Release Date: September 05th, 2020
Duration: 62 mins.
Director: Yurina Kaneko
Writer: Yurina Kaneko (Script),
Starring: Ryo Matsuura, Takeo Gozu, Kaoru Mizuki, Yura Sato, Hirobumi Watanabe,
This is the feature film debut by director Yurina Kaneko. She received attention for her 2019 Pia Film Festival Award winning short Walking Plants, which screened at Nippon Connection last year, and also for her part in the omnibus film 21st Century Girl (2018). Sleeping Insect won the 2019 MOOSIC LAB Grand Prix. Like other MOOSIC LAB films released that year, it features the ghosts as the main character as Kaneko has her go on a Lynchian adventure where the border between normality and the supernatural dissolves.
The film takes place during the summer and our lead character is Kanako Seri (Ryo Matsuura), the front-woman of a three-piece band. As well as strumming the guitar, she has a heightened, maybe preternatural ability to hear sounds. During a break in practice they discuss how ghosts feel and this is the lead-in for the strange day that follows for Kanako.
The very next day, armed with a tape recorder and carrying her guitar in its case, Kanako heads out into the morning sun and off to band practice. As is her habit, she is staying alert for new sounds she can record and when she boards a packed bus she becomes fascinated by a melody being hummed by a fellow passenger, an elderly woman with a wide-brimmed sun hat. Perhaps from a trace memory or instinct for sound, when the bus reaches Kanako’s stop, she doesn’t get off but, instead, she travels further on the route with the woman and becomes something of a voyeur as she tries to capture the song.
The bus ride sequence is long but offers various everyday sights and sounds to draw the viewer into the atmosphere of the journey – passengers perform a sit-down-stand-up ballet as they get on and off the bus and we, alongside Kanako, eavesdrop on them as they talk to friends, look out the window, and zone out on their phone. It’s a nice slice of reality that lulls is into the film’s languid pacing and it makes the spikes of weirdness noticeable. One character, played in a cameo by the director Hirobumi Watanabe, is both funny but also strange in his behaviour as he seeks to prevent Kanako from sitting in a specific seat he is holding for someone “absent”.
As the journey continues, the number of passengers on the bus gradually decreases until the bus eventually reaches its final stop. When Kanako gets off, dusk has fallen. This is traditionally a time when the boundary between the world of humans and spirits begins to melt and at her journeys end, she enters a kind of hinterland, a dusk version of her city, where the bright and sunny summertime atmosphere of the early parts of the film has been replaced by darker and eerier atmospherics. Kanako finds streets devoid of people save a convenience store with a mysterious clerk and an elderly man out for a walk with his dog who leads her to his house where his wife and grandson show up. Absence is deeply felt here but like a dreamer, Kanako accepts everything she sees in this new realm as logical and continues to indulge in her passion for sounds. When she has questions about her surroundings or people around her, she is reassured that they are simply asleep.
It becomes apparent that the bus journey and the walk through the streets serve as transitional moments for Kanako who was led by her search for sound to the film’s ghostly and surreal conclusion which shows the secret of the elderly woman and her melody. Throughout it all, there is a good sense of framing of this district to capture the eeriness of its liminal spaces where life is absent and the family home where life seems to be in stasis. A gentle paranormal atmosphere takes over as the story indulges in its true purpose, a remembrance of those who have passed away through the traces that they leave behind.
In this story, film, music, photographs, and other, more surreal things allow the dead to come back and show that their presence will always exist in some shape. It becomes quite an affecting climax that we are naturally guided to by Ryo Matsuura’s cool-as-a-morning-mist performance as she essays a woman with heightened skills in sound that allows her to enter a heightened sense of being. That and the dreamlike music from Tokiyo, a songwriter and the lead guitarist of And Summer Club, makes another perfect collab between musician and filmmakers as is the mission of the MOOSIC LAB films.