Japan Cuts 2016: The Whispering Star (Shion Sono)

by Jason Suzuki

In what was a defining year for Sion Sono, 2015 saw the release of five films helmed by the popular export, who has become known for films that are in your face and what you would except from a guy who wears a t-shirt that reads "Fuck Shit Bitch." Two of these 2015 films were from scripts written by the man twenty years prior: Love & Peace and The Whispering Star. This slow paced, post apocalyptic feature starring his wife Megumi Kagurazaka as an android tasked with delivering packages intergalactically turns out to be the standout film from Sono and his best since Why Don't You Play in Hell? Granted, I have not seen Shinjuku Swan nor The Virgin Psychics which feature Gou Ayano and boners respectively, both of which have proven to be enjoyable in the realm of film. But what The Whispering Star has going for it is its outlier qualities in Sono's work. It's contemplative and glacial, more concerned with mood than story.

While unfortunate, it's proven to be a good thing that no one would take a chance on this film back when Sono first conceived it. For one we wouldn't have Kagurazaka in the lead role of android Yoko Suzuki as the two wouldn't meet until 2010's Cold Fish. But more importantly this story of an android delivering small, quotidian mementos of life to the remaining humans in the galaxy is rendered even more powerful with the integration of Fukushima and the events of 3/11. Many scenes were filmed in Fukushima and packages in Yoko's cargo are dated 3.11. The film uses the real people who have chosen to remain in their homes. We watch Yoko deliver packages we later find each containing an item a piece that range from single photographs, a cigarette butt, all reminders of a distant past. The act of choosing her slower delivery service over teleportation is yet another reminder of this previous way of life as Yoko suggests.

In between scenes of deliveries the rest of the movie is her intergalactic travel. She dresses like a housewife, spending her days cleaning, interacting with her malfunction ship's AI, and recording her travels to tape. It's mainly her stating how long she has been out in space. Scenes in space are broken up by intertitles stating the day of the week. We see the same action split in two by the passing of a day. It speaks to the repetition of Yoko's life, the way time works during space travel, but most importantly is a temporal dislocation achieving the same effect Un chien andalou had by using it to jump forward months. In effect, it renders time meaningless; fitting for a world creeping towards a hushed apocalypse.

The Whispering Star plays Saturday, July 16th at Japan Cuts.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.