On the island of Shishikari, the local economy has been floundering due to an ageing population. Its one hope is farmer Keita Izumi (Tatsuya Fujiwara), whose popular black figs have placed the island in line for a five billion yen redevelopment grant. Everything is looking rosy until an accidental killing sparks off a string of catastrophic poor decisions, and Keita and local hunter Jun Tanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) are forced into a cat and mouse game with a pair of mainland police detectives (Ayumi Ito and Masatoshi Nagase).
In Ryuichi Hiroki’s Noise, which adapts Tetsuya Tsutusi’s manga, an excellent and talented cast fight valiantly against both a glacially slow pace and a fuzzy tone. The pace stretches what could be a savagely bleak 90-minute black comedy into something that is more than two hours in length, and events never feel confidently funny or dramatic for the film to properly pull together. The end result simply feels innately weak; its commercial chances beyond the local Japanese market are doubtful.
It is all quite a shame, because individual elements in the film are often quite good. Tatsuya Fujiwara benefits from a more mature role than he is usually seen performing, while Masotoshi Nagase plays police detective Hatakeyama as a robustly archetypal antagonist. Hiroki’s film covers some genuinely interesting social issues and themes as well, notably the problems of an ageing society and the high drama of small town politics. It is a shame they are not explored in any great depth or with fresh insights. The murder narrative, which is neither suspenseful nor ambiguous, does little to generate much suspense. Any surprises that do occur generate more bewilderment than shock, or come too late in the piece to compensate for the earlier scenes’ pedestrian qualities.
At its core the film presents a tragic chain of mistakes, each made in succession to cover up the increasingly difficult-to-hide murder of the mysterious job-seeker Mutsuo Omisaka (Daichi Watanabe). An attempt to present some moral ambiguity flounders, as Omisaka is presented from the outset as a murderous sociopath himself, so when Keita and Jun accidentally murder him over a feared child abduction does not seem as indefensible a crime as Sho Kataoka’s screenplay seems to suggest it is.
The island’s rural setting is captured well by cinematographer Atsuhiro Nabeshima, and seems a pleasingly idyllic place. There is potential for that to contrast against the bloody narrative, but that potential never quite feels as if it has been fulfilled. Ultimately Noise is filled with that lost potential: a rock-solid film can be seen peeking out from behind the curtain, but it never seems to have enough resolve for that stronger, shorter version to emerge.