Voice

International Premiere | In Competition

 

Guest star:
MISHIMA Yukiko, director
YAMASAKI Shimpei, producer

 

Japanese omnibus films have long been showcases for new and upcoming directors, while critics have tended to grade their segments from the strongest to the weakest. But veteran directors like Hamaguchi Ryusuke (Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy) and Nakamura Mayu (She Is Me, I Am Her) have recently released omnibuses of uniformly excellent quality, making the ranking-chart review seem beside the point.

That is also true of Mishima Yukiko’s new omnibus Voice on the theme of life-long trauma. Scripted and co-produced by Mishima, the film was inspired by the director’s own experience with sexual assault as a girl. It does not, however, tip over into personal confession.

The film uses a variety of narrative strategies and stylistic tropes to knit its three segments into a coherent, powerful whole, as its protagonists reveal, with a raw immediacy, emotional wounds the decades have not healed.

The three stand-alone segments unfold in widely separated parts of the country, but all feature boats and bodies of water that signal a symbolic connection, with main characters embarked on long, lonely psychic voyages.

The first we meet is Maki (Carrousel Maki), who long ago transitioned from male to female. Living alone in a spacious villa by Lake Toya in Hokkaido, she prepares New Year’s dishes that look as though they belong on the pages of a lifestyle magazine.

But when her daughter Masako (Kataoka Reiko) arrives with her husband and teenaged daughter, the tension is palpable from the moment they walk in the door. Masako has long resented Maki’s favoritism for her sister Reiko, who died in tragic circumstances after she was sexually abused 47 years ago. In a searing performance by veteran trans talent Maki, we see that the pain of Reiko’s death has never diminished.

The scene shifts to Hachijojima, an island south of Tokyo that was once a place of exile.

Islanders, we are told, have traditionally used taiko drums to not only perform in a distinctive style, but also to communicate their feelings to each other. One is a rough-hewn farmer (Aikawa Sho) confronted with the sudden return, after five years, of his pregnant daughter Umi (Matsumoto Kiyo), whom he raised after her mother died.

Umi, however, tries to hide her condition and when her father finds damning information about her partner, angry drumming can be heard on the soundtrack. A one-time star of straight-to-video gangster films, Aikawa as the father is likeably human, while giving his role the needed dangerous edge.

We next meet another Reiko (Maeda Atsuko), who leaves a ferry for the funeral of a former boyfriend in the Dojima district of Osaka. Wandering alone afterwards, she is approached by a hustler (Bando Ryota) who calls himself Toto Moretti and offers to be her lover for the night. Reiko plays along and, once they have become intimate, bluntly tells him why, as memories of a childhood rape surface. Maeda’s all-stops-out performance is chilling, moving and cathartic.

A final chapter juxtaposes Maki and Reiko, their experiences with trauma echoing each other, even at their responses – and fates – diverge. Voice may feel, in its first and last segments especially, like a plunge into an eternal darkness of the soul, but it holds out the possibility of light, if you don’t let your past define you. Its accomplished director, more than anyone, should know.
Mark Schilling
Film director: MISHIMA Yukiko
Year: 2024
Running time: 118'
Country: Japan
26/04 - 2:30 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
26-04-2024 14:30 26-04-2024 16:28Europe/Rome Voice Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org
Online in Italy on Saturday, April 27, 2024 from 8 pm to 11:59 pm (cest)

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