Spotlight on Japan: Vibrator

Ryuichi Hiroki’s Vibrator has an utterly misleading title. One could easily mistake it for a porn film, but ironically enough the title actually has nothing to do with the sex toy. Instead it seems to be an obscure reference to the vibration of a cell phone in a key scene. It could also refer to the vibration that the engine of a truck makes – which is an effect that dominates the film’s sound design.

So what is this mysterious film about? In middle of a personal crisis, a woman decides to ride with a truck driver on a whim – and thus begins a journey of rebirth and self-discovery. Even though there is a long, slightly erotic sex scene in the film – and a minor focus on sexual desire – there is hardly anything “sexy” about it. Instead the film is more like a haunting yet very understated depiction of two wandering souls. The film insists on using peeing and puking as metaphors and storytelling devices, which naturally makes the film less and less erotic. However, Hiroki is wise to stay away from a disgusting and intimate portrayal of said motifs because that would be needlessly provocative and ugly – he saves that for the portrayal of the woman’s anxiety which feels surprisingly nauseating.

The screenplay’s approach is also peculiar in other ways: a significant amount of the takes focus on the landscape the main characters see while driving throughout Japan. It focuses sparsely on what goes on between the main characters and even then it’s limited to occasions like using illegal radio equipment for entertaining communication between other truck drivers.

Eventually the focus shifts onto the relationship, but that happens in the last third of the film. This is an interesting mixture of alienation and intimacy that is present even when the film delves deeper into the woman’s thoughts. Sometimes there’s a voice over, sometimes there is a bunch of intertitles for that. At first it’s annoying how the film jumps between the two modes of presentation so harshly, but it starts to work surprsingly fast after the initial struggle.

The film’s form certainly has its own interesting trademarks that do work, but they don’t come together as smoothly as possible. There’s a jarring combination of hand-held and steady shooting – yet the camera’s movement is always justified in a way. For example, near the end of the film there’s a long take that is completely static until a certain action breaks the stillness and the camera starts to float towards the characters slowly. It’s not only used as an effective visual trick, but it’s also essential for emphasizing the subtle but huge moment of character development. The editing is thoroughly solid despite its chaotic first impression. The soundtrack is fascinating: a sparse piano track serves as the recurring main theme while a handful of calm Japanese pop songs dominate the few scenes that aren’t silent.

All in all, Ryuichi Hiroki’s Vibrator doesn’t necessarily have any significant flaws. Each aspect is solid, but none is exactly masterful. It’s the perfect example of a “good” film, but it’s far away from being a “great” film.

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About Oz
A Finnish film buff who has taken a huge interest in language and Japanese cinema. Can be contacted via email (johlauri@hotmail.com), Twitter (@OzymandiasJL) and a Private Message on EvaGeeks (Oz).

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