08 August 2009

Sky Colour Flower Colour (空色花色, 2005)

© Tomoyasu Murata Company

This short puppet / mixed media animation by Tomoyasu Murata (村田朋泰) features the female character from Indigo Road (藍の路, 2006), the third film in his Michi (Road) Series. A key theme in each of the first three films of the series is loss: the death of a child (Scarlet Road), the death of a dog and the moving away of a childhood friend (White Road), and the dissolution of a relationship (Indigo Road).

Although there is no explicit suggestion in the title Sora Iro Hana Iro (Sky Colour Flower Colour) that this film belongs to the Road Series, fans of Murata’s puppet animation will spot the connection immediately. The woman, with her short black hair, white shirt, and expressive eyes is unmistakably the same puppet used in Indigo Road. The piano music that opens the film is also very similar to the piano themes in the Road films whose main protagonist is a pianist. Both Sakamaki Fumikazu (composer for Scarlet Road and White Road) and Tatsuhide Tado (composer for Indigo Road and Lemon Road) are credited alongside Murata himself for the music in Sora Iro Hana Iro.

© Tomoyasu Murata Company

The film opens on a train platform set against a bright white background with the woman sitting on the bench changing the film in her camera. She looks up to see an adult dog at the edge of the platform looking at her. Both the white background and the dog suggest the film White Road. The dog is a similar size to the adult dog in white road but has different coloring.

Towards the end of the first scene, the woman and dog stand together watching an indigo, computer animated butterfly as it passes through the station and flies into the fields. This again is a reference to Indigo Road, in which the man finds a broken butterfly on the ground after the woman has left him – a butterfly which was alive in flashback scenes.

The butterfly, a symbol of spiritual transformation that appears often in Japanese animation, links the opening scene to the following scene in which the woman and dog stand together in a lush green Japanese forest. I say Japanese forest, because my husband (a keen birder who has spent many years in Japan) recognized the hiyodori (brown-eared bulbul) on the soundtrack – a very common bird native to Japan. The locations of the Road Series are unclear and likely purely an imaginary realm inspired by Murata’s own travels and aesthetic interests. Indigo Road looks like it’s set in a central European town, while Lemon Road could be set in rural Arizona. Murata has a love of old technologies, such as TVs and radios, and his puppet sets look like a slightly worn version of the 1950s.

© Tomoyasu Murata Company
The woman and the dog wander the forest side-by-side, always facing now in the same direction, like the elderly couple in Ozu’s Tokyo Story and the woman pauses occasionally to take photos. A car, that looks like it is driven by the woman, passes through the forest at the end of this scene, but as it goes by, we see the backs of the woman and dog walking into the forest. This doubling of the main protagonist also happened with the pianist in Indigo Road when he was cleaning the toilet. At this point, it becomes apparent that with Sora Iro Hana Iro, Murata has not made a straight-forward narrative story, but rather series of subjective impressions to tell us more about the state of mind of this female protagonist, whom I shall call the photographer from now on.

© Tomoyasu Murata Company

The piano theme returns with the return of the butterfly, and the photographer looks up through the trees at the bright sky. Bathed in the rosy colour of the setting sun, she sits down on a bench and closes her eyes, and we are treated to an ethereal dream sequence (likely computer animation) of neon and pastel figures of children, a carousel and floating lights that at times look like glowing fireflies and at other times like stars. This sequence (particularly the children, the carousel, and the bright colours on a black background) are very similar to the themes and aesthetic of another Murata film Merry-go-Round (2008).

© Tomoyasu Murata Company

The dream sequence ends by repeating the shot of the road through the forest with the car returning. This time the car stops and we are granted a closer shot to confirm that the photographer and the dog are both in the car watching the backs of themselves going into the woods. On this surreal note, the film fades to black and the piano theme continues over the credit sequence.

My interpretation of this film is heavily influenced by my knowledge of Murata’s other films, and it’s hard to say how much meaning I would have read into the film if I watched the film ignorant of his other works. In a way, it was a relief to find that the woman was alive – though with the dream-like imagery of this film she may only be alive in a spiritual sense. The deaths of loved ones are made clear in Scarlet Road and White Road, but in Indigo Road it wasn’t clear if the woman had died or left. For me, Sora Iro Hana Iro, tells me that the woman, an artist in her own right and not just the housewife she seemed to be in Indigo Road, has left to go on a spiritual journey. The colours of this film, are much more optimistic that Indigo Road, and so I have the impression that her journey is a positive one of growth for her. The title suggests the red colour of the flower that is a symbol of the Road Series, and the sky changes with the scenes (white, blue, rosy, and black night sky). The butterfly suggests that she is undergoing some kind of a spiritual transformation in her life.

Although the film seems to have actually been completed the year before Indigo Road, they seem to be partner films. And, there are many connections between it and the most recent installment in the series Lemon Road (檸檬の路, 2008). Sora Iro Hana Iro is a truly beautiful short film which, like most Murata films opens up more questions than it answers, but is an aesthetic treat all the same. As will become clear when I review Lemon Road in the next few days, Murata seems be mixing media more and more with his films. In many ways, he seems to be taking up the mantle of Tadanari Okamoto (岡本 忠成, 1932-1990), a puppet animator who challenged himself with each new project to try out new methods and push the boundaries of animation made by hand.

Sora Iro Hana Iro and Merry-go-Round are two of 20 shorts (including animatied company logos) available on the DVD The Dream is Crouching (夢がしゃがんでいる) and can be ordered online at tomoyasu.net (within Japan) or by contacting his company for orders outside of Japan.

Tomoyasu Murata Sakuhinshu - Ore no Michi / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2009