The Movie Waffler New Release Review - BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN | The Movie Waffler


Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman review
Animated interpretation of short stories by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Pierre Földes

Voice Cast: Marcello Arroyo, Michael Czyz, Zag Dorison, Pierre Földes, Jesse Noah Gruman, Katharine King So, John Vamvas, Nadia Verrucci, Shoshana Wilder

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman poster

An international co-production written, produced, directed and composed by Pierre Földes in his feature debut, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman uses six Haruki Murakami short stories (from across three different collections) as its anthologised plot, blending the tales together in a flickering pastel palette of love and loss.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman review

The author's recurrent themes of trauma (both collective and personal), spiritualism and sexuality abide, with Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman's elegant animation suiting Murakami's magic realism inflected narratives. Here, two male office workers share the primary plotlines: the younger man is attempting to get over his wife's abandonment of him, while his counterpart (the two are deliberately mirrored within the film) is an older fella who is visited by a seven-foot frog. The talking amphibian enlists him to help save Tokyo from a forthcoming earthquake. Taking place in the aftermath of the Kobe disaster, the main characters and their deuteragonists wander through their variegated narratives as if shell shocked, a somnambulist dynamic which exemplifies Murakami's predominant ideas surrounding sleepy visions and the waking dreams that are stories.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman review

In Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman's narrative hall of mirrors, characters recount memories or remember stories, nudging the plot in different directions like blossoms soft lifted by the shot breeze. With the expressive potentials of its animated form, the kokeshi structure gives the film an intriguingly free associative, almost psychedelic, feel. A broken relationship's sombre ennui is surreally contrasted by vivid Kaiju visions of a massive worm churning up the city, and a bright blue cat occasionally spectres the screen while characters melt in and out of the frame: this is a world without weight, existential and ephemeral.

The use of form is certainly effective, but your ultimate mileage may vary depending on how much of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman's "Murakami-ness" you can stomach. The author's abiding theme of egoism proves to be the film's true narrative drive. Primarily established in Junpei's navel gazing mope over his Mrs, and further matched by Katagiri's possible mental breakdown brought on by latent mid-life crises manifesting in absurd fantasies of heroism, this is the stuff of modern masculine trauma (women are often diegetically presented within the context of male fantasy, with Hokusai's Dream of the Fisherman's Wife pointedly plonked in the background of one scene). Junpei's absconded partner tells him he is "like chunk of air," which really gets to him, and the mise-en-scene corresponds with background characters having the negative space outlines of Cristina Troufa's primary school sketches: being and nothingness, etc. Yet, within this subjective framework you're never quite sure how much of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman's intent is to present its protagonists as pitiable or pitiful. Are our boys suffering life's great challenges, or do they just need to get over themselves?

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman review

A clue might yet be found in the propensity multiple characters have for quoting Great Thinkers, with, among others, Hemingway's reference to courage (honestly!) and Seneca's definition of choices being freely cited. The film duly presents these bromides as perceptive wisdoms crucial to narrative denouement, and not the sort of cliché you'd find superimposed over the saturated image of an ocean on the Facebook feed of your most basic follower. Maybe the glib quotations are less borrowed profoundness than an indicator of the steadfast superficiality of the characters, their frighteningly limited mind sets and situations, which they attempt to escape via dream (the men) or flight/sex (the women). I suspect not though, regarding the towering solipsism which defines Murakami's work (and the artist himself? How do you know if someone is training for a marathon?/Don’t worry, they’ll let you know, etc). Still, with a sustained interest in cinematic adaptation of Murakami (this is the seventh in a decade, following that Drive My Car everyone made a fuss over a couple of years ago), and in the same way that I as a Constant Reader eagerly await this year's release of another Children of the Corn adaptation, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman will provide plenty to please fans of the popular author.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is in UK/ROI cinemas from March 31st.

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