The Whispering Star first published by SciFiNow
A title reads ‘Saturday’, and we see a tap on a kitchen sink dripping. ‘Sunday’, reads a new caption, and the tap is still dripping. From early on, it is clear that Sion Sono’s The Whispering Star (Hiso hiso boshi, 2015) is going to be concerned with time. As we watch Yoko Suzuki (Megumi Kagurazaka, Sono’s wife and a regular in his films since 2010’s Cold Fish) going about her everyday routines in the kitchen, the fluid continuity of this ordinary housewife’s actions is regularly punctuated by yet more titles with yet more days. Time passes.
What takes longer for us to realise is that this traditional-looking domestic space is in fact the interior of a spaceship – whose exterior, too, resembles a classic Japanese wooden house – and that Yoko is an android courier who has hired this whimsical retro vehicle to deliver packages to a diaspora of humans scattered throughout the universe. In a future where teleportation makes instant contact possible, Yoko’s more old-fashioned mission takes decades, connecting humans to their loved ones via messages that are deeply deferred.
Shot in monochrome to suggest the dreary drudgery of Yoko’s existence (save for one unexpected full-colour window on reality) and with all its lines spoken in subdued tones (in keeping with the title), The Whispering Star gently parcels out its messages about memory, loss, longing and loneliness over a leisurely duration. Sono wrote his first draft for the film 20 years before he made it, but the devastation of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which had already preoccupied Sono’s Himizu and The Land of Hope also finds its way into the texture of The Whispering Star. Accordingly, the abandoned towns, fields and coastlines of Fukushima double as the different planets which Yoko visits, while real Fukushima residents play the exiled Earthlings. Meanwhile Yoko keeps a captain’s log (on an old reel-to-reel player) and boxes up her own banal but treasured object – signs that she too yearns to connect.
Strap: Sion Sono’s artfully elegant sci-fi spin on memory and mortality is the full package.
© Anton Bitel