Japanese society places a high value on wa, or social harmony, but the reality of urban life — as seen in Chihiro Amano’s uneven-but-likeable comedy-drama “Mrs. Noisy” — is often lived at high decibels that lead to neighborly discord.
Premiering in the Japanese Cinema Splash section of last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, the film has since played on the international festival circuit, where its broad humor and feel-good humanism have earned it fans among critics and audiences.
Scripted by Amano, whose short films have won a long shelf of awards, “Mrs. Noisy” begins with a situation familiar to many Japanese apartment dwellers, including this reviewer: A struggling writer, Maki Yoshioka (Yukiko Shinohara), is wrestling with her prose on her laptop when her next-door neighbor, Miwako Wakata (Yoko Ootaka), begins loudly beating a futon on her balcony.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||106 min.|
Since she has just moved in, Maki would rather make nice than make waves, but as the bashing continues at ungodly hours, her mask of polite goodwill begins to slip. Finally, after an incident involving Miwako, Maki’s young daughter and the police, the niceties drop entirely: Bickering between the two women escalates to an all-out war.
The film milks this conflict, which starts with routine sitcom gags and devolves into wacky slapstick, for easy laughs, while laying the groundwork for a shift to serious drama. After failing to replicate the success of her first novel, Maki is in a career slump and trying to take care of her daughter with only occasional help from her busy musician husband. The annoying Miwako, who accuses Maki of being a neglectful mother, is the match to the tinder of her various problems.
Ootaka, a veteran stage actress with a smattering of film credits, initially plays Miwako as a stereotypical obnoxious obasan (middle-aged lady) who is crude, rude and, when insulted or offended, a clamorous terror.
However, flashbacks show us another side of Miwako, whose husband is a quiet, retiring type with issues of his own. As their story unfolds, the reasons for her outre behavior become clear, and audience scorn gives way to sympathy.
This development is expected and is in fact foreshadowed by Maki’s kind-but-firm editor, who tells her that her characters (including one based on Miwako called Mrs. Noisy) need more nuanced depth. And Miwako does become genuinely three-dimensional, though when a cross-balcony quarrel with Maki is captured by a passerby’s smartphone and goes viral, the resulting crises feel inflated into the realms of the cartoonish and the melodramatic.
The film’s wavering tone, with scenes of light comedic relief followed by the nightmarish hallucinations of the mentally disturbed, make for an odd weightlessness. Nonetheless, the two women’s trial by internet and media jury, with the guilty verdict a foregone conclusion, is hardly a fantasy, even though their punishment is somewhat lacking in reality.
“Mrs. Noisy” makes a worthy plea for more tolerance in a society that lacks it, with those unable or unwilling to conform pushed outside the circle of wa. But I couldn’t help thinking that if Maki and her next-door nemesis had communicated slightly better in the beginning, none of the ensuing agony would have unfolded.
Sci-fi author James Blish called this type of setup an “idiot plot,” meaning the characters could have easily resolved their issues if they weren’t so stupid. Or, as in the case of the two heroines, too quick to assume the worst.
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