18 February 2010

The Apple Incident (2001)

This surreal early short animation by Kunio Katō (加藤久仁生), the Oscar-winning director of La maison en petits cubes (つみきのいえ, 2008), won the prize for best film at the Laputa Animation Festival in 2001. The Apple Incident lacks the polish of Katō's The Diary of Tortov Roddle (或る旅人の日記, 2003) and La maison en petits cubes, yet there is a certain charm to its hand-drawn textures. Katō’s stylistic trademarks are already in place: tall, elongated people, trees, buildings, and other structures and objects. The colour palette is very similar to his later works, albeit much darker.

The Apple Incident depicts a modern city with tall skyscrapers, trams, and apartments whose rooftops are cluttered with chimneys and TV antennae. Giant apples inexplicably begin falling from the sky, rolling down the streets, or hovering in the sky in ways that seem to threaten the inhabitants of the city. The eerie soundtrack adds to the growing sense of uneasiness. As do the dark shadows and shots of people from very low or high angles.

The turn comes when a group of featureless people exit a train station like shadows. A group of them surrounds an apple in the street and when the camera provides a reverse shot of their faces we see clearly now that they are carrying axes, pitchforks and other farm implements. They look more like farmhands than the elegantly dressed city folk of the opening scenes.

Armed with these tools, they begin to hack away at the apples. They then eat their flesh until only the cores are left. The final images are peculiar: the city inhabitants standing against a bare landscape against a sky filled with billowing clouds and apples sprouting out from the tops of their heads.

At first this plot may seem nonsensical, but the way the apples float in the sky remind one of UFOs floating above cities in science fiction movies. Katō has taken an oft told story of people’s fear of the unknown and transformed it by exchanging the unknown (the UFO / the nuclear bomb / terror attacks / ghosts / etc.) for a commonplace object (the apple) that we normally consume. The concept bears much in common with Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier’s The Birds (1963): fear of the unknown, inability to act reasonably in a time of crisis, images fraught with symbolism (the apple is after all associated with the forbidden fruit in Christian culture and is often associated with love and sexuality in secular art), and an open-ended ending to leave the audience pondering what it all means as they leave the theatre.

Related Posts:

La maison en petits cubes
The Diary of Tortov Roddle

Aru Tabibito no Nikki / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010