A hapless country doctor describes with breathless urgency a night-time summons to attend a young patient. Events soon take on a surreal aspect as "unearthly horses" transport him instantaneously to the bedside. The doctor, preoccupied with personal distractions and grievances against those he is employed to care for, fails to find what is revealed to be a vile, fatal wound. He is humiliated by the villagers, who are "always expecting the impossible from the doctor," and doomed to an endless return trip, losing everything.
Making sense of Kafka`s work is difficult enough in its original form as prose, but trying to throw a theatrical spin on something as introspective as Country Doctor makes it even more confusing. The story starts with a distraught country doctor who`s horse has died the night before. His maid runs around town trying to borrow a horse so that the doctor might make his urgent appointment, but no one is willing. In frustration, the doctor kicks the door on his pigsty, and he finds a groom inside, and two horses as well. The groom prepares the horses but the doctor realizes he is after
the maid, Rosa. Before the doctor can do anything, the groom sends the horses off, which basically teleports the doctor to the patient`s house, though it is supposed to be 10 miles away. This is but the beginning of the surreal ordeal that the doctor will endure.
In the written story, there is a progression of the surreal. It moves from being a rather normal predicament to something vaguely inexplicable, to complete nonsense draped in metaphors and symbolism. The animation though, is trippy from the start. Strange camera angles are used, and bodies are not only out of proportion, but in constantly shifting proportions. It`s not exactly how I would have imagined Country Doctor in my head, but it provides a buffer of sorts that makes some of the more surreal events and images more tolerable, less out of place, in the already surreal looking world. The animation also sticks very close to the text, making sure to visually capture all the little described details. In the longer bits of narration, it adds some unmentioned, original imagery.
In an attempt to create the same effect as the first person perspective of the story that enlightens readers on all of the doctor`s thoughts, two black, mini versions of the doctor are used to narrate. The coldness of this narration, along with a general inability of the characters to express emotions makes this film more confusing than the story, which is already painfully confusing. In the story, it explicitly states that the doctor kicks the door to his pigsty in frustration. In the animation, he just slowly walks up to the door and kicks for no apparent reason, almost as if looking inside was his intention. Similarly, lines of narration are rendered meaningless because the cynicism and bitterness of the doctor is replaced with a completely matter of fact tone.
The sounds and animation bring to the foreground a haunting atmosphere that is very subtle in the original story, and I appreciate this. A discordant clang of triangles is one piece of music the film used. Though it can hardly be called music, it is certainly creepy. Even when there`s no music, the howling winds, and the creaking of the house just gives a feeling of unease.
In the original story, with all the inexplicable insanity that occurs, the one grounding, sensible piece is the doctor himself; the piece that gives you hope of making sense of everything through the confounding events. As ambiguous as his character is in this film, even reading an interpretive analysis of the story will only provide a detached and unsatisfying understanding. It will be little more than animated gibberish without reading the short story first, but the eeriness that pervades the film does make it an interesting representation for those that have.
Franz Kafka's stories are known for their weirdness, and so it was inevitable that at least one would be adapted to anime, where a little bit of weird is the norm. ("The Metamorphosis" is available in graphic novel format) But I'm surprised that it's this story, of which I've never heard, was the one.
The story in "A Country Doctor" was hard to follow. Perhaps I'd understand it better if I read the story on which it's based. A lot of it is probably supposed to be metaphors for stuff. Like when one character suddenly bit another character; that's probably a metaphor for humans' cruel nature
or some such thing.
The art may seem really odd for an anime. Characters are depicted with body parts growing larger, and instead of walking, swinging across the screen weirdly. (It's hard to describe this in words... you'll understand it when you see it.) For this kind of "psychological" anime, it seems an appropriate style of art. It probably also represents the inconsistent ways in which reality is perceived.
The sound is outstanding! Just, no other comment than that.
