This Week: Calm
We sure use a lot of energy to live this fast.
Folks who live in glass houses are not supposed to throw stones.
I suppose on a somewhat related front, I should not keep mentioning how someone can animate by painting on glass too many times without also giving the time to talk about such work.
Calm is a seven and a half minute short film directed by Ryu Kato in 2006. It is one of the oldest works he lists on his professional site, second only to the less than two minute long Recorder from the same year. It also slots into a rather specific time for him. He finished his undergraduate studies at Tama Art University in 2004. In 2007, he received his Master’s degree from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music. I can not find the confirmation that Calm was itself a project made for a graduate school class, some other sort of student project, or just assembled during some free time for exploration. But either way, it is from those transitional years of early adulthood and professional level application. 2016, the year of this writing, is the ten year anniversary of the film. Whichever month it happened to debut in, for whatever purpose.
Calm is hosted in full on Ryu Kato’s YouTube channel, so it is far more accessible than some of his other work.
I should warn you: if you have eye strain or some other medical condition susceptible to flickering lights, you may want to exercise some caution.
The light surrounding the animation rises and falls quite a bit, even within the same cuts.
While he by no means invented the technique, painting on glass for animation production is perhaps best known via Aleksandr Petrov.
In particular, his adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea released in 1999 went on to widespread international acclaim, awards, and forever many an English literature class movie day.
The idea of painting on glass is to provide a kind of impressionistic visual element via lighting tricks and slick paints (often oil) on a less absorbent surface. In effect, more literal motion paintings. Which would be trickier if not impossible to capture via more traditional cel animation methods. In a somewhat similar sense, Naohisa Inoue would come around to editing animation bits years later to their own archive of paintings for Iblard Time (Iblard Jikan) via digital methods. The canvases long since dry, it was the next best thing for the accentuated effects they desired for us to take a virtual field trip.
Ryu Kato, of course, did not have the stature of either of them when putting Calm together back in 2006. Nor the degree of technical sophistication and precision one would expect of those two either. Which is no negative knock to him of course; again, Calm fits into his student years. And he has his own ways of doing thing.
Calm utilizes ultra thin paint compared to high detail professional projects in Petrov’s style, which gives it in my eyes a delightful visual flair to watch unfold. The brush strokes are fat, bold, and energetic. Kato is forceful in this short. Birds and butterflies flap all around. Characters hair and attire whip around in windswept fields. Even what could have been simpler shots of skies and cloud cover move in rapid rolling waves. Paint is flying all over the glass, and I find that momentum easy to get caught up in. This is less about the more lucid dreamlike illusion goals of a minutia minded piece shifting and moving about. Rather, this is akin to capturing momentary seconds you may remember upon waking up.
While Calm does not have the narrative chops of Kato’s later adaptation of The Nighthawk Star (Yodaka no Hoshi), it is not as abstract as his music video for Nimrod either. And, to wit, waking up forms a part of that. We by and large follow shots of a young woman as she gets up, and does everything from stare out the window of her small town apartment to looking through a photograph book. Interspersed we have cuts ranging from those aforementioned rolling clouds and flying birds to herself transforming in and out of being a bird in flight herself. Flowers disintegrate. Insects shed their outer bodies. Fields of trees turn to ashen wastes. One small girl dressed the same the another taller one has a small gift to give her before vaporizing into spotted dust herself. By the end, the sights of birds is more focused on their landing safe and sound, as well as the sun going down. The sight of photo book browsing reminds us of the distance we can revisit as we also move forward. Seashells held to the ear are well loved for their ability to mimic an eternal ocean, wherever we may be.
With the maximization of movement emphasized by the thin paints and raw movement, themes of moving on, growing up, and the like find synergy. The light levels careening and surging, be it through an accident of the production environment or purposeful intent, become like thousands of sunsets and new dawns slammed into a tiny space.
Even if that can be rather rough on the eyes, depending on how well lit your monitor environment is or any physical vision situations.
The sense of story in Calm comes through implication and not narration or dialouge. But, there are three bits in close proximity to each other with actual English text:
“Have you ever seen the color of the wind?”
“Have you ever seen the place where the streets have no name?”
These appear around the middle of the short film, in jumping scratchy lettering.
I point them out word for word because, to be honest, I am not sure how much they help the piece any. As this short is easy to stream via Kato’s own YouTube page (for now), I see less sense in keeping it tucked away as some kind of spoiler.
One gets dicey as being so close to actual lyrics of the “Colors of the Wind” anthem from Disney’s 1995 take on Pocahontas. The second comes within whiskers of a 1987 song by U2 for their album The Joshua Tree. The third is safe and generic enough to not peg to any one thing in particular. Although for the sake of fun, the long popular Japanese rock group L’Arc-en-Ciel did have a contemporary Oricon #1 charting song named “New World” from their 2005 album Awake.
I know this because I admit I even own a physical version of that album (somewhere), from back when mall music stores were cashing in on the previous anime boom period in the United States.
With Calm’s ideas of memories and moving on, the key reasoning I would see for this text would be if the lines were themselves acting as time capsules in one way or another. Perhaps things those working on the piece may have found influential in their artistic development long ago. Maybe something they were just getting into right at the moment, to leave a reminder for their future self.
It would be a nice personal sentiment from the perspective of one creating something, to leave such treats to themselves. If that is indeed what is going on. At the same time, well, this kind of brute force screen filling text implementation is blunt and jarring when contrasted against the flow in the rest of the work. If one had been getting swept up in the vivid motion of the paints on display, this does zap one out of that sense of mind. Even if you miss most of the first set, caught off guard as you may be, with two more to follow there is ample time for them to ground you. I feel the common response for many would be to come back to reality and focus on the letters to read what they say.
But do they “say” anything? I feel I may be stretching things quite far. The mini love letters to interests and influences set to act as some kind of memory poetry is the best explanation I can come up with.
I just know I am not sold on the effect. Though being right in the middle and only for a few seconds means everything before and after their present confused moment feels more promising.
Perhaps, if I wanted to stretch this digging to the breaking point, there would even be something to take from that.
As with The Nighthawk Star, the music on offer also features Kato.
The guitar chords and percussion bits are light and airy, and I feel easy to zone out to. With the rapid changes in the visuals, this complements the experience well. The audio acts like a constant swaying tree one may pass in their town all the time as they go about their business. Perhaps, indeed, you have not payed attention to that particular tree in a long time. A whole lot must have changed since you last gave it any special attention.
The music credits also thank Shunsuke Yuki, who I have a much more difficult time tracking information for. My educated guess, based on hearing Kato’s music work in other productions and Yuki holding the second music credit, is they are more responsible for the shifts in the later parts of Calm. More electronic sensibilities begin to enter play. Even clicking and whirring bits. These are not similar to what I have heard from Kato elsewhere, so Yuki’s involvement here seems the most plausible place. These music transitions and effects service the course of the themes in their own way too though. Like disk drives accessing or tapes played and rewound to recall something remembered.
Many of us have pictures, films, or other similar records of our younger lost selves through mechanical means, after all.
We look back to them to return to the sight, sound, or sensation of something which has already passed us by. Because the present can be terrifying, as we feel lost or alone and feel old. Everything moves so fast, and this seems all the more so after certain ages. But, there had to be some times of wonder too, somewhere, to get us this far. And there can be a sense of calm in our connection to such things, and our ability to keep moving ahead. On a certain level, it even comes down to why we may pop in an old favorite movie or the like.
Our younger selves gave us that memory as a gift. As we should also leave something for the ones we may become in the future.
Mothballs posts are write-ups of anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.