The Whispering Star [BIFAN 2016] – Review

Maverick director Sion Sono takes a meditative trip through space....Read More

20th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival Korean Premiere

The Whispering Star (ひそひそ星)

  • Directed by: Sion Sono
  • Starring: Megumi Kagurazaka, Kenji Endo, Yuto Ikeda, Koko Mori
  • Synopsis: Machine ID 722 Yoko Suzuki travels the universe to deliver packages and visits “The Whispering Star,” where noises over 30 decibels may kill the residents.


Last year’s Bucheon International Film Festival was honored to receive visionary director Sion Sono as part of its festival program. Not only were eight of the director’s films showcased during the festival, but Sion Sono himself participated in a Master Class discussion and several Q&A sessions following the screenings of his films. There is no doubt that the director has an enormous fan base here in Korea and that his popularity is growing throughout the world.

The Whispering Star is a personal project of the director’s that was envisioned and fully story-boarded nearly 20 years ago as just a teenager. Sono has said that it would have been impossible to make a film like this all those years ago considering the market availability of the times. It was just “too weird” according to the director himself in the documentary, The Sion Sono. However, in 2015 the stars aligned seemingly just right and the time had come to get it made.

Known for his bold visual style and often darker themes, a divided opinion over a Sono film is nothing new and almost to be expected really. It wouldn’t be surprising (although disappointing) to see an unsuspecting viewer unfamiliar with the director’s work to walk out of a screening over explicit physical or sexual violence as seen in some of Sono’s previous works, e.g., Guilty of Romance (2011), Cold Fish (2010), or Strange Circus (2005). But by the end of The Whispering Star, the 15 or so people who walked out of the screening seemed to be caused by sheer frustration with the film’s lack of action or clear progression of story.

Clocking in at 100 minutes, The Whispering Star is a highly uneventful yet meditative and visual film. It follows the daily mundane routines of Yoko Suzuki (Megumi Kagurazaka), a Space Parcel Delivery woman-android who flies the galaxy in her one room spaceship she chose for it’s modern appliances yet old fashioned decor. Flying for nearly 14 years, she delivers packages to different planets and star systems. Humans have decided to hold on to this antiquated interpersonal method of delivery despite modern teleportation technology. Perhaps the items contained in these packages are too precious and mean something much more to the recipient when delivered by personal courier.

The story of The Whispering Star is told largely through sound effects and sparse dialogue all spoken in a whisper. Each planet Yoko touches down on for delivery has her walking or bicycling through the near lifeless ghost towns devastated by the March 11th Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami that caused the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant complex. The parcel recipients are genuine actual residents of the towns, who are attempting to cling on to the livelihoods they lost in the disaster.

Time passes slowly or quickly, depending on your perspective. For the bulk of the film, we cycle through the days of the week while aboard Yoko’s spaceship. She’s alone except for a seemingly sentient computer that pilots the ship and may or may not be going crazy. We watch her brush her teeth, sweep the floor, and even change her batteries. There is an overwhelming sense of loneliness aboard her ship, but as an android she seems to be coping well by making voice recordings of her journey through the years as she drifts through space in between delivery points.

If the lack of “action” sounds boring, the beautiful black and white photography may be enough to keep you interested. The mise-en-scène is of the highest order and each frame beautifully captures the eerie emptiness of space and time. For me, the film ultimately seems to be making a statement about time and memory. The temporariness of human nature, and the objects and events in our lives whose value is often not appreciated until time long passed, and that ultimately end up being mere blips of light and wonder in the grand scheme of the universe.

The Whispering Star is the first film to be released under the director’s own production label and it really comes across as a picture that probably means much more to the director and people hit hardest by the Tohoku earthquake than it probably will for most viewers. That being said, there is something strangely stirring about the film. For the average viewer, be warned: this can be a tough film to sit through. For die-hard Sono fans, of course this is a must see.


I highly recommend The Whispering Star to be seen along with the documentary, The Sion Sono. It was filmed during the production of The Whispering Star and is (in my mind at least) an essential companion piece to this work. The insight into the production and the mind of the maverick director put the film into perspective. A blu-ray package featuring both films would be amazing!



One Comment

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  • Tom
    29 July 2016 at 8:45 am - Reply

    Fascinating review of a most unusual film. It intrigues me that maybe this is a metaphor for lives that externally seem to progress with only a daily monotony, but actually underlie a purposeful, but simple, human drive to be useful and productive. Hope this film will be shown in the States. Thanks!!

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