What makes someone take off on a homicidal rampage? First time director Yusaku Matsumoto attempts to find out by examining the down and dirty backstreets of Akihabara eight years after a mass killing shook the nation. Dealing with trauma, the death of the family, the precarious position of vulnerable young women pulled into an industry they don’t quite understand, economic insecurity, underground idols, and general nihilistic hopelessness Matsumoto has certainly conjured enough noise to drive even the most level of heads to distraction but once again, it is the city itself which eats its young in the indifferent frenzy of modern life.
Eight years ago, Misa’s mother was one of several people murdered by a lone assailant who drove a truck into a busy pedestrian intersection in Akihabara before getting out and stabbing random passersby. Misa is now making a go of it as an “underground idol” – young girls who sing and dance in clubs in Akihabara but don’t have recording contracts or big studios behind them. When not performing on stage she makes ends meet by working in the “massage parlour’ attached to the studio where she provides sexualised services but not actual sex to met who pay a flat rate on the door and then pick their particular activities off the menu inside.
Meanwhile, delivery driver Ken lives a lonely and miserable existence with his hedonistic mother who rolls in drunk early in the morning and constantly badgers her son for money. Ken would like to better himself and escape his dreadful living conditions, but his mother disagrees and disapproves of him spending his money on online courses rather than giving it all to her. Ken’s mother is also in trouble with the same loanshark gangsters which (secretly) run Misa’s club.
The third plot strand follows high school girl Rie and her lonely father who looks after grandpa at home and tries to reconnect with his daughter but can’t seem to get through to her. Rie chases a delinquent boyfriend she fantasises about trapping through pregnancy before getting herself mixed up with gangsters and embroiled in the same world as Misa but with no one looking out for her.
The strongest theme which runs through the film is that of familial breakdown. All of the protagonists come from one parent families in which the remaining parent has largely failed in their responsibilities. Though this seemingly deliberate approach is unfortunate in playing into the stigma surrounding atypical families, it is certainly true that none of the young people has any access to support from the older generation. Misa’s father had long been abusive even before her mother died, gambling the family money away betting on the horses and spending his life at home drinking. Now seemingly reformed (though not perhaps free of gambling), he wants to try again but it may already be too late.
Similarly, Rie’s father does his best – coming home from work on time, cooking proper meals, and trying to take an interest but he can’t get through to his angry teenage daughter and is also preoccupied by the need to care for his aged, bedridden father. In a strange coincidence he ends up visiting Misa’s underground idol bar where he takes a liking to Misa precisely because she looks a little bit like Rie. Nicknamed Yama-chan by the girls, Rie’s father’s attempts to forge a connection with a look-a-like of his own daughter take on a painfully tender quality of muddled, misdirected affection but a quick look around the rest of the club makes plain it’s not so far removed from the massage parlour as one might think. One of the other regular patrons is a colleague of Ken’s who seems to have little else in his life apart from underground idols, spending his life in the club buying false connection through Polaroid photos and handshakes. What the girls are selling isn’t sex but (false) kindness, providing a facsimile of the love each of these disconnected men is seeking but either thinks themselves unworthy of or is unable to find out in the “real” world.
Ken looks down on these men, he doesn’t understand why they waste their lives in vacuous pursuits of empty pleasure, but his own life, which has been more or less ruined by his irresponsible mother, holds little pleasure of its own. Reading books about mass killings and inspired by the 2008 mass murder, Ken repeatedly makes nuisance phone calls to the police station which arrested the killer threatening to commit a similar crime himself. Flat broke, abandoned, evicted, and with no future possibilities it’s little wonder he feels as backed into a corner as he does but Ken’s final, raw phone call in which the policeman on the other end tries to reassure him that hope does exist proves the last straw in his ever fracturing mental state.
In trying to answer the question why someone might want to kill others, Matsumoto does indeed blame noise. Misa, in giving a painful to camera interview looking back on the massacre reveals that she took all of her anger and internalised it, hurting herself rather than others. Ken, by contrast, seems to burn with rage permanently on the brink of explosion. Rie tries to find the peace she couldn’t find in her own family by starting a new one but is extremely deluded by her choice of mate and then deluded once again by a man faking kindness but thinking only of commerce. All of this desperation – the exploitation, the gangsters, the dire economic prospects of neglected children, conspire to push the already strained closer to the edge, believing that harming others will make them feel better through a strange kind of social revenge. Matsumoto’s Akihabara pulses to beat of synth strings and idol pop, though its soundscape is not one of freedom and joy but anxiety and depression as the city’s disenfranchised youth marches towards its dead end future with no hope in sight.
Screened at Raindance 2017
Original trailer (no subtitles)