Noise (ノイズ) – Film Review

In his debut feature writer, director, and producer Matsumoto Yasuke unveils the secrets and dark sides to Tokyo’s popular culture powerhouse city, Akihabara, inviting his audience to question the ways in which we approach tragedy, pain, and perseverance in the gritty and grimy neo-noir film Noise (ノイズ).

Set in the bustling hub of Akihabara, a verifiable playground for all elements of popular otaku (fan) culture such as anime, gaming, and idol sub-culture, Noise follows the coincidentally intertwined lives of Misa (Shinozaki Kokoro) an underground idol singer and JK masseuse, Ken (Suzuki Kosuke) a quiet and embittered delivery man, and Rie (Anjo Urara) a rebellious teen who hangs out with local thugs, as they try to navigate the pitfalls of growing up in the lower echelons of Japanese society. Through a non-linear timeline, Matsumoto explores every inch of his characters’ lives and presents his audience with a richly detailed tapestry of sadness and struggle.

After losing her mother in the 2008 Akihabara Massacre when a delivery man drove his truck into a crowd of pedestrians and began to brutally stab passersby, Misa seems only capable of distracting herself rather than working through her trauma. Living with her emotionally unavailable and violent father, Misa spends her days and nights working to fulfill the fantasies of others as an underground idol singer and JK (joshi kōsei or high school girl) masseuse, a form of modern sex work that allows for everything short of intercourse between a masseuse and their client. Toeing the line between being a performer and prostitute, Misa embodies these personas as a way to shield herself from the trauma of her childhood. Acted with a soft and impressionable sadness by Shinozaki, whose own teenage years were spent working the same jobs as her character, viewers are urged to feel sympathy for her the most. Behind her giggle, oversized clothing and crooked-tooth smile is a young woman sheltering an immeasurable load of anguish.

Parallel to Misa’s physically abusive father is Ken and his emotionally abusive mother. Meek and unimpressionable, Ken and his mother live in a squalid apartment where his measly part-time cheque is barely enough to sustain them through her poor habits. Constantly pestering him for money he doesn’t have and leaving him to the mercy of her loan sharks and landlord, Ken’s life is far from ideal. Unlike Misa, however, Ken has a dormant violent streak that appears in the form of threatening phone calls and diary entries. Escalating rapidly, Ken’s live fuse of a personality is impressionable, if not incredibly disturbing. However, it is relatively easy to find a shred of sympathy for his case as he grapples with his mother’s increasingly poor treatment of him.

Unlike Misa and Ken, however, is school girl Rie who seems to relish being a terrible child. Fuelled by her boyfriend and friends “cool” albeit morally absent choices, Rie is awful to her caring and eager father – constantly ignoring or belittling him – and partakes in group activities such as assaulting homeless people. Her attitude towards people gradually drives a wedge through her life, eventually resulting in her being left feeling lost and alone. Rie doesn’t seem to have an immediately recognisable catalyst for her behaviour, offering her character very little redemption and therefore resulting in her being the least likeable of the film’s leads.

In an effort to highlight even the subtle underbelly of Akihabara, Matsumoto cleverly utilises a low colour gradient, muting every scene of his film to a grainy quality that not only provides a pleasant aesthetic, but  in doing so creates a connection between the nighttime and daytime businesses and activities that make up the sketchiest parts of Akihabara. From its violent inhabitants to brightly advertised brothels masked as health clubs, Akihabara is brimming with debauchery. Overlaid with a flurry of obnoxiously loud dubstep, trance music, and unidentifiable noises, Matsumoto is brilliantly able to conjure up the feelings of uncertainty, urgency and displacement that are present in his characters, in a way that feels more tangible and accessible.

Each of Matsumoto’s primary characters represents the variables of life. At any given point in our lives we are experiencing trauma, frustration, despair, anxiety, sadness, and pain. What Matsumoto seeks to do through his characters’ individual experiences is provide the smallest glimmer of hope that eventually, one day, we will crawl out the other side stronger and more secure.

Noise is part of the 2019 Japanese Film Festival.
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