The Whispering Star

Directed by Sion Sono

Starring Megumi Kagurazaka

A humanoid robot deliverywoman muses on the mystery of human nature as she drops off parcels around the galaxy.

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  • ★★★★★ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd

    TIFF 2015 – Film #20

    Reason for pick – interesting premise as spotted in the TIFF description.

    More akin to a tone poem or a Haiku than a narrative driven film, The Whispering Star gently glides along drawing its audience into the life of A.I. Yoko Suzuki, machine ID 722, a robot delivery woman who brings parcels to the dwindling human population, now scattered amongst the stars. A.I.'s now vastly outnumber humankind.

    With a lineage that could be traced to Le Quattro Volte, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, The Turin Horse, and The Strange Little Cat, Battlestar Galactica and A.I., director Shion Sono constructs world where there is nothing but time; ‘It’s acceptable for packages to be a few years early or late’.

    Packages are always sent from human to human, and our robot protagonist spends her years in space travel contemplating why, particularly seeing that instantaneous teleportation has existed for years. With each human contact, she absorbs, and understands, a bit more.

    For the most part, the people she delivers to, and the planets they inhabit, are in tatters, but Sono frames them lovingly; one customer offers her his bicycle, and invites her for a drink. She replies ‘Next Time’, to which he responds ‘Remember, you will be young forever, .. come back before I’m dead’. That simple line hit like a bolt from the blue, and there is so much like it in this marvelous rumination on humankind and mecha, and how one effects the other.

    Whispering Star is also a non-judgemental observation of what we humans can do to ourselves with our obsession with technology, as the sets for the ‘planets’ that Yoko visits are in fact towns in and around Fukushima, and the customers that Yoko serves are their real inhabitants.

    Slow, lilting, and haunting in its minimalism, Whispering Star won’t be for everyone, but for those who connect with it, the connection will be deep.

  • ★★★★★ review by Lise on Letterboxd

    tiff 2015 film 22

    A cyborg Jeanne Dielman delivery person travels for 10 years in a dysfunctional Hal-controlled spaceship that looks like a Japanese trailer to planets that all look like tsunami ravaged and nuclear disaster site Fukushima to deliver parcels.

    It is the most original and quite possibly the most beautiful film I've seen in a very long time.

    Extremely slow paced, every minute of the film is detailed and important.

    Every encounter with the desolate planets is rich and textured and extremely poignant.

    I saw it as the story of Fukushima: the story of the dead and the story of the survivors.

    The survivors who left with nothing but the single most important item they could save.

    The survivors who stayed in their hometown and continue to live as best they can.

    The man who gets overcome with joy at hearing the sound of a tin can hitting the pavement, in his now silent world.

    The woman still sitting at her tobacco stand on the ghost-filled beach.

    The final scene, an Ode to Joy, is as poignant and beautiful as I've ever seen.

    The Whispering Star will not be for everyone, but for the lucky ones it will be amazing.

  • ★★★★★ review by pirs on Letterboxd

    Imagine Kubrick directing something like "Eraserhead meets Stalker" and you get Shion Sono's The Whispering Star.

    Machines have taken over the galaxy. Humans are now scarce and wander throughout space, usually taking refuge on abandoned planets. The film follows a cyborg who delivers packages to them.

    It's a minimalist film. The black and white and absence of outer sounds emphasize that. During 90% of the movie, the only sound you can hear (other than the cyborg's and its spaceship AI's voice) is whatever she's doing. Cleaning, opening a faucet, breaking things.

    The landing planets the cyborg visits are actually modern day Fukushima and the humans she meets there are not actors; they're people that live on the area. Deserted, decadent, destroyed. It does perfectly fit a pessimistic future.

    There's also an interesting underlying theme: most times when the cyborg makes a delivery, they give something back. May be a way of telling us every person we meet and experience we have changes and shapes us.

    Essentially unique and technically impeccable, The Whispering Star is must watch cinema.

  • ★★★★½ review by A_lonely_grape on Letterboxd

    My dad is really into hard sci-fi. A conversation we have a lot is whether or not film can retreat the level of complexity of Ian Banks or Greg Egan, and he and I agree that they properly can't. A function of a novel, in some part needs to be explanation, hard science fiction has the ability to weave explanation of the world with the science together. Film on the other hand, for the sake of structure and visual story telling, can't go into the dense amounts of detail a novel can. There's a only a handful of writers working today that are able to make dumps of philosophy both engaging and congruent to their film's universe, and thats without the need to explain the inner workings of artificially intelligent ships or micro-computers.

    What our medium does have, is poetry. Moments of quite, the human impact that this technology will have on use is able to be captured in a way that only visual really can I think. Seeing Megumi Kagurazaka live in Sono's world is an experience that I really think only visuals can capture. Her reflection as she stares into the emptiness of space, lived in, but minimalist production design, its all uniquely, poetically, cinematic. this is sion sono's masterpiece. this rivals hard to be a god for best sci-fi film of the decade.

  • ★★★★ review by Emma Fogarty on Letterboxd

    The whispering star

    The whispering star is a Japanese science-fiction drama film directed by Sion Sono, 100 minutes long, following the routine of a future postal worker in a universe where not much of humanity remains. Megumi Kagurazaka stars in the lead role.

    I am no stranger to the works of Sion Sono, however while I’m aware he has ventured into lower key, more normal work such as Land of hope, I feel most at home and familiar with the deranged side of his filmmaking resume.

    I chanced the beginning of whisper star last night but it felt off and strange a film to me for him, a second look and after taking a bit to get into it I began to feel it as a refreshing and change of pace effort from Sono.

    Shadows, reflections and fine framing feature in whispering star, shots of those dolls, the dog statue and that insect going still emphasize the stillness of life in this future where mankind has dwindled due ( an old, but still effective theme). Messages might then take on the silent voices of the might be dead searching for the maybe still living years on to reach them.

    I’d go as far to say that shadows, especially considering the final ten minutes of this film, beat out Shuji Terayama’s clever use of them in his short film, The woman with two heads.

    It is in those final ten minutes I was able to feel the whole thing, get the whole connection I was worried I wouldn’t be getting despite being into the slow, airy, low key atmosphere, it adds another star to what was up to that point a solid mood piece. Kagurazaka, who I remember from Sono’s okay Guilty of Romance greatly surprised me here, playing a character a million miles away in range from that film.

    Sono achieves humanize that robot radio thing that features in this film and on top of that, his camera is the sort that captures just about anything and despite how mundane it looks, gives it a sense of something to really look at, it’s a great use of black and white as well.

    While obviously there’s a moodiness to the film it is not without some humour or hope. Also get a load of that rumination on teleportation =P

    A review on letterboxd, alludes to the Fukushima incident and that people in this film lived in the area and it was shot there, a nice touch, but not being Japanese, I fear the effect is slightly lost on me there.

    If this is what to expect of gentle Sono, then I think I may have been missing out by not getting round to watching Land of hope.

    This may even be a good choice for those who are not especially into Sono's films to look into.

    Verdict: ****

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