15 November 2007

A Memory (オモヒデ, 2001)

A Memory
(オモヒデ, 2001) is my favourite short film on Tomoyasu Murata's DVD of his early work entitled My Road (俺の路). It is much more polished than his first attempts at stop motion animation TUG TUG (1998) and An Introduction of Human Zoology (1998). These two early films have a film school feel about them with their inconsistent lighting and experimental use of editing between stop motion and cel animation not to mention the strangely cacophonic soundtracks.

Murata’s early stop motion films also display the dark humour mixed with toilet humour (literally in TUG TUG) that he tends now to reserve for his more flamboyant cel animations. In A Memory Murata (村田朋泰) demonstrates that he has mastered using a minimalist soundtrack with a wide range of camera positions and movement in order to create atmosphere. He has also learned how a few simple visual and aural motifs can create an emotional connection between the film and the spectator.

The film begins quietly, much in the manner of Nostalgia and the films of the Road Series. Murata develops the theme of memory with graphic images of the kanji for numbers and small slips of paper with the traditional names of the months: a visual reminder of the early school days when a child first learns how to recognise kanji through drills. The way the slips of paper with the names of the months flip away also gives the impression of time passing, as in the old Hollywood technique of turning the pages of a calendar. Murata then dissolves from the kanji to an older Japanese-style house, similar to the one used in Nostalgia. In the background, one hears the gentle hum of cicadas, a sound associated with memories of youth and hot summer weather in Japan.

After this establishing shot of the room, the film cuts to a medium shot of an unusual looking feather duster cleaning above a wardrobe. A reverse shot reveals the arm to belong to a robot. This simple series of opening shots, demonstrates Murata’s more sophisticated film-making technique as he sets up the motif of memory, and then plays with our expectation that the film will be about a person’s memory.

In fact, A Memory tells the story of a robot alone in a house who finds a scrap of paper on the floor which at first appears blank, but then becomes animated with a colourful cel animation ‘memory’ of a happy scene from the past of the robot with a young family. The family is depicted as a child might draw their family with crayons. As the family does not appear in the claymation ‘present’, the story is left open to speculation about the whereabouts of the family. Are they away at work or school or is the robot now alone?

Particularly fine touches in A Memory are Murata’s Ozu-inspired framing of the interior of a Japanese house (which he will repeat in Nostalgia) and the subtle manner in which Murata suggests human emotion on the face of the robot. The soundtrack by Fumikazu Sakamaki (坂巻史和) adds emotional depth in a beautifully understated manner. Sakamaki also composed the haunting music for Scarlet Road and White Road.

According to the news on Murata's website, he has had yet another productive year. He has produced several new claymation films this year, has a new book out, and will have a new exhibition opening in Hiratsuka in the spring. I hope that his new shorts will make it to Nippon Connection in Frankfurt next year so that I can report back to you soon!

The images used in this review belong to Tomoyasu Murata Company and may not be reproduced for profit. Please support this artist by checking out his webstore. You can also by the DVD with this film on it at Yesasia:

Tomoyasu Murata Sakuhinshu - Ore no Michi / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2007