11 June 2011

Woman who stole fingers (指を盗んだ女, 2010)

The animated shorts of Saori Shiroki (銀木沙織, b. 1984) all share a feeling of melancholia. Each film also has a discomforting element to them. In The funeral (2005) there are the non-threatening wraiths that appear on the wall when the grandmother is reciting her tales. The sense of unease is much stronger in Night lights when the moth lands on the baby’s sleeping face. In MAGGOT, the unease increases dramatically at the disturbing sight of a lonely child playing with maggots and a dead rabbit. Woman Who Stole Fingers raises the ante to the level of deeply disturbing by taking on the subject of child abuse.

The film opens on a dark room and child reading a book at a desk. The child is small and hunched, dwarfed by the large, bare space of the room. The scene is quiet, with only the sounds one would associate with an urban home: the slight hum of traffic, the shuffle of movement, the squeak of the chair as the child tips back in it, and the sound of wind rustling the curtain.

Suddenly, the child rises from the chair and walks to the curtain, his movement leaving behind traces as he goes – a characteristic feature of paint-on-glass technique. When he draws open the curtain, there is a startling figure of a woman who tilts her head and looks at the child with a slightly wild look on her face. A close up on the boy’s face reveals a hint of his wide-eyed panic, but the horror of what is to come is not yet fully apparent.

Outside the house, the female figure stands peering into the window as the wind bends the trees with its gusting force. She turns on the water hose to spray the garden. In the next sequence, the boy seems to drag the woman into the frame across the grassy lawn. She has a look of shock on her face as he hops over the garden fence. A close up of her face shows her angry eyes and clenched jaw. One has the sense that he has disobeyed her will in some way.

There is a slam of a door and the child lurches wildly into the frame as if the female figure has dragged him inside and thrown him into the room. He thuds against the wall and writhes there helplessly. The footsteps of the woman approach and he cowers down as if expecting to be struck by her. She stops, towering above him and takes his hand.

She waves her hand over his as if she is performing a magic trick. The boy’s fingers wiggle and break free from his hands, metamorphosing into wriggling larvae which she seems to place in the folds of her skirt. The boy is left with a stump for a hand. The woman then repeats the process with his other hand and his feet. Without his toes, the boy careens the ground like a rag doll and lands with a thud, the female figure standing ominously over his limp body.

The woman leaves and the boy struggles to upright himself with the support of the wall. Agony is written on his face but he utters not a sound. He sits quietly near the corner of the room which is devoid of toys or any other traces that anyone lives in the space. He tries to crawl and stand but falls flat on his face. The female figure walks through the grass and gazes in the window as if checking up on him. 

In the next scene, the woman kneels next to the boy with a smile on her face. The scene looks for a fleeting moment like a loving moment of a mother reassuring her child, but then her hand slides up his arm and the image cuts away to piles of larvae falls to the floor with dull plopping sounds. The woman then picks up a giant larvae as if it were an infant in her arms – presumably all that is left of the boy and strokes it gently.

Apart from pulling and shoving, the film actually has very little violent action in it. Instead, the animation uses symbolism to express the psychological impact of abuse. The transformation of the boy’s digits, and then his entire body into an insect in its larval stage expresses the fear, helplessness, revulsion, and confusion that a child feels when abused by a loved one. The fact that the Shiroki has chosen the larval stage of development is significant because abuse forces a child to remain in a place of helplessness and dependence instead of being given the support he needs in order to grow up into a mature adult. The site of the boy pathetically trying to manoeuvre his truncated body across the room expresses the psychological horror of abuse in a way rarely seen in animation.

The Woman who stole fingers is Saori Shiroki’s graduate work from the Tokyo University of the Arts' Graduate School of Film and New Media. It has a very subtle soundtrack - clearly the best soundtrack of any of her films thus far - thanks to the sound design of Karuhiro Miyaoka. Shiroki herself wrote, directed, painted, and edited the film. It was produced by Koji Yamamura.

This is the final installment in a series of four posts examining the work of Saori Shiroki. To read more, click on titles in the filmography.
Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011

2004 Fumoto no Machi (麓の町, 6‘15“)
2005 Night lights (夜の灯/Yoru no hi, 3‘45“)
2005 The funeral (1’53”)
2007 MAGGOT (2’45”, silent)
2010 Woman who stole fingers (指を盗んだ女/Yubi wo nusunda onna, 4’15”)