Since it's only a twenty-minute film, the characters don't have much time to develop. Worth noting is that when the main character, the doctor, is thinking, two black, childlike figures appear behind him and speak the inner dialogue. It's a strange effect which probably represents the duality of something or other.
I enjoyed this a fair bit, just to watch and see what the hell happened next, and seeing if I could find any hidden meanings in it.
Overall, though, it has a pretty weak story. I recommend watching this if you're bored, if you're a Kafka fan, or if you're taking a class in philosophy, psychology, cinematography, or one of those classes where you have to find the hidden meaning in shit.
From the beginning of its great opening sequence, Inaka Isha catches its audience with a raw humanity right from "Go". This harrowing narrative acquaints us with an experience similar to Teshigahara Hiroshi's ' Suna no onna (Woman in the Dunes) or the opening scene of Alain Renais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour : we see beautiful animation in the way the snow envelopes the screen and in the sketchiness of the lines, making this seem more like a painting than an anime.
Also, pay attention to the wonderful shadow work in the left most corner of the screen, reminiscent of early silhouette work of Lotte Reiniger (also seen
in the chorus of Revolutionary Girl Utena ).
As we are introduced to the character of the Doctor, by way of his two smaller, darker shelves who serve the film as narrators, he looks as if he were a force of nature - a tornado - or perhaps made of smoke rather than a human of flesh and blood. With wild eyes and a distperportion of size, we become engrossed in his woe of a faraway patient and stranded with no a horse or means to reach him. We are flooded with questions the longer this work progresses: How will he get there? What will happen to Rosa in the meanwhile? What's really going on here? Well, it's Kafka, so just look deeper and the answer *might* be there.
However, it's the movement and shadows that are the real protagonists here and their job is done masterfully. From the shadow work I mentioned earlier to the wonderful transistions made from human to landscape, darkness to possibility and therefore, light.
Movement is used in several skillful, clever ways in this anime, the first being to set and change the pace and perspective as needed. What's interesting here is that there wasn't one set pace that the director decided on, it changes from somewhat slow to incredibly fast rather quickly, as though you and the doctor can't quite keep up with what is happening in the events and surroundings. Which leads me to the second method of using movement in the anime, which is to convey the various feelings the characters are dealing with, from panic or sorrow to feeling stretched too thin -- literally. We are seeing these character's emotions (even those of the movement itself in certain scenes) from the perspective of their emotions rather than from the point of view of the characters themselves and the effect is nothing short of chilling.
Speaking of chilling, the music brilliantly created by Hitomi Shimizu (found also in Yamamura Koji's other work Atama Yama) fits this animation perfectly, setting an eerie mood almost immediately. As an audience we have no doubt how stark and bleak the path that lies ahead for Ein Landarzt is, because this spectral music is leading the way through the darkness, horseless and blind, while the cold and snow obstruct our path. It actually reminds me of an old production of Faerie Tale Theatre's The Nightingale, however it carries a much heavier role in this short film than the uplifting song of the latter.
For the part of the "Country Doctor," director Yamamura Kōji chose accredited Kyōgen star and national treasure, Sensaku Shigeyama, a true story teller if there ever was one. Something very powerful was happening on the screen as I watched this man with so much finesse; the music, Sensaku Shigeyama's performance and even the unadorned, severeness of the setting all gave the suggestion of early Noh performances which I stood watching, mouth agape.
Although I found myself re-watching this 3 or 4 times, I would say this is not an anime for the typical viewer but one who loves the obscure -- anime as an art form. While the presentation is stunning, the anime itself is as stark as the music that leads us and the story in true Germanic-Slavic form is both fascinating and bleak. Kafka himself was Austrian-Hungarian born to German-speaking Jewish parents, so all that struggle really comes through here as is typical with Kafka's other works. And while I gave this animation a 10, the average seems to be a 7 by other audiences and I suspect most will feel this way, despite the talent that resides here. Inaka Isha is teeming with it if one only seeks it out.