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-type 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 YI JIAN on Letterboxd
The sudden burst of loneliness that comes after the realization that we are standing amidst billions of planets and galaxies -- encapsulated into film. All these personal memoirs, souvenirs, belongings, how insignificant they are when compared to the larger scale of time and space. In the future, humans are frozen in time. They wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, while contemplating, always longing for nothing but the past. In this world, only the emotionless are allowed to progress forward, perhaps the parcels delivered by Yoko are supposed to indicate a wake-up call? You can almost feel the emptiness of human sentiment just from the ridiculous size difference between the shoe box, and the mere photograph lying inside; how pathetic we are, from the eyes of a machine, yet Yoko, like Wall- E, she's slowly, very slowly, starting to learn.
★★★★ review by Wilson on Letterboxd
The Whispering Star works in almost complete opposition to everything else Sion Sono has made. He is a director attracted to putting everything on screen. An over-abundance of jokes, camera moves, nudity, violence and plot. He is cinema's most exciting maximalist. The Whispering Star stands out as it is a film defined by its static camera, black and white cinematography and wispy character sketches. However, like any Sion Sono film it is filled with ideas.
The Whispering Star is formally about what it means to be human. Like Under the Skin, but with a quotidian focus that belies its Science-Fiction trappings. This is a spaceship of leaking taps, faltering computers, moths trapped in light-fixtures. The film slowly moves, punctuated by amusing interstitial titles focused on time, as Megumi Kagurazaka, as an android delivers packages around a galaxy where humans have been blown to the wind. The loneliness of the interactions, highlighted by the black and white photograph, is dramatic. The one burst of colour, revelatory.
I have uncharitably thought of Megumi Kagurazaka in the past, based on films like Guilty of Romance and Cold Fish, as basically fulfilling the function of hysterical cleavage. However, here she is really great. Subtle, downplayed, lacking warmth, but still humane, if not human. The film is predominantly about her face, rather than her actions.
The Whispering Star clearly, deliberately invokes Fukushima. The haunting survivors of a great tragedy. The empty street. The wild nature. Over-run towns. The silence. It is a film, using tragedy to invoke a sci-fi setting. It is also mature and sensitive. The scenes between Megumi Kagurazaka and the non-actor extras are handled with surprising maturity by Sono.
The Whispering Star is a mature work, from a director who is almost impossibly immature. It is contemplative and ruminative; it is thoughtful and full of ideas. It is nothing like the rest of his over-flowing filmography. It is intelligent, humane sci-fi. A wonderful film which invokes Andrei Tarkovsky (literally at one point, copying his famous scene with the lit match being carried back and forth) and does it with revery and without failing. It perhaps doesn't have the beauty of Tarkovsky's visuals, or the limitless philosophical intellect, but this film is a rather fully-formed, meditative piece of work.
A tremendous minimal sci-fi film from the most unexpected source.
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