Imagine Marilyn Manson going on a madcap adventure with Carly Rae Jepson and the Three Stooges. That is the astonishing blend in the Japanese musical-comedy LOUDER! Can’t Hear What You’re Singin,’ Wimp!, which made its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Vocal-chord scouring rock music collides with toe-tapping pop and gleefully silly slapstick to make a movie that’s wonderfully bonkers and totally unpredictable.
Written and directed by Satoshi Miki, LOUDER! Can’t Hear What You’re Singin,’ Wimp! centers on two musicians who have absolutely nothing in common. Caked in black-and-white goth make-up and snug in leather pants with a matching corset, Sin (Sadao Abe) is a full-fledged rock god infamous for his screaming song-stylings and bad boy behavior. When he spews blood onto the audience during a secret show, it might be mistaken for his latest macabre spectacle. But in truth, years of “voice doping” injections has caused his abused vocal chords to horrifically explode. Panicked over his seemingly doomed career, Sin runs away and literally runs into kind-hearted and “tiny-voiced” Fuka (Riho Yoshioka). Her fashion-sense is colorful but painfully clunky. Her ambition to be a famous singer-songwriter is sabotaged by her inability to sing above a stage whisper. Together, this unexpected duo seeks a solution for Sin’s shredded voice and Fuka’s fear of being heard, setting off on a wild journey studded with daffy action, dynamic song numbers, and cartoonish visual gags.
Miki eviscerates subtlety, boldly exploding every frame with color, texture, and sound. His characters speak dramatically, whether they are howling advice over traffic, spitting insults at street punks, or sobbing over a truly magical bowl of noodles. They barrel down crowded alleys, tumble through their morning routines, and enjoy a Scooby-Doo style chase scene while dodging record company goons. Their world is as electric as neon, filled with vivid drug trips, macabre ice-cream parlors, and a literally explosive finale full of hijinks and fireworks. At a breakneck speed, the story clatters from pratfall to cacophonic one-liner to tender flashback to raucous song number and back again. It’s jarring but thrilling rush, like the high you’d get from mixing Pixie Sticks, mixed tapes, and Mountain Dew.
The booming energy alone makes Miki’s movie remarkable fun. Yet its cast carves out captivating characters the midst of this polychromatic chaos. With eyes as widely expressive as an anime heroine, Yoshioka is an utter delight as the meek but caring Fuka. Smirking in between screams, Abe boasts a scorching allure, which sparks with Yoshioka’s dulcet charms. Their chemistry is a Molotov cocktail, explosive and exciting. Then, the joys are boosted by stellar supporting players. The hissing whispers of a duplicitous secretary, the overeager simpering of a shady record producer, and the quizzical pondering of a blonde bombshell of a doctor with an unexplained eye-patch all add spice to an already flavorful cocktail of moxie and mayhem. But this comedy’s scene-stealers are another odd couple, Uncle Zappa and Auntie Devil, former bandmates turned spouses. Suzuki Matsuo brings a groovy silliness as the haggard hippie Uncle Zappa, while Eri Fuse brings a Disney villain verve as Fuka’s uncompromising landlord Auntie Devil. Whether they are singing a salsa song about Fuka’s faults, chasing off a grumble of hatchet men, or serving subversive ice cream with a side of candy eyeballs, they are odd but rewarding flavor combo, like a grilled cheese sandwich of wasabi-cheddar and fig jam. (I know. But it’s awesome.)
At the movie world premiere, Miki offered a bit of advice on how best to enjoy his wild new film. “Don’t think,” he told us through an interpreter, “FEEL!”
In the moment, I cynically wondered if this meant the film would be scant on logic or meaning. Well, logic has no place in Sin and Fuka’s outrageous adventure. It is neither welcomed nor needed in a world this rich with passion. But LOUDER! Can’t Hear What You’re Singin,’ Wimp! does boast provocative themes about identity, the hardships of artistic expression, and the violent influence of commerce on it. Still, that’s something you may miss in the moment, enraptured by the waves of sound, color, and comedy that pummel the audience into a giddy submission. But as you head home, the musical’s final song playing on an intoxicating loop on your head, that’s when the thinking comes into play. And Miki’s given us a lot to play with.
Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) is a New York-based film critic and entertainment journalist, her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, IndieWire, Nerdist, and Pajiba (to name a few). Ms. Puchko is a regular contributor on the Slashfilmcast, and teaches a course on film criticism at FIT. To see more of her work, visit DecadentCriminals.com