Silent City: Film Review

Although it boasts gorgeous visuals and a strong performance by its Dutch lead, this tale of cultural alienation leaves something to be desired.

A young Dutch woman learns the art of fish-filleting at the hands of a Japanese master chef in Threes Anna's fish-out-of-water drama.

A fish-out-of-water tale that has all too literal aspects, Silent City concerns a young Dutch woman who travels to Japan to study the art of filleting fish at the hands of a master chef. While its portrait of an expatriate coping with language and cultural barriers inevitably brings to mind comparisons to such films as Lost in Translation, this effort by Threes Anna based on her own novel boasts a distinctive stylistic rigor that occasionally compels even if its languid pacing and oblique narrative may put off less patient viewers.

As the film begins, the attractive Rosa (Laurence Roothooft) has arrived in Tokyo to study at the hands of the famous chef Master Kon (Makoto Makita), whose inexpressive, stern visage makes clear that he has little interest in his new apprentice. Rosa, who's not being paid for her services, is relegated to a separate kitchen where multitudes of fish are being silently cleaned by the otherwise Japanese trainees.

Not knowing the language, Rosa finds herself increasingly isolated, barely able to communicate even with her roommate Aki (Ayako Kobayashi). Her frustration sometimes gets the better of her, as when she shouts, "Does anybody speak English?" while struggling to navigate a crowded train station.

Desperate for funds, she takes a job as a hostess at a nightclub where the women are expected to mix socially with the male patrons, a task made more difficult for her by the language barrier.

Rosa's passion for her true calling is made evident in scenes in which she tenderly talks to the fish she's handling, as well as such surreal episodes as when she imagines herself lying naked on a table, about to be gutted like one of her marine specimens. Her sense of isolation is further emphasized by several scenes in which she bathes alone at a communal bathhouse, surrounded by naked Japanese women with whom she can't communicate.

Silent City has its moving moments, such as when Rosa finally earns the respect of the impassive Kon after catching a fish with her hands. The film benefits greatly from the gorgeously composed visuals and Roothooft's strikingly expressive performance. But for all its moody atmospherics, it ultimately doesn't inspire much more than a craving for a fancy fish dinner afterward.

Opened: Friday, Oct. 11 (A-Film)

Production: KeyFilm

Cast: Laurence Roothooft, Makoto Makita, Shinji Otani, Ayako Kobayashi, Yukari Uekawa

Director-Screenwriter: Threes Anna

Producers: Hanneke Niens, Hans de Wolf

Director of photography: David Williamson

Editor: Wouter Jansen

Production designer: Rosie Stapel

Costume designer: Magdalena Labuz

Composer: Jerome Reuter

Not rated, 90 min.