Based on the Japanese short story collection from Haruki Murakami, ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ is a beautifully animated film set in Tokyo just after the devastating tsunami of 2011. Throughout its seven chapters, we follow three main characters; married couple Hiroshi and Kyoko, and a lonely bank worker, Mr Katagiri. All three start the film in a place of stagnation, Hiroshi and Mr Katagiri both in terms of their jobs, lifestyles and choices, and Kyoko quite literally being stuck in front of the TV, watching the aftermath of the tsunami for five days. That changes with an unexpected departure and an even more unexpected arrival (in the form of a giant talking Frog). From here the story spirals into separate tales of dreams, sad realities, interesting dialogue and imagination.

This film is stunning to watch. The stylistic choices the animators made help build on the world that toes the edge of reality and fantasy. A simple yet extremely effective technique is to have background characters appear like ghosts, a silvery outline of a person. It creates a focus on the main characters and their inner worlds, allowing everyone else to fade away, which is particularly useful in a story with multiple overlapping storylines. It also subtly added to the reoccurring line, ‘living with you is like living with a chunk of air’, that Kyoko writes to Hiroshi when she leaves him, asking him not to contact her.

The film's several chapters interweave stories of all three characters in an unusual structure. Chapter four stands out from the rest due to its focus on one story, based on the short ‘Birthday Girl’. It was rewritten to be from Kyoko’s perspective, rather than a nameless protagonist, which adds a context the original story didn’t have, and allows more speculation on the ending. The mood is thick with a foreboding feeling which becomes even stronger with the intentional breaking of the 180 degree rule mid way through her odd conversation with ‘The Owner’, visually showing a turning point in the scene and in her memory. The fact that it stands almost completely on its own initially made it feel disconnected from the wider narrative, but its intrigue and mystery can still be felt long after the chapter closes.

Another important note on narrative, is the recurring motif of the Frog character quoting great thinkers of past centuries. It accentuates the themes of fear and imagination within Mr Katagiri’s story, highlighting his humble intelligence and reliance on others.

First time feature director and composer, Pierre Földes does an excellent job at combining his roles. His background in music is clear from how scenes have been thought out. Frog’s first scene has notes choreographed to his movement and dialogue, complimenting how absurd of a character he is.

For these reasons, ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ is a fascinating and rich experience, both in terms of story and art. All the departments work seamlessly together, complementing each other on almost every turn, creating a memorable film that warrants rewatching.

Amy McFarland