Kaze no denwa [Voices in the Wind] (2020)

Kaze no denwa (the name for a disconnected phone box in Japan, said to be able to let you speak to the loved ones you lost)
Director: Nobuhiro Suwa
Writer: Kyôko Inukai, Nobuhiro Suwa
Cast: Serena Motola, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tomokazu Miura, Makiko Watanabe, Mirai Yamamoto, Shoko Ikezu, Toshiyuki Nishida, Fusako Urabe
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 24.10.2020

Haru (Serena Motola) lost her parents and her brother in the Tohoku earthquake and the ensuing tsunami almost a decade ago. She has been living with her aunt Hiroko (Makiko Watanabe) ever since, quite a way away from her childhood home. When Hiroko has to go to the hospital unexpectedly, by now 14 years-old Haru’s last anchor is gone – and she sets off to revisit what remains of the town she grew up in. Along the way she meets many people, all of whom were deeply affected by loss.

Voices in the Wind provides a, to me, unusual perspective on Japan, focusing on the destruction left behind by the tsunami, but also featuring, for example, immigrants in Japan. It does have a few lengths, but I did enjoy it overall.

The film poster shwoing five stills from the film, all featuring Haru (Serena Motola). The one in the center shows a phone booth in the middle of a garden.

Voices in the Wind is the rare movie where the middle part is the strongest. It takes too long getting started and after the emotional moment where Haru comes to what remains of her childhood house – a fundament, half-submerged – I would have been perfectly happy with having the film call it quits there, but it still brings her to the titular phone box. The conversation she has there didn’t bring anything to the table that I didn’t see in that scene at the ruin, so it was a bit of a doubling that just wouldn’t have been necessary if you ask me.

But between the slow start and doubled-up ending, there is an absolutely fantastic middle part, carried by an astonishing Serena Motola who is still so young, and yet brings everything to the role. And since she has to carry a lot of the emotional weight here, this is doubly important. It’s lovely how she balances Haru’s deep grief and still lets her be a teenager who manages to be almost careless at times.

Haru (Serena Motola) and Morio (Hidetoshi Nishijima) at the place where Haru's house used to stand.

Most interesting for me, though, was the picture of Japan we got to see in this film. It feels utterly personal, as if the film was made for Japanese people only, a kind of inner-Japanese conversation and for some reason or other, I was invited to that conversation. I’m not a great connoisseur of Japanese movies, but it was the first time, for example, that I saw Middle Eastern immigrants in a Japanese films, who get to talk about and criticize the immigration laws.

The 2011 tsunami and the destruction it left behind is barely something that we think or talk about anymore in Europe. Being reminded of just how many people died and how much Japanese people are still suffering from the consequences is powerful. That, combined with Motola’s great performance, really makes the film an important watch.

Haru (Serena Motola) at the train station.

Summarizing: Not perfect, but very interesting.


  1. One small correction, Haru is 17 years old, not 14. Otherwise, an interesting article and thank you for taking the time to share your views. Kaze no denwa has become one of my favourite films, but then I am a fan of slow cinema. You may be interested to learn that Suwa gave his actors minimal directions, allowing them to improvise their dialogue, and the film was shot in sequence. Motola, already known as a model and up and coming actress, demonstrated remarkable maturity in her role as Haru, and, for me at least, it was a delight to see Hidetoshi Nishijima in a deeply introspective role. I’m presently preparing a lengthy article about the ‘Wind Phone’ phenomenon in general, which starts with the original Kaze no denwa, in Namiita, Otsuchi before looking at the artistic works and wind phones that have been inspired by Itaru Sasaki’s singular act of compassion. If you like, I’ll keep you informed of when it’s published. Thanks again for your article.

    • Thanks for the long comment and the correction! I think it said that she is 14 years old in the Film Festival Program, but it may have been a typo there. Or I got confused.

      In any case, you’re welcome to drop a link to your article once you’ve posted it!

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