Bittersweet Vibrations

in 13th Brisbane International Film Festival

by Caroline Vié-Toussaint

Don’t let Vibrator provocative title deceive you. Even if director Hiroki Ryuichi started his career by making blue movies (ironically called “pinku” in Japan), his new venture, winner of the Fipresci Award at the 2004 Brisbane International Film Festival, has nothing to do with pornography. Deeply rooted in urban japanese society, it’s a bitterweet love story dressed as a road-movie. Rei, a deeply disturbed young woman, vibrates only to the sound of the voices in her head. While trying to drown her inner demons by buying wine in a convenience store, she ends up picking up Okabe, a truck driver whom she finds looks “good enough to eat”. After a night of steamed love-making in the cramped cabin of the truck, she decides to go along as he delivers freight all aroud the country and back to Tokyo. One often thinks of Lost in Translation while following this odd couple’s evolving relationship. As Sofia Coppola, Hiroki shows the comfort two lonely people can find in each other while sharing a brief bubble in time and space. Unlike in prudish America, Rei and Okabe’s relationship isn’t platonic. The urge to « touch » each other physically leads to deep emotional contact, the sharing of joys and pains. Strangely, the couple seems even more intimate when Okabe teaches Rei how to deal with the CB world or to drive his truck, than when they explore each other’s bodies. Hiroki’s admitted goal was to try and capture a female point of view by adaptating an Akasaka Mari’s feminist novel. He succeeds in his portraying of a lost young woman who takes a new taste of life discovering intimacy when she was only looking for a one-night-stand. Stage actress Terashima Shinobu makes a tremendous asset to the movie. She gives a bold and riveting performance as a neurotic reporter, complete with a food disorder problem and striking panic attacks. Hiroki makes us share her secret thoughts with intertitles. They are sometimes funny — but often deeply sad — and include a silent scream of excruciating inner suffering, made even more harrowing by being written on a black screen in a series of white ideograms. Her beau with dyed-blond hair is played with equal talent by Omori Nao — of Ichi the Killer’s fame. The director traps his actors and the audience in claustrophobic spaces. He’s closing up on them when they’re at the back of the truck or in a bathtub as if embracing their naked bodies, but discreetly moves away when they finally bare their souls. More than sex, tenderness is the main theme of this powerful movie where two endearing outsiders forget an hostile world for a few days. Hiroki Ryuich’s Vibrator makes us vibrates along to the sound of truck engines and heart beating. It’s totally desperate but offers a soul-shattering – if frail — glimmer of hope. Although set against japanase landscape, its story and the feelings it deals with are undoubtedly universal.