On the remote island of Shishikari lies a tight-knit community in no hurry to join the rest of Japan in a fast-paced, ultra-modern lifestyle. As the island’s economy struggles due to its isolated nature, one of its residents, Keita (Fujiwara Tatsuya), has created a lucrative business growing black figs, which have become a hot commodity on the mainland. Keita’s venture is set to bring a large government grant to the island that would help revitalize the community.
When Keita returns home one afternoon, he notices his young daughter has gone missing. Frantic, he calls his childhood best friends, Jun (Matsuyama Ken'ichi) and Shin (Kamiki Ryūnosuke). As they search for Keita’s daughter, they come across a man acting suspiciously (Watanabe Daichi) and confront him about the young girl’s disappearance. An accident ensues and Keita and his friends are left to deal with a corpse, a web of lies, and the fact that the island may lose its grant if Keita is discovered to be involved.
Despite knowing who killed whom within the first 30 minutes of the film, Noise still has twists and turns up its sleeve. The film interestingly turns the murder mystery genre on its head by taking the perspective of, seemingly and debatably, “innocent” murderers rather than taking the manhunt or police procedural route. Instead, the film attempts to grapple with the timeless moral debate of the one versus the many. However, it does so with a light touch.
Directed by Hiroki Ryūichi, the themes presented in Noise are far greater in theory than in execution. The questions asked in the film (namely, is one life worth more than another depending on their social input/output?) are compelling, but Noise becomes so drawn out and muddled with subplots and side characters, the original sentiment is lost. Unfortunately, this is further exacerbated by some uneven performances by the cast.
As a murder-cover-up movie, Noise works well enough. The efforts to conceal the original crime are entertainingly complicated, a dark turn is taken when the lies become too much, and there is one final satisfying twist at the very end of the film. It could be argued it’s done for shock value, but even with the plot taking a turn at the eleventh hour, the twist fits into Noise organically without feeling tacked on.
Noise has the foundations for a very intriguing story — those foundations being a manga of the same name by Tsutsui Tetsuya, which the film’s script is based on. But when adapting the story to film, a lot of complexity is lost. Hiroki loads the screen with bright visuals and a beautiful score (full of classical music echoing throughout the island) that just aren’t enough to pull everything together to create an exceptionally tight, thrilling drama.
The Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival is in-person and online from November 9 to 20.