A worker is fired from a factory for demanding a wage increase. His mother, worn thin by poverty, is caught in her own spinning wheel. Then a strange storm buries the town in snow, freezing rich and poor alike. Another short film by Kihachiro Kawamoto
Shijin no Shougai, or, A Poet's Life, is a Kihachiro Kawamoto kirigami animation, adapted from a short story by Kobo Abe. Kawamoto, who sadly passed away in 2010, was president of the Japanese Animation Association for over twenty years; his works are internationally respected for visionary use of traditional narrative forms and stop animation. His works are innately interesting, excitingly enjoyable, technically brilliant, and visually a feast.
All but three of Kawamoto's works, feature the use of puppetry, it's sort of become Kawamoto's calling card; especially when it was adopted into a TV adaptation of the ever-popular Romance of the Three Kingdoms, winning Kawamoto much fame.
A poet's life, is one that doesn't facilitate these puppets. However, this is for the better.
The tale of A Poet's Life is exceedingly a Kobo Abe story. Kobo Abe was a Kafkaesque writer who wrote many stories that depicted the metaphorical downfall of the bourgeois, the undoing of the intrinsically flawed institutional figure in some way- especially famous in English for The Woman in the Dunes and The Face of Another (these in turn adapted into film by Hiroshi Teshigihara). A Poet's Life exhibits this Kobo Abe tendency keenly; the story details how a factory worker and his mother lose their life forces and then are reborn, giving life to a world gone dead and dull with capitalistic short-sightedness and greed.
Kawamoto was born in 1924, yet only really started his own animating in 1953 with a stop motion puppetry advertisement. Kawamoto had been interested with puppetry his whole life, so in 1963, he moved to Czechoslovakia to train under the auspices of the puppetry stop motion animation maestro Jiri Trnka for a year. His career really started to take off in 1968, with the release of Hanaori. Hanaori, and most of his works, are historical works which are largely based on traditional folk stories. Of the same strain, are Oni, Dojoji Temple, and the ever fatalistic House of Flames, to name a few. A Poet's Life however is a story set perhaps in the fifties, or the early twentieth century~ it's hard to pinpoint. It shows a much more modern setting and narrative.
So A Poet's Life, released in 1974, is of a radically different path then his other works. The same can be said of Tabi, or The Journey, released the year before; this was a time of experimentation for Kawamoto before he settled into his niche; yet A Poet's Life does hold priceless worth and is esoterically pleasing.
The animation is for the most part varying shades of brown; and the cut outs are of a cross-hatching sketchy type of artwork. It's appropriate, but not stunning like some of Kawamoto's other works. Kawamoto actually spent his youth acquiring a degree in architecture; this is his only work that really showcases that influence. The richly imaginative and colourful portrayal of Buddhist Sins in Tabi is traded here for a very tiring sense of drudgery, of decline, that flavours much of A Poet's Life, with its browns and its blacks. It's presented without voice acting; instead there is an accompanying musical piece and interstitial title cards; presumably direct excerpts from Abe's story. The music is appropriate, the attached narrative story lyrical and thought-provoking.
It's a powerful piece, which does make us consider the barbarity of the rich; the power of the poor; the pain of life. And it's delivered fluidly in a interesting fashion. While A Poet's Life does not have the usual approach of Kawamoto's work, it's unique and an extremely enjoyable watch. At 19 minutes length, it's only a biteful, yet has more substance than most 13 episode anime. Highly recommended, a metaphorically provocative, admittedly somewhat challenging animation that on completion will leave you very satisfied.