Nobuhiro Suwa was born in Hiroshima, so he knows what it is like to carry the weight of tons of inheritance in the form of tragedy and pain on his back. In fact, it is something to which he has paid attention in his filmography, throughout which he has always shown special elegance and rigor in dealing with issues where empathy, listening and staging spaces are fundamental.
In the magnificent H Story (2001) he exposed the impossibility of a remake of Hiroshima mon amour from a very personal view of both the human and social memory of the atomic bombings and its cinematographic imprint. In the first, the direct testimony of horror, he delved into the medium-length film A Letter from Hiroshima (2002), where dialogues and testimonies abounded, whose only possible counter-plane were the current streets of the city, loaded with the memory of the victims.
In Voices in the Wind, his new film and the first to shoot in Japan since he set up his film production in France with Un couple parfait (2005), he returns to Hiroshima, but with another type of tragedy in mind: that of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the eastern coast of Japan in 2011, as well as the nuclear accident that took place at the Fukushima power plant.
The official data of the violent earthquake are 15,893 dead, 6,152 injured and 2,556 people missing in the disaster. A massive gap in tens of thousands of families and the entire Japanese nation. Haru, the protagonist of Voices in the Wind, is a high school student who lost her entire family in the tsunami when she was 9 years old. Since then, she has lived with her aunt in Hiroshima; But when she is hospitalized, Haru feels the pain of the death of her parents raw and decides to escape, returning to her old home in Otsuchi, in Iwate prefecture.
Following the protagonist on her way to the north of the country, Voices in the Wind is transformed into a road movie stopping in various traumas and personal dramas that resonate from concrete testimonies to entire generations. Haru meets and engages in conversation with different fellow travelers, remaining practically silent as they tell her their own dramas: from an old woman who remembers the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the family of a detained Kurdish immigrant who was helping during the clean-up.
Without a hint of sentimentality, Suwa sets up the dramas while Haru internalizes them. The performance of the model and actress Serena Motola is undoubtedly one of the greatest of the year, cloistered in on herself by the weight of pain, until releasing pressure with two sequences of tears that tear the sky. Suwa’s staging, which invokes ghosts as naturally as in The Lion Sleeps Tonight (2017), is scrupulously respectful of the dialogues of her characters, whom she films talking while they eat.
The footage is long, but the path of grief is also like that for those who lose loved ones and must endure life without that person by their side watching them grow. The emotional climax of the film comes at the last stop on Haru’s journey, after visiting the ruins of the place where he could be happy so long ago. On Namiita, a hill near her village, there is a telephone booth known as the Wind Telephone. Every year thousands of people arrive there to pick up the phone and talk to their dead loved ones, hoping that the wind will carry their words.
As with everything in the rest of Voices in the Wind, the cathartic moment is not bombastic or sentimental. It’s where Motola’s performance really charges, evokes heartfelt dialogue, and leaves the irritation of tears on the skin. A wound that may never fully heal, but at least finds a way to close.