Not in the Script: Sugita’s New Form of Companionship Takes on Heartaches and Heartbreaks
Rewriting the notion of what it truly means to follow someone and to follow through on an action, like its central character, Japanese filmmaker Kyoshi Sugita‘s finely-tuned and understated sonata of three individuals is unassuming. A fourth feature (in just over a decade) that could break out internationally, the idiosyncratic nature of the lead character who ultimately conceives a new way to grieve with others makes for a deeply empathetic drama. Following the Sound not only challenges conventional notions of comfort zones but also vividly illustrates the barriers that separate individuals. In this narrative, the act of sharing a meal or simply having someone listen to your cassette deck becomes a powerful and unifying gesture, bridging the divides that often keep people apart.
A mid-twenties Haru (An Ogawa), a bookstore clerk, strikes up a conversation with Yukiko (Yuko Nakamura) under the guise of seeking directions. Haru senses a profound sadness in Yukiko’s expression (this is not the first time she has noticed a head titled down towards the street). Simultaneously, Haru has been discreetly tailing Tsuyoshi (Hidekazu Mashima), observing his demeanor almost like a tarot reader but from a street POV. In the past, when Haru lost her mother in her teen years, she coincidentally encountered both Yukiko and Tsuyoshi, who appeared to be grappling with their own heartaches. How does one repair an unfixable past? By latching onto those who are still in contemplation mode. When Tsuyoshi becomes aware of Haru’s actions and visits her workplace, new dimensions emerge in each of their relationships. Haru finds herself grappling with her own emotions regarding her mother and the grief that lingers, all while navigating the evolving dynamics between herself and the two others in her life. Ultimately companionship is a selfish act.
Perhaps working with connective tissue to his previous third feature in Haruhara San’s Recorder (2021), attempting to define the sounds left behind by a distraught mother offers a collective solace — the lines are blurred between stranger and strangely familiar. The collection of backdrops (touchstones in the Japanese culture) help explore what humanity looks like in simple gestures. An assistant director for films directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Shinji Aoyama, Following the Sound features a filmmaker working on his own beat.
Reviewed on September 6th at the 2023 Venice Film Festival – Giornate degli Autori. 84 Mins.