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Set on a small fictional island with an aging and dwindling population, Ryuichi Hiroki’s “Noise” weaves a tangled web as the lies of the principal characters infect a tight-knit community. Working from Sho Kataoka’s script based on a manga by Tetsuya Tsutsui, Hiroki imbues the film with style, suspense and an unexpected pathos, while adroitly shifting from near farce to a more serious mode and keeping a discreet distance from his source material.

With its violent murders and desperate cover-ups, this film is fresh territory for the veteran Hiroki, who had settled into a pattern of alternating mass audience romantic dramas with critically acclaimed indie fare, but broke the cycle last year with the Netflix road movie “Ride or Die” starring Kiko Mizuhara and Honami Sato.

“Noise” is also on the commercial side of the scale but Hiroki’s signature feathery camerawork, which sensitively observes rather than mechanically records, sets the film stylistically apart from other mainstream films. Also, his musical tastes, which lean more toward tuneful understatement than broad-stroke underlining of emotional beats, are reflected in his collaboration with Yoshihide Otomo, a composer and guitarist whose thrumming bass notes deliver a Tarantino-esque tension and cool. Meanwhile, classical warhorses provide black comic counterpoints to the more frantic — and deadly — goings-on.

Noise
Rating
Run Time 115 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens Jan. 28

The film begins with a cheery middle-aged man extolling the virtues of the island as he drives a creepily silent passenger (Daichi Watanabe). Without warning the passenger fatally strangles his guide and, leaving the car, slinks into the property of Keita Izumi (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a farmer whose fig trees power the island’s economy.

A moody local hunter (Kenichi Matsuyama) and a nervous rookie cop (Ryunosuke Kamiki), both of whom are Keita’s childhood friends, spot the driver’s killer (while being unaware of his crime) and soon after Keita’s young daughter goes missing. Suspecting him of kidnapping, the trio confront the intruder and, in a struggle with the angry Keita, he is accidentally killed. When the girl is found unharmed, Keita and his friends realize they have both the wrong man and an inconvenient corpse.

The fig farmer knows that if he turns himself in his family and business will suffer a grievous blow. Also, the community is about to receive a large government grant, but this much-needed windfall may go up in smoke if Keita, who has become the island’s spokesman and star, is arrested. With the help of his two friends, who also want to protect the island, Keita decides to hide the body and stonewall the mainland cops when they come calling. The result is more bodies and lies.

That all this must end badly is obvious, but the story takes turns that are both surprising and shocking. It also evolves from a police procedural with a scruffy detective (Masatoshi Nagase) in a trench coat doggedly ferreting out the truth to a deeper commentary on the high price of group loyalty and the darker stirrings of the human heart.

Last seen together as co-stars on the hit “Death Note” films, Matsuyama and Fujiwara create a synergy that brings out their best as actors, though their characters are more conflicted. Old friends, we see, can keep old grievances alive, even if only one is aware they still exist.

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