Immediately Suzuki Matsuo, director, screenplay writer and original novel writer of ‘Welcome to the Quiet Room’ of which this film is based, lets the viewers know that a film that is titled after a method of submission used in psychiatric wards is not going to be as melancholy as you’d expect. Enter room; man sitting in chair being interviewed by two female reporters from a television magazine studio. He begins by blowing up a balloon and then popping it in an attempt to make an artistic statement. He certainly is an unusual character not least for the fact that he has a safety pin pierced through his right ear where you’d be expecting to see an earring. What does he have to do with the events that are about to transpire? Absolutely nothing. After this initial scene the film swiftly establishes that one of these reporters is to be our anti-heroine as she splits off from her colleagues to go to her next interview; or at least that’s where we think she is going. In actuality none of this has happened.
Asuka Sakura (Yuki Uchida) has in fact been taken to a psych ward after having overdosed two days ago on the suicide cocktail of choice; alcohol and sedatives, and is only pulled out of this dream world after receiving a text message from her roommate/boyfriend. I say roommate/boyfriend because the relationship she has with Tetsuo Yakihata (Kankuro Kudo) is one that is never firmly established in its nature. This isn’t surprising given the carefree and irresponsible traits that they both possess. Anyway, after being pulled out of the meeting she thinks she’s in, and back to reality, Asuka finds herself being pushed along on an emergency hospital bed of which she is strapped to and breathing through an oxygen mask. Various close-ups and acute angles show the bewildered look on her face as she takes in the cold, white walls that surround her and the blinding light that is shining down from the ceiling.
After gathering her bearings a little Asuka is informed that she is under suspicion of attempting suicide given the state she was found in by Tetsuo. She however has no memory of any of this and is adamant that she is not suicidal. Regardless of her appeals against this assumption, she is told she is to remain in the psych ward for further analysis and treatment. Apparently she needs to be cured of something, but as the film unfolds we discover there is no cure for the ailment she has except the solitude of the quiet room.
The head nurse of the ward is called Eguchi and I would describe her as being a cross-breed of Mrs Danvers, Miss. Hardbroom and Nurse Ratchet. The way she slides the window across her reception counter whilst giving out a stern look of disapproval immediately reminded me of Ratchet’s identical action when refusing the requests of R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Eguchi is very curt with her new patient and certainly a stickler for protocol but is never really given enough screen time to make that much of an impression on the viewer. The nurse that appears to be Eguchi’s assistant is Yamagishi and her temperament is the typical, humble, overtly polite and gracious sort; cut with a wide smile and a voice as gentile as a sakura blossom.
The film has great flashes of absolute hilarity when you least expect it as a casual situation will suddenly be interrupted by an unusual or clumsy occurrence. Tetsuo, a man who comes across as half geek and half awkward stoner revolutionaire, is a good provider of some of such truly inspiring comic moments. After arriving to visit Asuka, he begins to recount to her the story of how she came to be where she is via flashback and voice-over. This allows for some pretty humours anecdotes and close calls that make up the lives of these two misfits. His job is that of a television writer, though as you’ll see it is his bottom and not his brain that he uses as his greatest asset.
Welcome to the Quiet Room could be compared to a number of other films that situate themselves in a psychIatric unit such as Girl Interrupted, Ginger Snaps: Unleashed, 28 Days and of course One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Each of these films revolves around a new admission who we discover does not actually have a problem like the other residents. Whereas the others have seriously debilitating mental illnesses, the likes of Asuka, Susanna, Brigitte, Gwen and McMurphy are all just individuals with a lack of direction, who because they are too untamed for society have ended up in the only other place that can offer them some time to adjust. None of them belong in hospital but it seems that, like Tyler Durden in Fight Club, they need to see and live with those who are truly on the outskirts of sanity, so they can find some stability within themselves. These films try to transfer the complexities of psychiatric illness into eccentric behaviour, friendship and a satirical chuckle; with the exception of Ginger Snaps: Unleashed, which is just depressing, but brilliant, the entire time. They also seem to use the same psychological profiles for their residents as well. There is the skinny manic depressive bulimic Miki, the plump violent bulimic bully Nishino, the idiot savant pre-pubescent piano prodigy Sae, the completely bonkers Kinbara and the maternally sensitive Kurita. It is Kurita who like Miki seems to develop an immediate liking of Asuka, claiming that they are very similar people. Kurita isn’t rowdy, unbalanced, and views the pain of her peers with a poet’s insight. She doesn’t have a large role, but when she does make her presence known, the atmosphere changes from farcical and light-hearted to serious and melancholy.
I have already mentioned the use of flashbacks, though it cannot go unknown that they take a vital form in this film (especially as we get to see Shinya Tsukamoto in a cameo, performing a party trick that has the most hazardous of consequences). It is through the flashbacks in the film that we get to know the real Asuka as once she has been admitted to the ward, for the most part she is meek, helpful and considerate, which is not the real her at all. In fact it seems that the process of getting to know her through flashbacks happens in coordination with her gradual outbursts of anger in the ward. Just as the viewer is carried along smoothly by the narrative of the present, they are jerked back into a personal history lesson of Asuka who we discover is not only a slob of the biggest proportions, but also an alcoholic, parentally rejected, selfish liability. Being around such damaged people as she is forced to be certainly has a positive affect on her while she is there, but this doesn’t last as unfortunately a callous ending shows the empty shell she really is and that any positive lessons and emotions she may have learnt during her stay were only temporary.