Sunday, July 26, 2020

Japan Cuts ’20: Voices in the Wind

Nearly 16,000 souls were documented killed as a result of the 3/11 Fukushima hurricane and tsunami. Over 2,500 are still listed as missing, denying their next-of-kin the catharsis of final closure. Haru is related to three of them: her parents and little brother. She found a home of sorts with her Aunt Hiroki, but she even loses her to a stroke (presumably). With nobody left to lose, Haru feels compelled to travel home in Nobuhiro Suwa’s elegiac road movie, Voices in the Wind, which screens as part of the Japan Society’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film (all virtual this year).

Haru is a sad young woman, but Hiroki is patient and understanding. Haru probably only realizes how so, after discovering her comatose. The collective totality of her loss sends Haru off on a compulsion to visit her old home, but it will involve a long, not well-thought-out trek. Fortunately, she encounters several people willing to help her, because they share a similar sense of grief and survivor’s guilt.

For a while, it seems like Japan is a paradise for hitchhikers and runaways. However, Haru eventually escapes a potentially ominous encounter only through the intercession of Morio, a former power plant employee, whose daughter would have been Haru’s age. He has been living out of his minivan, but he agrees to return to their home district with Haru, after taking a detour through Tokyo in hopes of finding Mehmet, a Kurdish immigrant who volunteered for the Fukushima rescue effort.

takes its title from the final impromptu leg of Haru’s journey, which almost seems spoilerish. Yet, even when you know—as the festival description and prior reviews have revealed—Haru ends her trip at the so-called “wind telephone” booth (where survivors place “calls” to deceased loved ones), the scene is still emotionally devastating.

It is truly a remarkable performance from 17-year-old Serena Motola, culminating in the extremely cinematic phone booth. She never resorts to cheap shtick, but instead she expresses the depth of Haru’s sorrow through her haunted eyes and twitchy body language.

Motola is definitely the star, but Hidetoshi Nishijima matches her quiet power as Morio, deserving accolades and even award consideration of his own. In fact, the entire ensemble is perfectly cast and scores direct shots at the audience’s reeling hearts. Everyone in the lineup hits for extra bases, but Tomokazu Miura and Shoko Ikezu are definitely standouts as Yohei (the laborer who first helps Haru), and the mother of her best friend, who was literally swept out of her grip by the Tsunami waters.

Suwa had been making films in France, but he was compelled to return home to tell this story, co-written by Kyoko Inukai, much like his protagonist. Admittedly, it is a bit of a slow start, but Suwa and Motola justify our investment and forbearance. This is a moving drama, but it is also unusually honest in the way it presents bereavement and uncertainty. Highly recommended as one of the best 3/11-related narrative films,
Voices in the Wind screens virtually through July 30th, as part of the 2020 Japan Cuts.