A lost cat, a giant talkative frog and a tsunami help a bank employee without ambition, his frustrated wife and a schizophrenic accountant to save Tokyo from an earthquake and find a meaning to their lives.
Tokyo, a few days after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Kyoko suddenly leaves her husband after spending five days in a row glued to unfolding earthquake footage on TV.
Her helpless husband Komura takes a week’s leave from work and heads north to deliver a box and its unknown contents to two young women. His colleague Katagiri, a simple debt collector by profession and an awkward loner in life, returns home one evening to find a two-metre-tall frog asking for his help to save Tokyo from an imminent earthquake. Through memories, dreams and fantasies, Kyoko, Komura and Katagiri, influenced by their visions of earthquakes – which are manifested as evil willow trees, giant earthworms, secret vows, mysterious boxes and a dark, endless corridor –, attempt to rediscover their true selves.
of Pierre Földes
A consummate artist, Pierre Földes is a director, composer and painter. Born in the United States to a Hungarian father and British mother, Pierre Földes is the son of a pioneer of computer animation, Peter Földes, nominated for an Oscar and a César winner. Pierre grew up in Paris where he studied piano and composition. He began his career in New York composing music for film and advertising before moving to Europe. Fascinated by drawing and animation, he has written and directed several short films by adapting a production pipeline to his idea of film. He has thus developed his own unique and personal style and technique.
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Saules Aveugles, Femme Endormie)
Petites scènes d’été
Coffee and Bananas
On the subjectivity of the notion of existence in relation to the authenticity of femal climax
(De la subjectivité de la notion d’existence liée à l’authenticité de la jouissance féminine)
Les Allemands du Pont-Neuf
of the director
I think that many of us, at one point or other in our lives, will experience a wake-up call that helps us realise that the path we are on isn’t working out for us, or that the person we have become isn’t who we set out to be. This may have happened either due to decisions we did or didn’t take or out of sheer laziness. This wake-up call might be a person who comes into our lives, a separation, a sudden event, or simply the fallout from something that happens in our lives.
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In the specific case of this film, it’s an earthquake, the one which trigged a tsunami in March 2011. The characters are at a standstill in their lives but don’t know it. They are asleep. A seismic event, both real and internal, opens their eyes to hidden truths.
I discovered Haruki Murakami when I was living in New York, working freelance as a film score composer. I was instantly captivated by his style, where the supernatural and the commonplace rub together. He’s an author who brings a fresh perspective by telling stories about what is happening deep down inside of us by describing only the faint ripples on the surface.
When I returned to Europe, I got into animation which I know something about through my father, Peter Földes, an amazing, César-winning animator in his day. I started to develop a feature-length 2D animation project based on Murakami’s work.
Murakami is hugely popular, yet there have been very few adaptations of his work for the big screen. In New York, his agents immediately tried to put me off – ‘He’s a rock star’, they said – arguing that he tended to reject everything and detested animation films. However, he was immediately drawn to the ‘originality’ of my graphic style that I sent to him and my general approach. He invited me to adapt his short stories.
The first of the six short stories I chose to adapt was Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. I wanted to keep the title for the film. It’s also the name of a collection of short stories that is one of his global bestsellers.
I restricted myself to the six short stories* [Superfrog Saves Tokyo – UFO in Kushiro – Birthday Girl - Dabchick – Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman – The Wind-up Bird – Tuesday’s Women] that most spoke to me, that went well together, because they appealed to me, excited me, roused all kinds of emotions in me, as subtle as they were indescribable, as profound as they were unexpected, but with no other plan in mind than to use whatever inspired me.
I approached the process of adaptation in steps. The first step, more timid and respectful, consisted of closely following the texts with all the characters they contained. Each story was distinct and followed its course until the end. There were five stories at this stage, including one which was a little absurd that I chopped up and which served as a promenade, a space to breathe between the others, like the Promenades in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition suite.
As I advanced with the screenplay, I felt that the dozen characters could and would have to be distilled into four main protagonists, representing their various facets. So I gradually came up with a main storyline in which the structure of each short story was broken up and deconstructed. From this second step emerged a screenplay composed of stories completely tangled up with the same characters who featured in all of them.
