Hiso hiso boshi [The Whispering Star] (2015)

Dripping water.

A pot of tea, a screw lying loose on the floor, moths trapped inside the light fixture, clothes in the washing machine.

Space travel is slow, time-consuming, and there is little to distinguish one day from the next.

But that doesn’t matter if you are a robot.

Yoko Suzuki is an android whose job is to go from planet to planet making deliveries.  Transporters have long been available, which will allow you to ship goods instantly across space, but for some strange reason she cannot understand, the dwindling number of humans in this machine dominated Galaxy still insist on sending certain things by courier, even though it may take years for them to arrive.

This is not a film for everyone.

It is deliberately slow and thoughtful, with long scenes in which little happens — and long, repetitive segments dealing with Yoko’s daily routine.  All the dialogue is said in a whisper.  It is easy to get impatient.

But The Whispering Star is also a beautiful film, with a strange retro look and an odd, quiet sense of humor.  Except for one, surprising moment of color, the film is in a soft, dreamy black and white, which makes even broken concrete and rubble look good.

Sion Sono is a bit of a cult figure in Japan, where’s he’s turned out a lot of strange films.  However, after countless manic films, he chose this time to create something far more thoughtful — and thought provoking.

There’s a fairly-well fleshed-out world — or worlds — behind the action.  Mankind spread out into the stars with the help of his computers and robots, but his relatively short lifespan has made him superfluous.  So the human race is in decline and slowly dying off…

Sion shot his crumbling worlds in the abandoned ruins left behind in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, which gives the whole film a feeling of loneliness and desolation.  It is startlingly effective and he found some truly remarkable locations.

Then there is Yoko’s rented ship, which looks like an old Japanese cottage from the outside — with rocket engines sticking out of the back — and on the inside seems very mundane, like a cheap and somewhat spartan Japanese apartment, with power cables everywhere and a control panel and windshield at one end of the main room.

Perhaps the central moment in the film comes when Yoko gradually becomes more curious about the work she is doing and why, and starts opening the boxes in the cargo, only to be surprised by what she finds.  Or perhaps it is when she meets someone she is attracted to, even if she isn’t willing to admit it to herself.

I find myself amazed by just how beautiful the outer space scenes are, with their dense starscapes filled with Nebulae, and impeccable modelwork (and I’m reasonably certain that it is a model, and not just CGI) for her eccentric ship.  Somehow, with such a deliberately low-fi spaceship interior, with a computer like an old time radio and an ancient faucet which leaks, I expected that the space effects would be primitive, either slapped together models shot poorly or terrible CGI (or, as in Cory MacAbee’s films — which The Whispering Star does strongly resemble — little more than still photos).  Instead they are lovely and memorable — even if they are in black and white.

The Whispering Star is a lovely meditation on what it means to be human in a world that is increasingly mechanized and seems to have less and less room for the merely human things.  For those willing to accept it’s slow rhythms, this is a stunning and almost hypnotic film, one which says so much with so few words.  As I said, it isn’t for everyone — and, sadly, it is rather hard to find.  But it is worth the effort for those who can sit back and let it flow over them.

And it is nowhere near as difficult as a Tarkovsky film.

For those of you who are more adventurous, who are not afraid to try foreign films, or arty films, or films which don’t fit into any of the neat and expected categories, you are missing out on a unique and wondrous movie which you need to watch.

It won’t be easy.  It isn’t readily available here in the U.S.

But it will be worth the effort.

Buy from Amazon (Region B-2.  Multi-region BluRay required — Paid Link):



And check out our new Feature (Updated June 11, 2020):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!

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