30 November 2006

Indigo Road (藍の路, 2006)

This 13 minute puppet animation belongs to the Michi (Road) Series directed by Tomoyasu Murata (村田朋泰). As with all of the short animations by Murata that I have seen, the film is without dialogue. It relies on elements of “pure cinema”, visuals combined with sound effects and music, to relate the melancholy story of a pianist who has lost someone that he loves.

The fact that the main protagonist is a pianist is only hinted at in Indigo Road (藍の路) by a pan shot that connects the man to an empty piano in the scene in the empty bar. The piano is also featured strongly in the soundtrack. This is a film that needs to be seen more than once in order to understand everything that is going on.

The film moves, almost seamlessly between the past and the present. The past, which is inhabited by the woman, is imbued with warm shades of ochre, orange, and red. Many of the scenes have also been shot in such a way as to give the impression of real daylight coming in through the windows. In the present the woman’s absence is highlighted through the use of greys, indigo blues, and lots of shadows.

The man and the woman are also connected through the act of sweeping. The man is shown sweeping an empty corridor that is cluttered with litter, and the woman is shown sweeping the apartment. The motif of emptiness is everywhere, from the hollow sound of the wind ruffling the man’s coat to the empty streets, empty chairs, and empty corridors of the setting. The whole ambiance of the film reminded me of the Don McLean song “Empty Chairs” in which he sings:

Morning comes and morning goes with no regret

And evening brings the memories that I can’t forget

Empty rooms that echo as I climb the stairs

And empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs.

As in the Don McLean song, we don’t understand why the woman has left, only that she is gone. The music emphasizes this with its dramatic crescendo in one scene when we think the man and the woman will meet only to stop suddenly when the man opens the door and she is not there. The only sign that remains of her presence is the lone red flower blooming on the windowsill, but the brilliantly coloured blue butterfly that once hovered by the flower is now dead and broken on the floor when he sweeps the corridor.

In 2002, Murata won the Prize in Excellence for his early puppet animation Nostalgia that he made during his student years at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. The Japan Times has described his puppet animation as resembling “fine paintings in every frame” that “feature heart-warming stories with humble characters.” Indeed, the combination of the sets and the way that they are lit in Indigo Road do have a painterly feeling about them, but they are not static. Murata enjoys a moving camera and there are several dramatic tracking and panning shots in the film that emphasis the emptiness of the space.

Towards the end there is an interesting moment where the pianist is split in two and we see him watching himself cleaning the toilet. In the next scene, as he walks past a bathroom mirror, he pauses and then splits into two people, with one image of himself walking off-screen and the other image remaining standing still. I wasn’t sure what to make of this part of the film at first, but upon further reflection it seemed to me that this scene visually represented the feeling a person has that they have lost a part of themselves when someone they love dearly leaves them. The wonderful thing about this film is that it is open to multiple interpretations.

Indigo Road can be ordered from tomoyasu.net

Tomoyasu Murata Sakuhinshu - Ore no Michi / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006