Japanese Title: 震動
Running Time: 73 mins.
Director: Asami Hirano
Writer: Asami Hirano (Screenplay),
Starring: Shumpei Kawagoishi, Kana Kita, Kyutaro, Takuya Matsunaga, Gen Ogawa, Yuji Kaneda, Maya Kondo
It is a balmy summer and Haruki (Kawagoishi), a rather quiet and reserved high-school student, is on the cusp of graduation. He lives in a small and quiet country town and his days are pretty uniform. He awakes in a group home and gets ready for school helping the other kids there as well. With his school bag packed and his iPod fully charged, he heads to school listening to music and dutifully does his lessons before going to work at a convenience store and then heading back to the home and helping out around the place, all with his iPod creating a soundtrack for him.
The one person or thing he really cares about most is Nao (Kita), a deaf girl who has lived in the same orphanage since they were young children. They are devoted to each other and with graduation on the horizon Haruki has a plan for their future mapped out: he intends to use the money he has saved from working at the convenience store to buy a place for the two of them to live in together.
Enter classmate Aki. He is a wild-haired drummer in a rock group in need of a guitarist. Aki asks Haruki to play guitar and even though Haruki has never touched one in his life, Aki is persistent because Haruki is left-handed and left-handed guitarists (Hendrix, Cobain, McCartney) are cool and the band needs cool more than it needs technical skill. Haruki can learn this stuff, right?
Haruki is initially reluctant but Nao pushes him because she knows of his love for music. As Haruki plays with the band it widens his horizons as he spends more time with others practicing and performing at concerts and gaining fans but as Haruki becomes more devoted to music Nao feels a growing distance between them and becomes unhappy as the music steals Haruki away.
Shindo is Asami Hirano’s debut feature film but it shows a rather confident writer/director who has a full idea of how to tell her rather modest story and explore its themes of devotion and disability through giving the actors room to breathe life into well-realised characters and paying a keen attention to details around them.
Shindo can mean vibration, resonance or tremor in Japanese. It is used in this film to show the way that Haruki can communicate with Nao whether it is through the heartbeat Nao feels through Haruki’s chest or the force of his emotions in the vibrations of the music he plays. To convey the fluctuating connection between Haruki and Nao, how deafness defines their relationship with each other and the world around them, Hirano uses well balanced shot composition to ensure that every scene is both beautiful and has a point linked to the characters.
Hirano makes tangible how Nao’s deafness colours her life. The closeness between her and Haruki is clear as they communicate freely and easily through sign-language but it erodes as she watches Haruki and the band play and he spends more time away from her.
One particularly memorable scene begins with her isolated and in the dark at the back of the club. Everybody but her is dancing to the music and enjoying themselves. Nao allows herself to be pulled in and she feels the transcendent joy of being part of a group experience. Then she gets a dance sequence to herself where she is transported into her own world of joy and she dances balletically in slow-motion to a black background. We feel her joy… all for it to cut out rather cruelly as the lights come back on and we see the song is already over, the crowd is dispersing and she is the only one dancing. She comes to an abrupt stop and clearly feels foolish.
Hirano’s camera is very much adept at picking out the subtle movements and facial gestures of the actors so we can see how people react to Nao’s deafness in scenes where characters glance at her awkwardly as she uses sign-language and, in one cruel moment, a major figure stops her by clasping her hands. It is little wonder Nao feels awkward and alone and considers her deafness and the gap between her and the world which she feels leaves her all alone in the dark.
But this is also the story of Haruki. He is a teenager who is more responsible than need be. If Nao feels her deafness has isolated her at least she is more aware of how alone she is than Haruki. He is mostly silent around others, too passive and prefers to hold things inside, looking out for others more than himself. His silence and reserved nature may seem mature but it has inhibited his social life and isolated him at school. As the man who runs the group home and Aki suggest, he should go out and enjoy himself and find an interest to give his life some flavour. His emotional connection with himself is on hold as he focusses on Nao but she knows more about him than he does himself and so when he performs with the band we get sequences when he is at one with the music and enjoying the situation rather than putting on a false-mask of happiness. As such, he gets friends and feels passion for something new as exemplified by the amount of time he spends practicing and the way he himself is transported by music.
It is ironic that her suggestion to join the band should cause a gap between Nao and Haruki but this situation would occur sooner or later as they both have to grow as people. Haruki’s dream of the two of them getting a place together is sweet but smacks of immaturity and idealism. This summer will hopefully allow them to have a deeper connection with themselves and each other.
The growth of the characters works and we care because acting between the two leads is excellent despite this being their big screen debuts. Kawagoishi is passionate and caring, capable of showing his uncertainty and softness while Kita’s beautiful face registers the love, uncertainty and jealousy she feels as the world changes around her and she struggles to interpret it.
The soundtrack is very impressive which is important for a film about a teenage rock-band! It comes from the group venetit haas who sound similar to the more famous alt rock group Ling Tosite Sigure (when they are being mellow) who have wider international exposure like the OP theme for Psycho-Pass. The music fits the summer setting and the type of thing teens like Haruki and Aki while away the hours listening to. It plays over montages of characters working, rehearsing, cycling to school and the moments when Nao makes connections through the vibrations she feels. I thought it was so good I tracked it down some of their music on Youtube after the film had finished.
Overall the plot might be modest but it affords the script a chance to provide strong characterisation. The acting is pitch perfect thanks to the conviction the teenage cast and nothing feels overly contrived. By the time the final sequence ends, you will have a lump-in-the throat because it has been well-earned by the confident direction and the great acting which has crafted a beautiful slice of teen drama.