07 May 2014

My Milk Cup Cow (コップの中の子牛, 2014)

For her Geidai graduate film, Chinese animator Yantong Zhu has created a very personal hand drawn animation that has been lovingly dedicated to her father.  My Milk Cup Cow (コップの中の子牛/Koppu no naka no Koushi, 2014) is told from the perspective of a four-year-old girl called Nunu who lives alone with her single father.  Not only is there a first-person narration voiced by the animator herself of the central protagonist recalling her childhood, but the visual perspective of many scenes within the animation has been done from the point-of-view of a small child. 

Through the voice-over narration we learn that Nunu’s early childhood is very unsettled.  Her mother is absent from her life, and she and her father have moved several times.  In response to the constant upheaval of adjusting to new communities and nursery schools, Nunu becomes a picky eater.  Her father tries to convince her to drink up her milk by telling her a fanciful tale that if she drinks up all milk she will discover a cow he has hidden at the bottom of her cup using magic.  Nunu is intrigued by this and drinks up her milk only to discover an empty cup.  Her father tells her that she must have swallowed the cow and if she listens very carefully she will hear it in her belly.

Through a series of interlayered vignettes, this animated short gives us a glimpse into the everyday life of Nunu.  She overhears the whispers in the playground about her unusual family situation, she notices that her father has troubles getting enough money together to pay their rent, she rides in the basket of her father’s bicycle through the city on hot summer evenings taking a different route home every time.  Gradually, Nunu starts to realize that her father is weaving a fabric of white lies in order to protect her from the harsh realities of their hard scrabble life.  .  .  and as she grows up she may need to do the same in order to avoid causing her father more worry.

Yantong Zhu has created a very touching story.  Although it is ably narrated, the real emotional content of the film comes from the depiction of the child’s perspective on the world around her.  It is a very sensory experience, showing us both Nunu’s amusing observations (her father’s prickly chin feeling like a hedgehog) and her fears (that her father must have eyes in his knees to be able to see that she is peering through the slats of the bathroom door while he is on the toilet).  The emotional content of the film, and its nostalgic feel, are heightened by the use of a music composed by Asuka Horiguchi and performed on an erhu (Chinese violin) by Yingzi Li, as well as a lilting traditional northeastern Chinese lullaby arranged by Jianchun Zhen and performed by Long Wu (piano) and Guang Yang (singer).

Yantong Zhu (朱彦潼/シュ・ゲンドウ, b. 1988) grew up in Nanjing, China and graduated with a degree in Advertising from the Nanjing University of Finance and Economics in 2010.  She graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts’ graduate programme in animation this year.  My Milk Cup Cow is screening at international festivals this year.  It will screen at Nippon Connection on Thursday, May 29, 2014.  Click here to learn more.  You can follow Yantong Zhu on twitter or vimeo.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014