ほとぼりメルトサウンズ 「Hotobori Meruto Saunzu」
Release Date: July 16th, 2022
Duration: 80 mins.
Director: Kahori Higashi
Writer: Kahori Higashi, Yuichi Nagatsuma (Screenplay),
Starring: xiangyu, Keiichi Suzuki, Amon Hirai, Umeno Uno, Tadashi Sakata,
Much like many of the previous films released under the aegis of MOOSIC LAB, like Dong Teng Town, Soul Music, and Sleeping Insect, Kahori Higashi’s Melting Sounds mixes music with low-key dramatic ruminations of mortality and ties everything together with a quirky character. Said quirky character is played by xiangyu, an electropop star and frequent collaborator of Suiyobi no Campanella, who offers her offbeat music and cute personality to a film that is cute and quietly devastating as it gets into the issues of losing things before offering a life-affirming way of rescue.
The story begins in Kiryu, a rural city in Gunma Prefecture, one winter when a young woman named Koto (xiangyu) arrives at her grandmother’s former home for a solo getaway trip from the city. Upon arriving she is met by the sight of a cardboard tent set up in the garden, the proprietor of which is an old man named Take (Keiichi Suzuki). Less oddball and more archivist, he has an array of analogue recording devices with which he records sounds of everyday life on cassette tapes before burying them in the ground to create “sound graves.” Koto, intrigued, joins in.
Take is just the first of three interlopers Koto meets at the house and ropes into a patchwork family, the others being two assistants to a greedy property developer, affable youngster Yamada (Amon Hirai) and Hiroko (Umeno Uno), Yamada’s somewhat stern but secretly sweet superior. Both initially show up to try to kick Koto and Take out of the house but give up in the face of her “won’t take no attitude” that brings everyone together to help Take record ephemeral sounds of the everyday that might go unnoticed by most.
Their eccentric adventure leads to scenes of them recording dogs barking, washing machines whirring, lovers quarrelling, church bells ringing, and flowers blooming. The sounds cover life in all of its fleeting forms and this gives the film its heart as we slowly learn from Take for who and why they are being recorded. A few lines of dialogue that add to the context create a truly tear-inducing twist in the story based on mortality and the passing of all things.
This emotional punch that the film hides behind its eccentric exterior can be sensed due to the rich context and subtext that Higashi builds. The film takes place in a fading small town where the elderly outnumber the young and the property developer aims to wipe out history to bring in money. Take can tell tales of the history erased by progress. We learn that Koto and the other characters are adrift from those dearest to them and their meetings take place in an old-fashioned house full of props that are nostalgia-inducing for a pre-digital way of life that is slipping away. The subtext of mortality, the passing of all things is ever present and felt keenly. It becomes text when characters say lines like, “Everything comes to an end eventually,” and “This town only has endings and no beginnings.”
The film offers a charming way of holding back the passing of everything in the patchwork family that Koto forms with the others and their efforts at recording the sounds that offer a brief sense of life before they pass from this earth. The notion of embracing/recording of what is important is played out to its fullest in those charming and warm-hearted sequences of the characters bumbling around the local community to capture the sounds. This is about the family they choose and the decision to enjoy time together.
Despite taking place in winter, the film is increasingly laced with a certain warmth and comfort as the connections grow between the characters who share curry, gyoza, kotatsu, and boardgames and an easy interplay flows between them. The sight of them breaking through their isolation to experience some form of togetherness warms the wintry atmosphere and gives the film enough cheer to charm a viewer into smiling and laughing despite the melancholy.
Throughout the film, Higashi captures beautiful scenery and uses the old-fashioned buildings and the quiet countryside to create a sense of nostalgia for a simple way of life that stands in contrast to the moments of cold big city hubbub. There are some visually interesting compositions, all centred on the characters being together and Higashi isn’t afraid to let the camera run during moments like a shared meal so audiences can lap up these moments and simply appreciate life.
Higashi’s light touch delivers a profound, cute, and deeply humanistic paean to cherishing connections, nostalgia, and the existence of all things before their time runs out.