Silence Has No Wings (1966)

  |  Drama

Silence Has No Wings (1966) Poster

Following the journey of a caterpillar along the Japanese islands from Nagasaki to Hokkaido, this allegorical and oblique first feature film by Kuroki depicts in exquisite images a series of encounters and life's turning points.


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7 February 2015 | mevmijaumau
Silence Has No Wings (1966)
Kazuo Kuroki's Silence Has No Wings takes its name from a Garcia Lorca poem and presents an art-house mix of genres originally shelved by Toho studio executives, who labeled it as a "lunatic film". Kuroki's movie is an expertly shot half-documentary, half-experimental travelogue turned a New Wave spy thriller oddity with allegorical social commentary, a varied soundtrack and lots of lasting images.

The movie begins with a young boy in Hokkaido, catching a butterfly native to Nagasaki. This species is nowhere to be found in Hokkaido, so nobody believes him and thinks he just bought the butterfly instead. Suddenly, a long flashback starts, showing us the worm of the butterfly on its Japan-wide trip, starting as a larva and evolving into a caterpillar, and finally a butterfly. It is carried through Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Osaka, Yokohama and arrives at Hokkaido (the storyline also pops by Hong Kong for a little while). It dips into the citizens' lives and goes through the hands of many Japanese people before transforming into a butterfly, which may be a comment on social metamorphosis Japan went through after the war.

Kuroki states: "From one fanatic ideology centered around the Emperor to another one centered around MacArthur, that idea of our conversion to postwar democracy was represented through the butterfly."

The movie is very enigmatic and hard to understand at times. Sometimes, the mixture of stock footage and war flashbacks make the message obvious, while other times the imagery is too abstract and free-formed to successfully disentangle, which may be a part of its charm. Actress Mariko Kaga (best known from Ko Nakahira's Only on Mondays) plays multiple female parts, and her mysterious characters pop by in each town the butterfly visits. She interacts with a PTSD-affected war veteran, a boring salaryman with a dull life, gangsters involved in an industrial espionage ploy, and many others.

The visuals are outstanding; this is one of the most visually impressive films I've seen so far (cinematographer: Tatsuo Suzuki). Every scene offers kick-ass black and white photography, with many notable images, such as the boy catching butterflies on a large flowery field, Mariko Kaga's face on a giant city poster being walked by by the citizens, perfectly symmetrical visions of cities, buildings and railroads, and best of all, the scene where a girl emerging from a foggy field receives a butterfly from the boy. The shot of their silhouetted hands transferring a butterfly between themselves is one of my favorite movie shots.

The soundtrack by Teizo Matsumura consists of a repeating angelic title theme and experimental scary electronic sounds combined with morphed human voices. It's strange on its own, but fits the movie perfectly.

Silence Has No Wings is hard to fully comprehend because it's understood best when seen through the social and historical context, but nevertheless, I'm sure that if you like art-house films, you won't be disappointed with this one.

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Release Date:

January 1967


Japanese, Cantonese, English

Country of Origin


Filming Locations

Hokkaido, Japan

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