This Week: Bird’s Song (Tori no Uta).
Yoshitaka Amano and the late-life crisis.
I first saw Bird’s Song several years ago, hand in hand with Yoshitaka Amano’s other directorial contribution to Toei Animation’s Ga-nime project, Fantascope ~tylostoma~.
I waited some time before revisiting the later and trying to reflect on it after another pass. For this second piece I have waited longer still. Each deal in large part with the passage of time. Regret. Loss. Frustration one has held on to for what seems to oneself like ages. And so on.
In the case of the later, the narrative floats in the rage and numbness of the immortal. Down to the overwhelming presence of only shades of grey and black to guide the visuals. So many emotions having folded in upon themselves, warped, and turned to ever more layers of charred carbon over time.
Bird’s Song saw release several months later, in January 2007. While it shares none of the same characters as Fantascope ~tylostoma~, many of the themes remain similar and familiar. The seeking of something lost. The despair of time. The senses of wanting.
In this case however, our main character is quite alive and mortal in the sense that we know. And the world of this tale allows colors to bleed out from every pore.
Bird’s Song is about the same length as Fantascope ~tylostoma~, at just over a half hour.
Our setup for what is to come is far more upfront here. A young boy seeking shelter from a sudden heavy rain, and coming upon a suitable shelter with a well dressed girl. They wait out the storm, silent together but in his mind imagining so much intimacy. Upon departing, he can never quite manage to work his way back to the street and home where that magical time transpired. No matter what, she eludes him, whoever she was. In time he grows up and leaves his town. To forget so much to the fog of life, yet in time returns to the town of his youth.
The narrator states how fifty years had elapsed between the time they left their hometown and their eventual return. Let us assume the young boy at the start was an early teenager, which I do not feel is unreasonable. Some extra years transpired before leaving home, say somewhere around university age. This would mean the older man encountering much of the rest of the story is perhaps into his seventies. A rich and full life, by most modern estimations.
We see the old man version of our lead less than a handful of times. He does manage to see the young girl again in his older age, but we then by and large see him as his younger self. Yet the bulk of the story is him recalling and sharing his years of memories, dreams, and feelings.
But his advanced age is a crucial part to hold on to. As with Fantascope ~tylostoma~, what one may have wanted all along is key to our narrative. And, again, a significant amount of the material to get there revolves around unpacking existential sorrow.
As befits two who met under the auspices of a storm, the girl pours our main man a glass of water. If memories and shared stories befitting each color of a rainbow resonate with the water, the rainbow in the glass will return to the sky.
The soaring part of the life giving water cycle, of course, to say nothing of any spiritual connotations.
I do not take Bird’s Song for a literal linear narrative so much as I process it as a kind of tonal poem.
This is at the risk of giving the short film too much credit, but I do find that interpretation to be more enjoyable. As memories unfold to fit various colors, the reactions swing around and around. Wistful and lustful longing, to more bitter sadness’s and contemptible possessive rage. Things do become ever more disjointed to keep up with, and this is such a one sided tale in its focus. So I find it more beneficial to view the young lady in this story as a whole bundle of ideas, wants, and desires the lead never quite managed to achieve in his life. The decades which passed may as well have fallen into the fog from Fantascope ~tylostoma~. Our main man seems to have done well enough in whatever work he came into to at least eat and survive this long. But there seems to be little else from all this time for him to show for it. There is no mention of friendships, loves, kids, pursuits, accomplishments, or anything of any kind for him to recall in a favorable light. Nothing. The net result is one day he was a boy with a sense of fanciful wonder and the impossible. Upon another he wakes up realizing he is well into pensioner age. Not from any kind of magic or the like, but time just having gotten away from him.
It is not a happy thought. A palpable and understandable torment.
It does not surprise me how the stories from the girl and our old-man-as-a-boy revolve around various forms of distance, authority figures, roadblocks, and other judgemental forces. Gaps he never crossed, opinions of folks he surrendered to, moments he never reached. Images of the boy unable to be with a princess from an undersea kingdom. Nightmares of being unable to help keep her safe.
For all the talk of sharing dreams or the like, it is more like reflecting on a series of abstracted failures. Not fantasies, but rather frustrations. Our boy never shares visions where he imagined himself becoming closer with the girl. Just whatever stopped him. She is always just beyond him, for one reason or another.
In a certain light, this can even feel like a series of excuses. Justifications for opportunities never taken or stands never made. However abstracted they may be. This is where I find nuance to consider in what Bird’s Song does with its time.
As part of the Ga-nime project, there is ultra minimal animation in Bird’s Song. Even less than what little saw use in Fantascope ~tylostoma~.
Outside of camerawork panning over Amano’s paintings to set mood and tone to the character dialogue, it takes over thirteen minutes for anything to move. Given the focus of the various short films which make up the Ga-nime series, it is important to know going in. Animation kept in tight reserve for occasional movements. Some cloth, blowing flower petals, smoke effects, and other accentuation. They function more like little accessories to an outfit, rather than being the driving force. In Amano’s case, he has decades of experience and international renown as an illustrator to bring to the table. So him having free reign on what by and large amounts to an audio-visual picture book is still not a bad deal. For a story using color themed dreams aiming to generate a rainbow, seeing him play with the paint maintains a certain interest. What small surreal scenes will various shades extrapolate into? This is all the more true when paired with the grim monochromatic look of Fantascope ~tylostoma~. I do feel they should be together as a double feature if one has the hour or so. Though this may be like experiencing a book while someone else turns the pages at their own pace.
All things being equal, in a heads up showdown I do prefer Fantascope ~tylostoma~ to Bird’s Song. Though as is often the case after enough time, I would have liked if my original post for that work was also stronger to reflect this.
I appreciate the attempt Bird’s Song makes to explore similar themes of regret and frustration with a different lens. This time a character who is alive and nearing the end of their finite life. It is a much messier work to navigate, though I do feel it has rewarding aspects in sorting through it. The dream representations. Choices our leading man makes in this reunion. What the titular bird song would be referring to. The characters in Fantascope ~tylostoma~ have had what may as well be an eternity to sharpen some rather particular feelings as all else has turned to grey and decay. So overall I do find the poignancy and direction of their torment to hold heavier impact.
But, as I mentioned before, I do also feel they work better together. Or should at least watched as such, if but once. Separating one at the expense of never seeing the other does no favors to the survivor.
It was not reasonable for me to see Bird’s Song the first time and go through a fifty year phase before reflecting, like our main character here. It would be an awful long wait for not that great of a website stunt, for one thing. So much could happen in the meantime, for another.
But, it was nice to build some varied distance between each of my experiences with these works. Each of Amano’s contributions to the Ga-nime collection are about looking back and reflecting. The way I express myself here has, of course, also shifted and developed over time as well. So I feel this delayed approach was a better choice than just writing on each back to back almost two years ago, when I last visited them.
For as much as time marches forward, however, if left to its own devices it can generate a whole lot of stagnation. This is what our protagonist in Bird’s Song struggles with so much. For as colorful as the dream worlds painted around them are, there is so little happiness in them. And his remaining time is so short.
Our girl insists she was steadfast in waiting for him all these years, and she is not believed. Perhaps because to acknowledge her would mean decades of life opportunities and chances she may represent were there all the while. The stories of distance or forces beyond himself getting in the way would be akin to retroactive justification. A difficult defensive mechanism to let go, harboring them so long.
She never looks a day older. Indeed, if the man achieved as little in all his years to be proud of or find joy in as he seems to imply?
It stands to reason his forlorn and sidetracked dreams never would have changed much either.
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.