The third step entailed creating a structure in seven parts in which the beauty, singularity and rhythm inherent to each story was recreated while the characters who transcended all of the stories lived on in a single continuous thread, a wholly original one this time and whose meaning was still unclear to me at the outset.
It was only later that I understood what I’d written. The events that I’d been most touched by had naturally seeped into the story I was telling, creating the backbone, the chronology, which had become relatively fragmented and deconstructed in the film’s final narrative.
These entangled stories tell how a life-changing event comes to be the trigger for an existential wake-up call. The way each story plays out is precisely what I wanted to accomplish with this film. I didn’t want to explain, give a conclusion, spell things out. Thus, at the end of the film, the characters haven’t resolved their problems but have managed to change course, come to a realisation. That’s the subject of the film. I want to nourish spectators from the inside, so that once they’ve digested the film, it encourages them to take a look at themselves.
To achieve this, I opted for a fairly dark, simple mise en scène using mostly static shots. It was a deliberate choice for the film to be very light in terms of dialogue; the shot/reverse shot technique would have been too off-putting. What emerges is a storyboard with various precise shots in which the reality of the dialogued interactions are often mixed up with what is described, in particular between Frog and Katagiri, when Katagiri imagines what Frog, his alter ego, says to him.
My goal was to create an atmosphere, something mysterious that sparks questions at every moment. The images are constructed for this purpose. I’m not trying to describe a reality but rather to transplant it on to a more expressionist vision to highlight what I feel is most important. For me that’s the crux of animation: to interpret the image, the scenery, the movements, but also to simplify them so the spectator can create their own vision of things.
So background figures appear as shadows, either transparent or in colour depending on their importance in the shot. The scenery, which is mostly filled in, is occasionally shown as simple lines.
Regarding the acting, this was the result of working with the actors in an approach to mise en scène that was closer to theatre than realism. So we decided beforehand how the actors would act by doing a proper shoot but without lighting or scenery. This technique is different from rotoscoping in the sense that the animator doesn’t trace over the live footage but takes inspiration from the actors, their expressions, rhythm and movements as the basis for the animation. Although the final voices were recorded in post because we wanted a more crafted soundtrack, the voices from the shoot help the animator to embody the characters.
The ‘promenades’ changed in the current version of the screenplay from how I’d described them above into contemplative moments that match up with the actual numbering of the chapters we see in the film. It’s during these moments, these breathers, that the music combined with the images plays an active role in introducing a new climate while giving the time for the spectator to digest what they’ve just seen.
I studied composing, so I am fascinated by questions regarding the sound, and I composed the film’s score. I see sound design as an integral component of the music composition. The music is designed first and foremost to create a climate, an ambience rather than to emphasise the emotions already conveyed visually. I wanted the music to heighten the film from a sensory perspective. In addition to the orchestral music, there are electro-acoustic pieces and, in some scenes, music inspired by Japanese film noir from the 1950s.
As a director, my aim is to create an innovative film that tells a subtly magical story in an original way, anchored in a humdrum, everyday world flipped on its head by cataclysmic events both real and internal. To show this inner life within a world of magical realism, I feel animation is the perfect medium, because everything has to be recreated from scratch which produces a shift from reality. This need for a shift and transposition is an essential part of my directorial approach.
Director’s statement on
This film was imagined more as a score than a screenplay. The characters don’t have any real stakes or obvious conflicts; we don’t know much about them, neither where they’ve come from nor where they’re going. We do slowly learn things about them and figure out aspects of their personality. The structure of the film is nothing like anything taught in an instruction manual. The characters evolve, albeit a little and almost in spite of themselves.
The dialogue is the visible part of another type of music, one which is submersed and which truly recounts the story. In fact, the action and the dialogue between characters are merely faint ripples on the surface, beneath which lies an ocean of engulfed emotions. It was Pierre Foldës’ intention for the music to explore and narrate this inexpressible underwater turmoil.
‘One day someone asked me what part the music could play in this film; I’d described it as a kind of orchestral sound design. Because at that moment, I thought it would be interesting to do something that I’d never heard personally: music imagined with electronic, organic, synthetic sounds but created with orchestral instruments. This idea has since evolved, and I no longer wish to create orchestral soundscapes, but rather to create an atmosphere that is much closer, inspired by this notion, and more delicate too. I’m thinking of quite classic, versatile instruments, mixing flute, oboe and bassoon, as well as violin, viola and double bass. I’d still add electronic sounds of indistinct origin to all this, still in the vein of sound design.
