Credit_ Dom Carter

Glasgow Film Festival 2023: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

A beautifully realised animated collage of Murakami short stories.

Pierre Földes’ Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, which adapts several short stories by Haruki Murakami, combines a widely ambitious scope with a script deeply faithful to its source material. The film, Mr. Földes’ feature debut, forgoes adaptation of a single story, electing to weave together a handful of shorts into one episodic narrative, all brought to life by beautiful 2-D animation. The setting, a Tokyo still reeling from the 2011 earthquake, is a dream-world worthy of the author himself, wrapping multiple stories into its narrative quilt with ease. Mr Földes uses the surreality afforded to him by the animated medium for a variety of surreal sight gags and humorous asides. Visions and dreams (alien abductions, spectral cats, monstrous worms) are depicted with surrealistic flourish. Characters’ personal anecdotes and stories (which punctuate, interrupt and compellingly guide a typical Murakami conversation) are brought to life through cutaways, insert shots or extended flashbacks, lending the film’s many dialogues an unpredictably lively rhythm. Characters’ faces are drawn with heavy lines and tired eyes; weary, in a perpetual state of melancholic contemplation. In the film’s most brilliant touch, Tokyo is depicted as a literal city of ghosts. Shimmering opaque outlines shroud people, cars, and even buildings (implying their loss to the quake) conveying the disaster’s devastation in a fashion both inventively uncanny and deeply mournful.The film’s fixation upon the disaster’s aftermath provides an excellent thematic backdrop, with its characters’ many recollections, anecdotes and philosophical musings taking on a sense of the post-traumatic. 

The film’s best vignette sees Katagiri, a down-on-his-luck banker, band together with a humanoid frog (with a passion for Russian literature) to stop a monstrous worm from creating another earthquake far beneath Tokyo. The thankless monotony of life as one of capitalism’s countless cogs is blended with a post-disaster existential terror and injected with a good dose of absurdism to boot. The result is a tale larger than the sum of its parts, brought together by some especially compelling voice acting. Mr Földes, clearly, has his finger on the pulse for what makes his source material tick, and at its best, Blind Willow brings these qualities of absurd, humorously existential melancholia to life. Still, Blind Willow’s adaptational faithfulness is not always an asset. Mr. Földes’ script tends to adapt Murakami’s dialogue directly, which can sound stilted or clunky when divorced from the author’s excellent prose. Avid readers of Murakami may find the film a bit too faithful; diligent in weaving together its adapted tales, but trepidatious of reaching too far beyond them. The film’s innovations arise, not in story or dialogue, but its visual flourishes, acts of beautifully realised animated translation. The benefits which accompany Blind Willow’s hyper-faithful devotion to its source material outweigh the drawbacks, more often than not. The film’s post-quake Tokyo is alive and breathing, hoping and mourning, a dreamland well worth the price of admission.

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