Title: Ringing In Their Ears
Director: Yu Irie
Starring: Fumi Nikaido, Kurumi Morishita, Uji Kiyotaka, Yui Miura, Tatsuya Sakamoto, Mikihito Tsurugi, Toru Nomaguchi, Keisuke Horibe
Running time: 89 min.
There are countless clichés and adages that revolve around music – ‘the power of rock ‘n’ roll,’ ‘music saves lives,’ ‘I listened to them before it was cool,’ and so on and so forth. While these statements are likely to cause you to roll your eyes, it must be said that there is at least a smidgen of truth in there. It seems that there is nary a person that does not have some connection with music, be it as a distraction, a muse, requisite background noise, or a form of hope, and all of this distilled through ear buds.
Ringing In Their Ears is a film that offers a glimpse into the relationship between music and not only those who listen to it, but those who create it, as well.
At the heart of the film is Noko, the volatile lead singer of indie rock band Shinsei Kamattechan (portrayed by the band members themselves), as the film counts down the moments until what promises to be a concert of epic proportions. Equal parts Kurt Cobain and Axl Rose, Noko is just as likely to blow away everyone in attendance with his commanding, yet somehow awkward stage presence as he is to … not show up at all. The other band members are left with a sense of impending doom as they rehearse for the show without Noko, who has disappeared.
From there, director Yu Irie creates a multi-character tale reminiscent of Robert Altman, weaving together the lives of the people who are in some way dependent upon the forthcoming concert. Michiko is a high schooler with dreams of being a world renowned chess champion, trying to shake the disappointment of her parents (who prefer a proper, traditional college education) and her boyfriend’s neediness and desires. Kaori is a single mother, balancing two jobs – cleaning and stripping – and a son obsessed with the darker side of Shinsei Kamattechan’s music. Her son, the kindergarten-aged Ryota, in constantly in trouble for acting out in class, most recently for teaching his ‘mates some disturbing lyrics about death. And Tsugari, the band’s manager, is torn between the group’s desire to stay true to its roots and the record label’s demands to go ‘mainstream.’
The characters are, for the most part, fairly one-dimensional, ranging from obsessive to reclusive to disconnected, but little in between. With the exception of Tsugari, who feels genuine and flawed, it is difficult to connect to the characters in any meaningful way. This does not hurt the film too much, as the almost break-neck pacing maintains a level of intrigue from start to finish, but it certainly holds it back from its fairly lofty potential.
Regardless, it is the tremendous musical abilities of Noko and Shinsei Kamattechan that provide the real meat of the film – and they do so with flying colors. The culmination is an almost violent crescendo of lights and sounds, propelled by the band’s exuberant music and lyrics as the narratives intertwine and conclude. It is in that moment – the moment where the band’s energy and creativity is surpassed only by the smiles of the audience – that we see what words cannot quite capture about music.
Ringing in Their Ears screens at the Shinsedai Cinema Festival @ The Revue Cinema on Thursday, July 12, at 7:00pm. Click here for more info.