Vibrator: Limited Special Edition Review

Although made by a male director, Ryuichi Hiroki, Vibrator is based on a novel by Mari Akasaka, and through a road journey the film successfully captures a particular rhythm and authentic interior monologue from a female perspective, that doesn’t so much shed light on the lead character’s own troubled condition as the condition of many people of a particular age in Japanese society.

Rei has just about reached the bottom – 31 years old, an alcoholic with an eating disorder, she’s stocking up on wine and gin at a late night liquor store, getting depressed at the trash she reads in the items she reads on the magazine rack. In walks Takatoshi, a 28-year old truck driver, making a stop at the store to pick up some provisions. Rei is hungry for real human contact to lift her out of herself, and when Takatoshi brushes up against her, she takes a chance and joins him outside the store. After greedily making love with each other she asks him where he is going in his truck and whether she can come along.


Vibrator is a road movie. Evidently. We get to know who Rei and Takatoshi are – she’s a writer of magazine articles, he’s a truck driver, both are freelance and free to take off on the road, both trying to escape from their pasts and towards something that has meaning, as they cut through the wintry landscapes of the road to Niigata. “With a travelling companion, the world shines upon you”, says Rei in a brief moment of hope and that is the essence of the film. To a great extent both characters are lonely people, looking for someone or something to make their lives meaningful. We don’t really get to know who Takatoshi is – a few flashbacks allude to his time working for the Yakuza, transporting drugs for them, and working as a pimp, beating up clients who mistreat his girls. This is probably an image of him seen through Rei’s eyes (indeed, by ending the film exactly where it started there is a suggestion that the whole journey could entirely be Rei’s flight of fantasy). She is confused and lonely, looking for someone to protect her, look after her – not necessarily understand her (she is suspicious of the glib advice offered by the columnists in the magazines she reads and probably writes herself), but unconditionally accept her as she is. Intertitles and flashbacks flash up her thoughts throughout the film, anxiety attacks and memories of words spoken, expressing her fears and her desires. The memories are rarely long enough or specific enough for the viewer to make anything clear from them - the memories of the past are long buried and no longer related to in context - all that is left is their effect on Rei, a wreck of a woman, clinging to a dependence on alcohol and a blocking of her fears and anxieties through bulimia.


In this respect, through the nature of the subject and the state of the main character, Vibrator is a harsh film, filmed in a bleak fashion with little concession for easily reductive character definition. Much of the film takes place in the vibrating cockpit of Takatoshi’s truck (he leaves the engine on while he sleeps there) and the viewer enters with those characters into this tiny hermetic space (the use of a DV camera aids this sense of closeness considerably), looking out at the bleak, snow filled landscapes outside and the characters relationship has all the intensity of that closed-in space. There are moments of happiness and warmth, but the film is principally charged with those raw emotions and breakdowns - sudden, bitter and unexplained.



DVD
Vibrator is released in Korea as a two-disc Special Edition, one DVD containing the film and extra features, the second disc a CD containing selections from the film’s soundtrack. The DVD is Region 0.

Video
The video quality is excellent throughout. Colours sometimes look a little saturated and lacking in finer detail, but this would be expected for a film shot on Digital Video, often in dark interiors. There are no flaws or marks on the image whatsoever and little in the way of digital artefacts.


Audio
The original Japanese audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. Both are equally effective as the 5.1 mix uses very little of the surround sounds. Dialogue is clear, mainly centrally based, but it is the musical score that dominates and comes across effectively here.

Subtitles
Optional English subtitles are provided and are error-free.

Extras
All the extra features are in Japanese with Korean subtitles only. These include a 1.85:1 letterbox Theatrical Trailer (1:30), a Making and Interview (14:08) showing some behind-the-scenes filming and rehearsals in-between an interview with the director. The Opening (3:54) and Talk Show (8:41) are post-screening press conferences with the director and actors. A list of Prizes as well as Staff Profile and Cast Profile are in Korean text only. A further EPK (3:16) shows snippets of interviews, press conferences and clips from the film. The Highlight (15:17) feature, as often found on Korean DVDs is somewhere between an extended trailer and an edited version of the whole film, giving prominence to the opening scene which sets up the film and then presenting highlights of what happens afterwards. Obviously this contains heavy spoilers. Like the other extra features, it is in Japanese with only Korean subtitles.

A second disc included in the Special Edition is a CD of selected songs from the soundtrack. It only runs to 23:51 minutes, so it misses many of the songs which feature heavily through the film and contribute greatly to its mood. It does include Simon Le Bon’s rendition of Magic Bus, which I’m not aware of being available anywhere else. The DVD also comes with an 8-page booklet – again Korean text only.


Overall
Like the Japanese road movies of Shinji Aoyama (Eureka, Desert Moon), Ryuichi Hiroki’s Vibrator doesn’t set up characters with easily identifiable neuroses or character traits or deliver standard redemptive journeys to self-discovery. By leaving much unexplained, the vulnerability of the characters and their lack of direction or motivation is expressed more strongly, making it easy to associate this sense of isolation and loss of identity, like Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Millennium Mambo, as a wider societal and generational malaise. The film doesn’t ask the viewer to pity its lead character Rei by alluding to a specific, identifiable event – just as Rei doesn’t expect Takatoshi’s understanding or pity. Maybe all Rei wants and needs is just to make contact with the world for a while, for someone to unconditionally accept her, not give up on her, not push her away. And it’s not easy, for either Takatoshi or the viewer, but Rei might be someone worth taking a chance on. The Korean Special Edition DVD presents the film very well indeed, with the addition of the soundtrack, but there is little of value in the extra features which have no English subtitles.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
3 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

Last updated: 13/06/2018 21:49:57

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