Many of my favored Japanese directors, especially the ones who rose to (moderate) fame during the 00s, failed to extend their career into the current decade. Satoshi Miki is part of that unfortunate group, though he hasn't completely abandoned the movie business yet. It's taking him considerably longer to release a new film these days, but I guess that makes them a bit more special. LOUDER! Can't Hear What You're Singin', Wimp! [Onryô wo Agero Tako Nani Utattennnoka Zenzen Wakannendayo] is Miki's latest, and I was more than eager to catch up with it.
Satoshi Miki had a big launch in the mid-00s. He directed no less than six films in four years time, all of them pretty great. His tendency to mix odd and quirky characters with dry, deadpan comedy is what sets him apart from others. Miki's trademark style does make his films quite niche, and it was no surprise that they didn't travel that well internationally. He had some minor successes back then (most notably with Adrift in Tokyo), but nothing that would grant him an extended stay on the global stage. And so things quieted down around the director, with only two more films released in a span of ten years.
I'm always excited to watch a new Miki film, but when I read the synopsis for LOUDER! I admit that my enthusiasm cooled a little. Japanese band/music-related films tend to be somewhat iffy. The whole J-Pop/J-Rock scene is way too fake and corporate to make a solid case for artistry and passion, which ultimately hurts the characters and drama that support these films. Miki's LOUDER! doesn't really escape this trend, but luckily Miki makes up for it with a solid focus on comedy, pushing the drama to the back seat. This makes it so much easier to simply enjoy the ride.
The film follows Fuka, an aspiring singer who lacks the confidence to raise her voice while singing. She gets kicked out of her own band and decides to continue as a solo artist. By accident, she bumps into Sin, a famed rock icon who is known for his powerful voice. Fuka doesn't recognize the singer without his stage make-up, even so Sin is touched by Fuka's talent and decides he wants to help her reach her full potential. What Fuka doesn't know is that Sin's voice is quickly waning, leaving him on the verge of going mute.
Even though Miki is primarily a comedy director, he's always had a pretty decent eye for cinematography. His films tend to be pleasantly colorful and attractive, making for a warm and inviting atmosphere. With LOUDER!, it's clear that he hasn't lost his touch yet. While not as exuberant or in your face compared to some other directors, Miki's latest has a visual finish that's well above average, sporting a strong color palette, vibrant camera work and snappy editing. There's a very deliberate and planned quality to the visuals that adds tons to the overall quality of the film.
The music is a different story of course, as it always is with these kinds of films. The score itself isn't all that bad, though it's not very remarkable either. The pop/rock combo that makes up most of the in-film music on the other hand is flat-out terrible. It's generic pop music that would probably have a hard time making a sizable impression in the real world, yet somehow we are expected to believe that in the film's reality this is epitome of great music. I realize that this comes with the territory, but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable. If you're a big J-Pop/J-Rock fan though, I guess your experience might be different.
Miki's particular blend of quirky and deadpan requires a rather specific style of acting, which is probably why he often selects from the same pool of actors. It's certainly nice to see talented people like Kumiko Asô, Suzuki Matsuo and Yoshiyuki Morishita appear in supportive roles again. The lead roles are reserved for Sadao Abe and Riho Yoshioka. Abe is a veteran and has little trouble adapting to Miki's style, Yoshioka is newer to the game but has a relatively easy part. Both do a commendable job. Overall the acting is good, with no weak links in sight.
With a little trip to South-Korea at the end, Miki makes sure that his film doesn't adhere to the classic music/drama template too much, even so LOUDER! is a constant battle between Miki's stylishly bonkers comedy and the trappings of the genre that runs underneath it. It's a shame that the film gets bogged down by all of this, on the other hand I'm sure it helped to ensure a decent budget and cast for Miki's latest. Most importantly though, it's Miki who comes out the winner as his trademark style makes this a fun and amusing watch, rather than a tepid and bland music drama.
Even though Satoshi Miki left the spotlights for a while, it clearly didn't diminish his skill for making great entertainment. While not amongst his very best, this is another upbeat, hilarious and delightfully directed Miki comedy that easily entertains and has a string of memorable scenes that make it well worth the watch. If you're not familiar with the work of Miki it's probably better to start with some of his earlier films, but fans of the man should rest assured that he isn't just making some painfully pointless comeback. LOUDER! Can't Hear What You're Singin', Wimp! is vintage Miki.