour into the film. This montage of scenes then loops, again and again, as the narrative replays itself in a Groundhog-Day-esque display; revealing more each time until the film comes to its unfortunately flat conclusion.
Noise is a movie about the past, and how its shadow can overwhelm so much of the present. Set eight years after an unprovoked stabbing spree in Akihabara, Noise follows the lives of several people, all affected by the event in one way or another. There is Misa, the struggling idol who works as a massage parlour attendant by day and performs in crowded, sweaty basements by night. There is Rie, the juvenile delinquent whose days are an endless stretch of playing hooky with her boyfriend Takuya, and her hopelessly lonely father, Mr Yamamoto. And last but certainly not least, there is Ken, a despondent Amazon delivery boy with hidden psychopathic tendencies, whose mother constantly extorts money from him in a vicious cycle of guilt and emotional blackmail. If it wasn’t already evident from these descriptions, Noise excels as a character study, with its population of incredibly nuanced figures. None of these storylines ever receive a concrete resolution, as a statement of how the past never truly dies, and the human struggle is everlasting. Tokyo has long since been a city used as a backdrop for loneliness and societal disconnection, and Matsumoto masterfully crafts each of his characters in a plausible and affecting manner; driven to the way they are now by both the world around them as well as their own internal problems.
It is not very often that one finds a movie so badly edited that it is an assault on the senses to experience. But Noise is, unfortunately, one of those
Misa, in particular, could be said to be the star of the show. Her dysfunctional relationship with her formerly abusive (and now-repentant) father is handled gracefully and sensitively, while on the other hand, her life eking out a living at a massage parlour kissing older men through cling wrap and singing in dingy basements does not shy away from revealing the darker sides to fringe youth cultures in Japan and the intimacy trade that stops just short of sex. Played by the mesmerising Kokoro Shinozaki, Misa’s storyline is the standout in Noise for its gritty depiction of the pitfalls of idol culture and the seedy underbelly of the trade – a topic which is often either ignored or avoided in both Japan and the Western world thanks to the fetishisation of such cultures – and will, without a doubt, remain resonant with audiences who have experienced Japan’s anime/idol culture without giving much thought to what lies beneath its surface.
Second to Misa’s remarkable character study is Ken’s story. Perhaps another viewer would be more inclined to decide that his story is the most relevant to modern culture instead of Misa – which would be fair, if one was inclined to put aside the fact that the tragedy in his life is a tragic Japanese archetype that has been reused time and again in other films; of the young, hardworking boy with neglectful parents and a steadily accruing pile of debt, in spite of his ambitious participation in online university courses to improve his prospects. Arguably, this is subverted by his own psychopathic tendencies – Ken enjoys recording hateful messages and replaying them into the phone so randomly chosen targets can share in his hatred of life. But the character is played with such a flaccid brand of vitriol that it is not a remarkable enough subversion of the archetype to count as something much more. However, the fact remains that the acting is far more than simply plausible (indeed, genuinely menacing at times), and Noise once again provides a valid and relevant comment, this time on parental neglect and working-class struggle, through Ken as a mouthpiece.
Its multi-layered characters allow audiences to understand the inner workings of a tragedy much better
At other times, though, Noise simply falls flat; no more distinguishable from white noise in how bland and ill-edited it is. Although some of the cinematography is truly remarkable, especially in dimly-lit night scenes reminiscent of the best noir films out there, most of the shots are completely washed out, and some are even so flat and beige to the point that it looks as if the movie was filmed through a very oily camera lens. The sound editing is god-awful, and to some effect this makes the film at times nigh on unwatchable. While it does admittedly provide some symbolic commentary – when idols sing, it is hardly the slick, auto-tuned radio fare one expects, but a garbled mess of feedback and badly-produced backing tracks, which in turn subverts the very idea of idol culture and its fetishisation – it only does so at select points in the film, which is otherwise deafening and physically uncomfortable to listen to at such a loud volume. It is not very often that one finds a movie so badly edited that it is an assault on the senses to experience. But Noise is, unfortunately, one of those.
That is not to say that Noise is a bad film, though. Its multi-layered characters allow audiences to understand the inner workings of a tragedy much better; sympathising with its victims and knowing their pain, while also understanding what could drive someone to commit terrible acts of violence. Its poor execution may hamper its overall effect as a big-screen experience, but its message remains clear, and will remain with audiences long after the end credits roll.
‘Noise’ is now playing at the Raindance Film Festival 2017, taking place from 20th September to 1st October. Information and tickets here.
Image: Raindance Film Festival 2017