Ryan Bommarito: Komura
Shoshana Wilder: Kyoko
Marcelo Arroyo: Katagiri
Scott Humphrey: Sasaki
Arthur Holden: Mr Suzuki
Pierre Földes: Frog
Director: Pierre Földes
Scriptwriter: Pierre Földes
Based on stories by Haruki Murakami
Line Producer: Tanguy Olivier
Producers: Tom Dercourt
Production Design: Pierre Földes
Art Director: Julien De Man
Animation Supervisor: Julien Maret
Compositing Supervisor: Mathieu Tremblay
Editor: Kara Blake
Sound Design: Matthew Földes
Mixing: Michel Schillings
Original Music: Pierre Földes
Original title: Saules Aveugles, Femme Endormie
International title: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
Duration: 110 min
Original language: English / French
Countries of production: France, Luxembourg, Canada, Netherlands,
Production Companies: Cinéma Defacto,
Co-production Companies: Doghouse Films, micro_scope, Productions Unité Centrale, An Original Picture, Studio MA
THE MATCH FACTORY PRESENTS
A PRODUCTION CINÉMA DEFACTO AND MIYU PRODUCTIONS, IN COPRODUCTION WITH DOGHOUSE FILMS, MICRO_SCOPE, PRODUCTIONS L’UNITÉ CENTRALE AND AN ORIGINAL PICTURE IN ASSOCIATION WITH STUDIO MA IN COPRODUCTION WITH ARTE FRANCE CINÉMA AND AUVERGNE-RHÔNE-ALPES CINÉMA « BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN » WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY PIERRE FÖLDES BASED ON STORIES BY HARUKI MURAKAMI PRODUCED BY TOM DERCOURT, EMMANUEL-ALAIN RAYNAL AND PIERRE BAUSSARON COPRODUCED BY PIERRE URBAIN, DAVID MOURAIRE, LUC DÉRY, KIM McCRAW, GALILÉ MARION-GAUVIN AND JOOST DE VRIES IN ASSOCIATION WITH ANTOINE COUTANT, ANNA DÁVIDHÁZY, SOPHIE ERBS AND PIERRE FÖLDES LINE PRODUCER TANGUY OLIVIER PRODUCTION DESIGNS PIERRE FÖLDES ART DIRECTOR JULIEN DE MAN ANIMATION SUPERVISOR JULIEN MARET COMPOSITING SUPERVISOR MATHIEU TREMBLAY EDITING KARA BLAKE SOUND DESIGN MATTHEW FÖLDES SOUND MIXING MICHEL SCHILLINGS MUSIC COMPOSED PIERRE FÖLDES WITH THE PARTICIPATION OF ARTE FRANCE AND CINÉ+ WITH SUPPORT OF EURIMAGES, OF THE MEDIA – EUROPE CRÉATIVE, OF THE CENTRE NATIONAL DU CINÉMA ET DE L’IMAGE ANIMÉE, OF THE FILM FUND LUXEMBOURG, WITH PARTICIPATION OF TÉLÉFILM CANADA, OF SODEC OF QUÉBEC – CRÉDIT D’IMPÔT CINÉMA ET TÉLÉVISION – GESTION SODEC, OF THE FONDS HAROLD GREENBERG, OF THE CRÉDIT D’IMPÔT POUR PRODUCTION CINÉMATOGRAPHIQUE OU MAGNÉTOSCOPIQUE CANADIENNE – CANADA, AND OF THE NETHERLANDS FILM FUND WITH SUPPORT OF LA RÉGION AUVERGNE-RHÔNE-ALPES, OF LA RÉGION ÎLE DE FRANCE, OF LA RÉGION PROVENCE-ALPES-CÔTE D’AZUR, AND OF LA RÉGION NOUVELLE-AQUITAINE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE CNC IN ASSOCIATION WITH CINÉVENTURE 5, CINÉMAGE 14, CINÉAXE AND ARTE COFINOVA WITH SUPPORT OF LA FONDATION GAN POUR LE CINÉMA, OF THE PROCIREP AND THE ANGOA INTERNATIONAL SALES THE MATCH FACTORY
International Press in Toronto