Mrs. Noisy (Japan, 2019) [JAPAN CUTS 2020]

Award-winning writer Maki (Yukiko Shinohara) struggles with a lack of inspiration. She has to take care of her small daughter at home, while her husband seems to be happy leaving domestic problems for her to solve. Additional stress comes from a neighbor, who is airing her futons with loud bangs. Maki decides to confront the neighbor, but a huge fight follows, with even more stress mounting on her. When someone films the futon banging woman with a mobile phone and posts the video online, the unruly ‘obachan’ auntie becomes a social media phenomenon. Maki adds steam to the conflict by starting a weekly magazine serialized novel about the woman, very thinly disguised, and easily recognizable.

Writer-director Chihiro Amano has placed her story within a typical Japanese ‘danchi’ (large public housing apartment complex) where conflicts between neighbors are common. Anyone who has lived in Japan might know conflicts over proper trash disposal, or signs banning the feeding of stray cats. Noise is the problem in this film. Similar stories about loud neighbors have caused friction online in reality as well. Amano has clearly looked at these stories, and taken them as her inspiration.

Mrs. Noisy does not, however, stay at the level of a television sketch show joke about neighborhood quarrels. We get to see many sides of the story. Once the camera gets inside the noisy neighbor’s apartment, we see a different side of what seems to be just a stubborn middle-aged woman’s indifference to neighborhood harmony. It turns out that Miwako (Yoko Ootaka) has a husband, who has mental problems, which have caused her behavior.

Maki rose to some kind of fame with her first novel. Since then she has been having trouble to come up with something fresh. Her publisher is pushing her, but Maki finds it hard to write something interesting – until the irritating neighbor offers some. What starts out as a frustration, which Maki types in fury on her computer, turns out to become a reader hit – until Maki has to face the fact that her writing on a neighbor, who has already become a social media phenomenon, might not be the most ethical way to react to the situation. Maki’s problems are enhanced by her mellow and good-natured husband Yuichi (Takuma Nagao), who thinks that Maki should settle the quarrel with the neighbor, and try to get along with everyone without getting so upset. Add to this Maki’s brother, who interferes in the situation.

Mrs. Noisy is an entertaining piece of filmmaking, but under its surface of a small neighborhood conflict over a futon, it carries many ideas about our false preconceptions over people, and about tolerance and deeper understanding of where people’s odd behavior might be routed. It also gives a welcome warning about the dangers of social media: a thoughtless posting can cause a lot of damage. It skillfully switches point of view between the characters, forcing the viewer also to see things through another character’s eyes.

This is also a female-centered film about two women, who have to do with their domestic situation. Maki has to write at home, and look after her child at the same time – a very typical situation to a lot of people during this odd year of the pandemic. She and her husband have opposing tempers and hence different solutions to problems. Miwako is tied up in another kind of challenging domestic situation, and she hardly has time nor skills to to be proactive towards her neighbors. In the end everyone has learned something about others, and about themselves.

Mrs. Noisy is streaming as part of JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film from July 17-30.