17 March 2012

Sound of Life (生活の音, 2010)

How do household noises influence our bodies?  
Our daily life has its own kind of music.

When I first discovered the animation of Shiho Hirayama (平山志保), b. 1979 in 2009, I was delighted by the simplicity and humour of her works.  She has a great eye for movement and the transitions in her short line drawing film Swimming (2008) are delightful in their gracefulness and originality.

With Sound of Life (生活の音, 2010), Hirayama adds the three-dimensionality of claymation to her trademark line drawing animation style.  Sound of Life is an example of how animation can make the ordinary extraordinary and cause us to think about our lives from a new perspective.  I was reminded of Nick Park’s Creature Comforts (1989), which animated interviews with people about their daily lives, transforming ordinary people into claymation animals living in enclosures at the zoo.  Sound of Life does not use interviews or dialogue, but instead the soundtrack consists of the noises that one encounters in the course of the day.  The soundtrack blends documentary sound with musical interpretation of the soundtrack of our lives (piano, synth) which Hirayama mixed herself.

The film begins in a minimalistic way: three children kicking a ball around in an undefined public space.  A woman joins the scene and picks up the clay ball and looks at it and the scene shifts to a moving walkway (of the kind one might find in extra long corridors when changing trains in central Tokyo) complete with the soft female voice that warns you to watch your step.  Bustling crowds where the line drawn people’s hair has been replaced with colourful clay.  Blue clay fills the screen, as if replicating the slightly claustrophobic feeling of being caught up in a crowd.

There’s a lovely sequence of people boarding a train, with the clay filling the windows of the train.  The train’s departure is captured with the blurring movement of the clay, and then Hirayama transitions into a scene of motorcycles on the street.  She ease with which Hirayama changes perspective and scene recalls the great master of changing perspective, Georges Schitzgebel.

From traffic noises and road repair drilling to the more subtle sounds of the wind in the trees or the more mundane sounds of a taxi driver yawning as he waits at an intersection with his turn indicator on, Hirayama draws our attention to the sounds of everyday life that we might otherwise ignore.  The animation movement and the amount of clay used onscreen increases as the soundtrack becomes more filled with music/sound.  Soon there are no more line drawings left, but the screen fills with clay sequences depicting a bird feeding its young, a mother with an infant, and the film returns to the image it began with: children playing with a ball.  The boys remain faceless, but the screen is full of colour this time.  The closing credits are played over an abstract sequence of clay colourfully moving and shifting as if powered by the forces of nature.

It is an uplifting experience to watch Sound of Life as the film reminds us not only of how our lives are all interconnected by our shared experiences of sound, but also how the sounds that make up our everyday lives can affect our mood and general well being.  With so many people today blocking out the sounds of life by listening to music or podcasts on their portable devices, Sound of Life draws attention to the simple pleasures of listening and being aware of the environment in which we live.

Learn more about Shiho Hirayama on her official website.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2012