While much of Sion Sono’s early-aughts filmography is littered with cycles of violence and horror—films that plumb the depths of a darkness seemingly inherent in humankind—the ever-ubiquitous director’s finest of a whopping five 2015 theatrical releases pointedly proffers a rejection of its post-human world. With The Whispering Star, Sono opts for a lo-fi science-fiction yarn, a literal chamber drama defined by its textured images. He shoots in a high-contrast black and white, with stars, matches, and candles becoming light sources against an oppressive blackness, and he penetrates the quietude of his main character’s existence with mundane sonic rhythms, such as footsteps plodding down a corridor and dialogue delivered, always, in a whisper. The whole impeccable work represents a slyly self-aware model of its own message, a slow cinema object that took decades to be willed into being (it was originally written sometime in the mid-’90s, and subsequently put away for lack of funding) that is itself about transience, patience, and understanding. It’s as stark and deliberate as Tarkovsky, but as heartfelt and imaginative as the first thirty minutes of WALL∙E.
The whole impeccable work represents a slyly self-aware model of its own message.
The film opens slyly with rote shots of a lone woman engaged in scenes of domesticity, belying Sono’s genre affiliation. Soon, we find that this woman, Yoko, is an android; she delivers packages across galaxies aboard a ship that looks like a house with blasters attached, in a future where the remnants of humanity are few due to some sort of vague, self-inflicted annihilation. Yoko combs through packages, inspecting the ephemera she’s been tasked with delivering to mostly isolated individuals populating ruined landscapes (filmed in real locations devastated by the 2011 Fukushima Earthquake), all the while silently attempting to understand the connection between object and emotion. Sono’s focus is far less on Yoko’s wanderings in the expanse than it is a navigation of her own existence, a profound macro exploration aided by her study of others. And while Yoko’s habitual sneezing throughout The Whispering Star serves to remind us of her approximate humanity, Sono’s meditation on memory becomes subtly yet measurably more powerful the closer we get to a brilliant, and surprising, penultimate sequence, one which highlights the duality of what it means to be human.
This film has yet to be theatrically released in the U.S.