“I will not let the non-knitters of the world decide how normal I am.”–Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, “At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much”
DIRECTED BY: Mai Tominaga
FEATURING: , Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Ayu Kitaura
PLOT: A pair of packrat sisters have their perfectly dis-ordered world turned upside-down by the arrival of a mysterious girl. Dubbed “Knit-Again” by the sisters, she is caught in an obsessive cycle of wrecking their home, knitting a large collection of red yarn into a massive shroud, and unraveling her creation and beginning anew. Their attempts to rid themselves of Knit-Again lead the sisters to reconsider an event from their shared past.
- Wool 100% is director Tominaga’s first feature. Her previous works were animated short films.
- Kyôko Kishida is probably best known for portraying the title role in Woman in the Dunes. This was her final film; she died the same year as the film’s release in Japan.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Waves of knitted red yarn, filling the screen and undulating like blood, as two young women try to knit a romance (and a baby) into being.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: “I have to knit again!”; living scrapbook; rooftop dollhouse fire
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Wool 100% is the purest kind of fairy tale: unsettling and unforgettable images of characters caught in fantastically unusual circumstances. You might knock it for ultimately following a retroactively logical progression, but the journey there is perplexing, and the final explanation is just as surprising as the quixotic tale that precedes it.
Original Japanese trailer for Wool 100%
COMMENTS: I’ve called Wool 100% a fairy tale, and I stand by that. But at the outset, it feels like an anti-fairy tale: a consciously simplistic animated prologue explains how sisters Ume and Kame squirreled themselves away from the world, surrounding themselves only with the junk they found most charming. But when we meet them in live-action being serenaded by a contingent of adorable moppets, the shut-ins roughly dismiss them. Like watching a Disney movie telling the story of the lonely crone in the woods instead of the princess, we then go inside their carefully cultivated habitat where they live like the Collyer brothers, contentedly maneuvering through the wall-to-wall detritus accumulated through their dumpster-diving expeditions and creating vivid drawings of their finds. Their seclusion is broken up only by occasional ventures into the populated world to rescue more discarded gems, making ghost-like appearances before the town’s locals and basically acting like strange trash-angels.
Enter Aminaoshi (“Knit-again”), a young lady with no clothes except the shift she knits for herself, and no words except to shriek “I have to knit again!” while destroying the garment she just made. Her presence is both unexplained and inexplicable, and the sisters’ world is wrecked by her sudden appearance, both physically (her fits reduce several of their prized artifacts to rubble) and emotionally.
So goes the first half of the film; they try to evict her, to feed her, to calm her, but nothing can break her cycle of knitting and screaming. It’s off-putting, but at its root is a clever strategy by Tominaga to put you on the sisters’ side. We should feel unable to empathize with these hermits, but we absolutely end up feeling as helpless as they do.
Up to this point, Wool 100% has been content to be charmingly puzzling. However, after an animated interlude in which Aminaoshi seems to enter the sisters’ book of drawings, we begin to see the magnitude of the challenge Tominaga has set for herself: having established this bizarre situation, she begins to pay it off, providing an explanation that is inarguably logical while remaining as bizarre as all that has come before. Even the wool proves worthy of its prominence, revealed as a simile for fertility in a sequence that manages to be comic, erotic, and heartbreaking all at once.
Tominaga revels in unexpected choices, which extend to every part of the film. The score features a saxophone ensemble that sounds like it escaped from a They Might Be Giants recording session. On the few occasions that the movie leaves the overcrowded house, it either tiptoes into a nearly empty, overly ordered Japanese suburb or into a fantastic natural landscape. The film maintains a consistently sympathetic tone, never dipping into satire or smugness. It’s all off-kilter, but earnestly so.
Simultaneously enchanting and deeply melancholy, Wool 100% is one-of-a-kind, but even if there were an entire genre of films about sewing techniques as the personification of maternity, it would still stand out for so thoroughly living up to its own expectations. Tominaga has only released one film since (2010’s Rinco’s Restaurant, which similarly toys with magical realism). Her unique vision may be too challenging for Japanese producers to support, or the exactitude of her storytelling may demand too much patience and effort. In any event, she brings a unique voice to the cinema, and her debut pushes the brain to its limits.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Viewers who expect mundane psychological explanations for the newcomer’s behavior — or the sisters’ quick acceptance of her presence — will be frustrated by Wool 100%. The movie builds its aesthetic upon fairy tale conventions and dream logic. It prizes atmosphere above all else, favoring quiet, often glacially slow interactions that let us exist in the house alongside the characters.” –Matt Zoller Seitz, The New York Times (contemporaneous)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Wool 100 – Asian Wiki has basic info and a 12-item image gallery
Wool 100% – Kate Davies Designs – Perceptive review from an unusual source: a Scottish fashion designer specializing in woolen garments
IMDB LINK: Wool 100% (2006)
(This movie was nominated for review by “Snussy.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)