Silence has long been a beloved subject for artistic practitioners. From John Cage’s 4’33” (1952) to Samuel Beckett’s Watt (1953)— from the unbearable to the unsayable— silence is the loudest noise that continually comes to fail oneself to decipher a given message. Hikikomori, a deafening silence (2013) presents another artistic attempt of approaching to the silence. In other words, if Cage and Beckett have staged an inescapable sound of silence in their respective projects upon a post-war moment, Hikikomori, a deafening silence documents a collective figure of silence through a world of withdrawal against the background of Japan’s crumbled economy bubble. Hikikomori, a deafening silence is a documentary film produced by French cinematographer Dorothée Lorang and director David Beautru. As their Hashiru Kanazawa’s Japanese residency project, the film follows closely a group of young adults who associate with New Start, a non-profit organization that that helps hikikomori rehabilitate their affiliations with society. According to psychiatrist Tamaki Saito who first coins the term in 1998, he defines hikikomori by describing those adolescents “who withdraw entirely from society and stay in their own homes for more than six months, with onset by the latter half of their twenties, and for whom other psychiatric disorders cannot better explain the primary causes of this condition.” By moving away from this psychopathological portrayal of hikikomori (a term used to describe social recluses), Lorang and Beautru’s camera lens situates those identified as hikikomori individuals upon a cityscape that can only be defined by its suffocating homogeneity. The deliberate asynchronicity between those interviewees’ voices and their faces allows the psychological state of alienation echoing with the alienated urban environment. Like Cage and Beckett’s dedication of confronting unfreedom (whether aesthetically or societally speaking) through silence’s incommunicability, Hikikomori, a deafening silence questions our understanding of contemporary life by capturing the unbearable sound of silencing experienced by hikikomori.
Saito, T. (1998). Shakaiteki hikikomori [Social withdrawal]. Tokyo: PHP Sensho.