Technology has become an integral part of our lives, but what happens when it intertwines with our deaths? Japanese director Takamasa Oe seeks to explore this intriguing concept in his new film, Whale Bones. This melancholic and atmospheric film delves into the depths of death and grief, offering a unique perspective on the impact of our digital footprints.
The story revolves around Mamiya (Ochiai Motoki), whose life is upended when his fiancee callously reveals she is seeing another man and abruptly ends their relationship. Overwhelmed by the shock and grief, he seeks comfort in a mysterious young woman named Aska (Ano), whom he meets through a dating app. However, tragedy strikes as Aska unexpectedly passes away while Mamiya is in the shower. In a state of shock, he attempts to bury her body in the forest, only to find it mysteriously vanishes from his car.
What sets Whale Bones apart is its ability to subvert expectations. After Aska’s death, I admittedly anticipated some kind of supernatural elements or maybe even a gripping thriller about some kind of manipulation, but instead the film focuses on the exploration of loss, grief, and the impact of technology and social media. It beautifully examines the digital afterlife that lingers when someone passes away, serving as a poignant memorial in the virtual realm.
After Aska's death and disappearance, Mamiya discovers her involvement in an app called “Mimi,” a platform that allows users to record videos and hide them in specific locations. This process is referred to as “burying”. To view these videos, individuals must physically seek out these locations, referred to as "holes" within the app. As Mamiya delves deeper, he discovers a group of fervent followers known as "believers," desperately searching for Aska's final video.
Without heavy-handed exposition, Whale Bones delicately explores the hunt for digital ghosts and the enduring influence of a person's creations. The film elegantly portrays the interconnectedness of technology, grief, and haunting memories. The cathartic journey of Mamiya resonated with me, and the film establishes a somber yet calming atmosphere that draws viewers into its enigmatic world. It successfully navigates the complex ways in which technology shapes our grieving processes and the lingering remnants of our past.
However, one aspect that felt unbalanced was the romantic element within the film. As Mamiya delves into Aska's videos, his infatuation with her grows. Yet, I couldn't help but see this as a distorted expression of grief, as he mistakes his mourning and hopelessness for love. While he encounters fanatics who mourn Aska despite never having met her, the film falls short in drawing clear parallels or distinctions between Mamiya and this group of individuals. The conclusion seems to veer towards a more romantic love story, which felt misplaced and ill suited.
In an industry increasingly saturated with films exploring technology's impact, Whale Bones stands apart by blending its somber and haunting elements into a thought provoking exploration of grief and death. While lacking some overall dramatic dynamics, the film's overall atmosphere is appropriately moody and engaging. It presents a fresh perspective on the intersection of technology and loss, leaving viewers with lingering thoughts and a desire to uncover their own digital ghosts.