Strawberry Candy (いちご飴 / Ichigo Chigo, 2020) was the film that made the biggest impact on me at the Geidai Animation 11 Neo screenings in February in Yokohama. It is a powerful short film that tells sensitively tells the story of familial child abuse from the perspective of a young girl.
The film begins innocently enough with the central protagonist, a Chinese girl of about kindergartner age, talking about her likes and dislikes. She likes playing hide-and-seek with a cardboard box used for storing pears, she doesn’t like the new telephone because her mom makes her call people; she likes her red marble that her father gave her on Children’s Day, but she doesn’t like the boys next store who took it from her; and so on.
As she continues telling us her likes and dislikes, the director, Nianze Li, masterfully builds a sense of unease. This innocent child is dealing with a secret that she doesn’t fully understand. She is able to express her distress at the situation her finds herself in and Li’s beautifully rendered animation shows how a child’s animation can be a coping mechanism. The boundaries between dreams (or nightmares) and reality can blur together until it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.
It is a powerful film, that will no doubt be distressing to viewers with personal experience of domestic abuse, but it is a very important tale to tell. It reminds us that we really need to listen to the stories children tell us and take seriously when they express that something is wrong. The story is beautifully illustrated with colourful pencil drawings, in an elegant evocation of the most common medium of children’s art.
According to her “Making Of” blog, the story came out not of personal experience but of research Li had done into the subject of child abuse. She studied films and books that gave her insight into the psychology of abuse, and wanted to give an empathetic portrayal from the point of view of the victim.
The film is playing this weekend and next at the Image Forum Festival where I will be watching it again. I am sure it will be picked up at other international film festivals around the world in the coming year.
Nianze Li (李 念澤, b. 1995) did her undergraduate education at the Sichuan Fine Art Institute New Media Art Department (2017) and completed her master’s at Tokyo University of the Arts Graduate School of Film and New Media earlier this year. You can follow her on twitter, Instagram, and Vimeo.
2020 Cathy Munroe Hotes