The Whispering Star [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Third Window Films
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (22nd July 2018).
The Film

"The Whispering Star" 「ひそひそ星」 (2015)

Yoko (played by Megumi Kagurazaka) is an android whose job it is to deliver packages to surviving humans across the galaxy. With just over 80 packages to deliver before her shift is due and a clone to replace her, the years aboard the small ship is made with her doing very human activities. From washing, ironing, cleaning, sewing, as well as making tape recorded messages to her future clones and upkeeping her battery life. As a machine, there are many things that Yoko cannot understand fully about humans especially with the inanimate objects being sent by delivery that could take years time, but with her time crossing space and her little interactions with people on the distant planets, she starts to understand little by little of what it means to be human.

Director Sion Sono's works "Himizu" (2011) and "The Land of Hope" were both made just after the devastating March 11th 2011 earthquake that caused more than 15,000 deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes due to damage as well as radiation from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Both films dealt with life in areas devastated by disaster, neither clearly mentioned Fukushima though it was evident that the issues were clear as day. In addition the films were partially filmed on location in Fukushima as Sono wanted to showcase the region and give awareness to the situation rather than the simplistic media reports and how the government was not helping the areas or helping the displaced people enough. Both films were highly praised around the world though in Japan some thought they were "too soon" to be told. Sono would return to Fukushima for his project "The Whispering Star" three years later, but there were still thousands of people who lived in shelters, areas completely abandoned with no major progress with more overgrown vegetation than people.

"The Whispering Star" is more abstract than the previous two Fukushima films, echoing the works of Andrei Tarkovsky, Michelangelo Antonioni and Alain Resnais with very little in terms of dialogue, indirect consequences, and isolation. The science fiction element of the android on a spaceship is not realistic in terms of science fact. Indoors it looks closer to a small Japanese apartment with its tiny kitchen and decor. Outside it does not seem like a spaceship either with with a standard Japanese roof with shingles and a television antenna. It may look closer to something akin to flying in "Spaceballs" the film couldn't be farther from the parody. While Sono's films such as "Love Exposure" or "Tokyo Tribe" were outlandishly wild, and "Exte" or "Suicide Club" were disturbing bizarre horror pieces, "The Whispering Star" is an art film that is truly different from anything he has done in the past. It may alienate some fans. It may create new fans. It is a deeply personal film as it comes from an idea from more than twenty years prior, and fully realized with the devastation of Fukushima as the backdrop.

As stated the film does not bash over the heads of audiences with critique over Fukushima's handling by the government or how the average Japanese person has forgotten what the people have to go through every day in shelters. The basic story is an android trying to learn what it means to be human while mostly living in isolation. The fact that humans in this world (or universe) are not allowed to speak over 30db as it could cause death is a very minor idea, rather than how loud sounds could cause death as seen in "A Quiet Place" (2018). It's an inconsequential point but it makes the Japanese audience try to listen to the dialogue more carefully. By shooting the film in sepia tinted black and white, the abandoned areas of Fukushima that doubles as the desolate planets look otherworldly and give a bit of distance from reality. It obvious to the current Japanese eye, but will it be fore non-Japanese audiences? Will it have the same effect for audiences decades in the future? Possibly not. It may have an all new effect if another disaster occurs, and that's something entirely inevitable. The film does have its flaws with its emphasis on the abstract and slow moving narrative and a climax and ending that don't seem very conclusive. With its strengths and weaknesses, "The Whispering Star" is an interesting watch that is very different from Sono and one that is sure to divide his fans.

The film was not a major awards winner and was not a widely seem film by audiences theatrically. The Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) gave the film a special award citing "For its poetic, moving and brave attempt to express a grief that's inexpressible, combining all too real elements with lo-fi sci-fi, the NETPAC jury awards the prize to "The Whispering Star".

Note this is a region B Blu-ray and region 2 NTSC DVD set

Video

Third Window Films presents the film in the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The sepia-toned black and white footage (as well as minor instances of color) looks very good in this transfer. Shot in HD, it certainly has a flat look with everything from foregrounds and backgrounds looking sharp. Overall there is very little to fault with the image here.

The film's runtime is 101:33 on the Blu-ray and 101:27 on the DVD.

Note the screen shots are from the standard definition disc



















Audio

Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
The original 2.0 audio track is very sparse, and also barely considered stereo since most of the film is basically a mono track with few instances of stereo separation. Dialogue is obviously whispered so there may be some things hard to catch though it is clear throughout, and the sparse music also sounds great here. It's not a film that calls for 5.1 and is not necessary. No issues of hiss or cracks in the track, leaving a smooth and quietly satisfying experience.

There are optional English subtitles for the main feature in a white font.

Extras

This is a dual format Blu-ray+DVD release with both discs including the same content, with the Blu-ray having everything in HD while the DVD having everything in SD NTSC.


DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

"The Sion Sono" documentary (97:00)
This 2016 documentary directed by Arata Oshima, 「園子温という生きもの」 which literally translates as "The living creature named Sion Sono" is a portrait of the independent director through interviews, behind the scenes, and more. Notably there are pre-production footage and behind the scenes of "Whispering Star" and is interesting to see some of the sets and locations in color rather than the slightly sepia tinted black and white image of the finished film. Through interviews with Sono, he discusses the differences between independent and mainstream Japanese cinema, about his three films based on the March 11th 2011 earthquake and the displacement of people in Fukushima, as well as notes on his youth with home video footage, notebook scans, and a visit to his childhood home. There are additional interviews with his collaborating cast and crew, and even interviews with the hired extras for "Whispering Star" who are joyed to see that Sono is making films in the area when it seems like the rest of the country has abandoned them. An excellent documentary that is worth the pricetag alone.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English subtitles


DISC TWO (DVD Copy)
The film and documentary are carried over in standard definition NTSC.

The film was originally released on Blu-ray in Japan by Happinet in 2016, which included a director's commentary, a making-of featurette, photo gallery, and trailer plus a booklet and postcards in the case. The documentary "The Sion Sono" was originally released on DVD in Japan by Happinet in 2016, which included additional interviews plus a reproduction of Sono's high school movie review notes in the case. This Third Window Films release marks the first time the documentary received a Blu-ray release.

Packaging

The cover is reversible with the front side having the cover for "The Whispering Star" with its tech specs and synopsis while the opposite side has the cover for the documentary with its tech specs and synopsis. The package mistakenly states the documentary has 2.0 audio when in fact it has 5.1 audio.

Overall

"The Whispering Star" is a very elegant and quiet film to come from the mind of auteur Sion Sono, and is very different from anything he has ever done. It will likely scratch a few heads with its abstract expression and slow moving narrative, but viewers are surely to be rewarded. The Third Window Blu-ray+DVD set gives a great presentation with video and audio plus it adds an excellent feature length documentary making this very recommended.

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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