366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.
DIRECTED BY: Pierre Földes
FEATURING: Voices of Amaury de Crayencour, Arnaud Maillard, Mathilde Auneveux, Pierre Földes; Ryan Bommarito, Marcelo Arroyo, Shoshana Wilder (English dub)
PLOT: A salaryman struggles emotionally when his depressed wife leaves him; meanwhile, his co-worker is approached by a giant talking frog who insists that the timid accountant assist him in forestalling an earthquake set to devastate Tokyo.
COMMENTS: The blind willow of the title is a fictional tree; flies bear pollen from its blossoms and deposit it into the ear of a woman, causing her to fall into a deep, fairy-tale sleep. The fable is related from inside a flashback in one of the stories that compromise this semi-anthology film. It’s one of many mysterious strands running through Pierre Földes cinematic debut, adapted from six Haruki Murakami (Drive My Car) short stories. The film follows three main protagonists, and one anthropomorphic Frog, through dismal-but-bearable lives in a post-earthquake Tokyo. The movie marches the trio through bouts of catatonic depression, workplace humiliations, odd vacations, encounters with magical restaurateurs, ambiguous erotic and semi-erotic encounters, a search for a missing cat, dreams, and one epic, hallucinatory quest.
The stories are all suffused with gentle melancholy and a sense of humanity’s search for meaning. No answers are given or purposes uncovered, except, perhaps, in the case of accountant Katagiri, who, with the help of the movie’s breakout character, the loquacious and puissant Frog, finally achieves recognition for his years of long and thankless service. The film’s general tone is more attuned to Komura, who endures abandonment by his wife with quiet and insular stoicism, and Kyoko, whose dissatisfaction remains inexpressible, even to herself. The figurants the main characters sit beside on subways, buses, or cafeterias are all silent and spectral, drawn as translucent overlays. There’s something ghostly about the film’s protagonists, who move about as if they’re bound to the world by some unremembered purpose, so it only makes sense that they inhabit a spectral civilization.
The artwork reinforces the calm, poetic, dreamlike mood. Color palettes are muted, with static backgrounds; in the loveliest composition, two characters stand at a bus stop in front of what looks like a springtime watercolor landscape of cherry blossoms and tall grass, a brown mound of mountain arising in the deep background. At times, especially in scenes with Frog, the art can recall anime, although this is not as much of a stylistic touchstone as the Japanese setting might suggest. The movie takes time out for flights of fancy in several dream sequences—Katagiri finds himself flying through the sky in the belly of a worm who resolves into a train as he wakes—but also in waking daydreams, as when Komura sees the whorls of his nephew’s ear morph into a nude woman, or when a spectral salmon swims above two lovers in bed. These digressions harness the fantasy power of animation in a way that seems more natural than it would in a live-action feature, suggesting that the characters’ interior realities have as much emotional weight as their dialogue. Földes has an odd trademark of drawing his character’s lips unusually wide and dark, but this is a minor distraction.
The multitalented Földes, previously known mainly as a composer, not only adapted Murakami’s stories into the screenplay, directed, and wrote the score, but also voiced Frog in both the French and English versions. Perhaps only his love of Murakami’s prose pulled him into filmmaking, but I hope this isn’t the last we see from him. He’s too skilled at this to sit on the sidelines.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a film that’s lovely, mysterious and also, at times, fittingly odd… the film itself is sync with Murakami’s particular blend of the quotidian and the surreal.”–Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)