Japan (2020) Dir. Chihiro Amano
There are two sides to every story. Before you make up your mind about who is in the right or in the wrong, it is vital to have all the facts and information at your disposal. The consequences for taking everything at face value could be far-reaching, harmful, and tragic.
Maki Yoshioka (Yukiko Shinohara) is an author with a successful novel Fruit And Seeds to her credit, under the pen name Rei Mizusawa. With her new novel due, Maki, musician husband Yuichi (Takuma Nagao) and daughter Nako (Chise Niitsu) move to a suburban neighbourhood so Maki can complete its writing. Her editor has imposed a strict deadline for her manuscript meaning she has to start straightaway.
Pulling an all-nighter, Maki is disturbed at dawn by noises from next-door neighbour Miwako Wakata (Yoko Ootaka) banging a futon. Becoming a daily occurrence making it difficult for Maki to concentrate on her work, Maki and Miwako butt heads. A clip of them fighting filmed by Maki’s cousin Naoya (Raiki Yonemoto) goes viral, but neither Maki nor Miwako are prepared for the fallout of this attention.
Blending comedy and drama is not as easy to pull off as it might seem. Getting the balance right between the two tones takes skill, exposing those who are more adept at one than the other. Writer-director Chihiro Amano has managed something quite remarkable with Mrs. Noisy, she has made a film that is two-thirds comedy, one-third drama in that order – no mixing – and it actually works.
Hints of something less jovial to come hidden in the ambiguity of the main story are found late in the second act, so the tonal shift isn’t so startling but the absent of jokes is noticeable but not to any detriment to the flow of the narrative or our enjoyment of it. And given this is a film with a message, the pathos and gravity of it all is still on the right side of avoiding audience manipulation.
We can credit this to how relatable the basic premise is – we have all been disturbed by our neighbours either banging, playing loud music, making Maki a natural sympathetic protagonist. Being a writer with a deadline who has just moved into a new apartment, the pressure is on, but Maki also has to contend with an energetic daughter who wants to play and needs attention, and a busy but disinterested husband.
Regarding Miwako, she claims there is a reason for what she is doing but whilst convivial about it, she is also unapologetic when Maki complains. Tempers flare, not about the noise, but when Nako runs off whilst Maki is distracted. Nako returns having been to the park with Miwako, but instead of thanking her, Maki berates Miwako for taking her child without permission; Miwako responds by accusing Maki of being negligent towards her daughter.
Further incidents of Nako being with Miwako and her husband Shigeo (Taichi Miyazaki) unbeknownst to Maki exacerbates the friction even more. Meanwhile, Naoya’s footage makes viral sensations of them both, and since Mika’s recent submissions were rejected, Naoya suggests she write about Miwako, giving birth to Mrs. Noisy. An instant hit, Maki has her mojo back whilst Miwako has unwittingly become a public hate figure. But will it bring about great fortune and perhaps peace between the two sides?
As I said at the start of this review, there are two sides to every story, and the second reveals things from Miwako’s perspective. Like she said, there is a reason she is up at dawn banging a futon and singing, Nako having a bath at Miwako’s house with Shigeo was not as sinister as it sounds, and so on. Once these facts emerge, Mika’s assumed role as the victim isn’t as cut and dry, not that the public will ever know Miwako’s side of the story, unless something really bad happens.
Using the neighbourly dispute as a means to remind people to avail themselves of the full facts and every available account before passing judgement is revealed partly as a smokescreen for what appears to be her true target – misguided public opinion. Because of how the footage presented Miwako, she was the antagonist of the feud and the not-so-subtle writings of Mika seemed to corroborate this. If only they knew the full story.
Of course, this is what the media only care about and Amano cleverly exposes the folly of gaining capital from half a story just because one narrative is more suitable. The twist however, is that whilst both Mika and Miwako both culpable for not listening to the other, they are closer in spirit as victims then they are enemies. Both characters are superbly drawn, with subtle depths to them that belie the negativity the other sees in them, born from their instinctive reactions to a crisis.
Quite unfairly, Mika is painted as self-obsessed, putting her career before Nako, even by husband Yuichi who as a fellow artist should understand her deadline pressures and be more supportive. Miwako is more likeable and reasonable than Yuichi, showing how weak his character is, unless Amano is speaking from personal experience here, but Yuichi is really no better than Naoya and his attempts to make money off his cousin’s fame.
Carrying the film with tremendous energy and charisma, Yukiko Shinohara is an absolute joy as Maki, shining effortlessly whether comedic or dramatic. Yoko Ootaka is equally engaging in taking Miwako from cantankerous to admirable, and Chise Niitsu is again adorable as Nako if a little more bratty than before. Taichi Miyazaki has a slightly more difficult role to play in Shigeo, but to say more is a spoiler, but he is also good.
Mrs. Noisy may not wear its social satire credentials on its sleeve from being broad with its humour, yet it can be enjoyed on either level. An incisively observed script, every layer of it deserves to be peeled back, digested, and pondered. Meaningful, witty, and fun!
Currently streaming as part of the The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme Online Festival Feb 19th – Mar 10th