+ intro with director Pierre Földes
Based on a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami, this animated feature film follows the lives of multiple characters as they navigate post-tsunami existence and the existential repercussions of urban life, including an unambitious bank employee, his frustrated wife, a delusional accountant, a lost cat and a giant talkative frog. It’s an ambitious treat that flirts with the surreal and delivers on all fronts.
Tokyo, a few days after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Kyoko suddenly leaves her husband after spending five days in a row glued to unfolding earthquake footage on TV. Her helpless husband Komura takes a week’s leave from work and heads north to deliver a box and its unknown content to two young women. His colleague Katagiri, a simple debt collector by profession and an awkward loner in life, returns home one evening to find a two-meter-tall frog asking for his help to save Tokyo from an imminent earthquake. Through memories, dreams and fantasies, Kyoko, Komura and Katagiri, influenced by their visions of earthquakes – which are manifested as evil willow trees, giant earthworms, secret vows, mysterious boxes and a dark, endless corridor – attempt to rediscover their true selves.
The work of novelist Haruki Murakami seems to be finding new life on screen with increasing frequency. Lee Changdong’s Burning (2018) revelled in the ambiguity of its source text through the alluring but intentionally opaque performances of its actors, while Ryūsuke Hamaguchi expanded one Murakami short story (and drew from several others) for his three-hour film Drive My Car (2021). Despite operating in a different medium with different narrative priorities, director Pierre Földes takes a not dissimilar approach to Hamaguchi, interlinking separate short stories from Murakami’s collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and folding them into loosely connected vignettes.
Set in Tokyo in 2011, in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami but before the aftershocks, the film follows its group of characters as a ‘very big earthquake, even worse than the one that struck last week’ threatens the city – at least, according to a giant anthropomorphic frog. The stories begin together before diverging into separate chapters, their characters connected by nightmare. Two businessmen are haunted by disturbing dreams – of being trapped in stark, collapsing corridors, of being eaten whole by giant worms disguising themselves as commuter trains. These sequences immediately present an interesting visual tension which runs throughout the film, as Földes contrasts the surrealism of these nightmares with the naturalism of its quasi-rotoscoped acting. The existential crisis of each character leads to conversations with others that bring up long anecdotes, references to films, books and more, each tale containing stories within stories. The Russian doll approach to narrative suits Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: it visually leans into the surreality often found in Murakami’s stories, visualising his idiosyncrasies by exploring different variations on its art style.
Földes flirts with psychological horror as he conjures different textures, flashbacks bringing with them changes in the style of lines and colouring. The film feels malleable and unbound from reality – we see one man drawn through swirling scribbles, the lines then detaching themselves from him and turning into the crest of a wave. But the distinctive animation lends realism to the volume and movement of the characters’ bodies.
Though some of the animation can seem a little rough, for the most part it’s gorgeous, the beautiful layouts and compositions filled with fascinating detail. Translucent lines and rough crosshatched textures throughout the background art give the film both tactility and a touch of ephemerality. It’s a perfect embodiment of its combination of realist elements and strange visions, historical concerns and waking dreams. The film’s directness and its dry sense of humour – brought out most of all through the editing and tongue-in-cheek superimpositions – make Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman an invigorating translation of writing to the animated form.
Kambole Campbell, Sight and Sound, bfi.org.uk/sight-and-sound, 19 September 2022
A consummate artist, Pierre Földes is a director, composer and painter. Born in the United States to a Hungarian father and British mother, Pierre Földes, nominated for an Oscar and a César winner, grew up in Paris where he studied piano and composition. He began his career in New York composing music for film and advertising before moving to Europe. Fascinated by drawing and animation, he has written and directed several short films by adapting a production pipeline to his idea of film. He has thus developed his own unique and personal style and technique.
BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN
Directed by: Pierre Földes
Production Companies: Miyu Productions, Cinéma Defacto, Doghouse Films, micro_scope, Productions L’Unité Centrale, Studio MA
Produced by: Pierre Baussaron, Tom Dercourt, Emmanuel-Alain Raynal, Pierre Urbain, David Mouraire, Luc Déry, Kim McCraw, Gaililé Marion-Gauvin, Antoine Coutant, Pierre Földes, Josst de Vries
Line Producer: Tanguy Olivier
Written by: Pierre Földes
Based on short stories of: Haruki Murakami
Production Designer: Pierre Földes
Cinematography: Etienne Bollard
Edited by: Kara Blake
Artistic Direction: Julien De Man
Animation Supervisor: Julien Maret
Composition Supervisor: Mathieu Tremblay
Original Music: Pierre Földes
Sound Design: Matthew Földes
Mixing: Michel Schillings
Ryan Bommarito (Komura)
Shoshana Wilder (Kyoko)
Marcello Arroyo (Katagiri)
Scott Humphrey (Sasaki)
Arthur Holden (Mr Suzuki)
Pierre Földes (Frog)
Courtesy of Modern Films
IN PERSON & PREVIEWS
UK Premiere: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman + intro with director Pierre Földes
Mon 6 Feb 20:45
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Mon 13 Feb 18:15
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Preview: Subject + Q&A with director Camilla Hall and contributor Margaret Ratliff
Fri 17 Feb 18:10
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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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