Aug 3, 2021
Detail by detail, carved and hand painted, a man creates his worlds. Meticulously, he then positions each character, each object, each leaf, in its proper place; he makes a photograph. He moves an arm of his puppet, he makes another. Move an object out of its place, another. Thousands and thousands, maybe millions, of times throughout his life. And what does he, in his most acclaimed work, want to tell us with all this? My aim, here, is to tell my interpretation moment by moment, making expository what Tomoyasu Murata's Michi says without using words.
First of all, I would like to name our
protagonist as Bob (hail, Sshuraa). This first short begins by showing us Bob, looking desolate, inside a dark, colorless train. A child, approaching, offers him a red flower, to which he shakes his head, denying it. Here there is already, semiotically, something said. According to websites about the meaning of flowers, "red flowers are associated with love. Receiving a red flower means that you are loved" and, if we assume that this flower is a rose, we could also say that "the rose is the flower of greatest symbolism in Western culture. The Rose is a flower consecrated to many goddesses in mythology. Symbol of Aphrodite and Venus (Greek and Roman goddess of love). Christianity adopted the Rose as the symbol of Mary", that is, the child, in her purity, offers her the purest love, which can also be the grace of life, and Bob denies it, for reasons that will be shown to us in the future. The train then jerks, and the main character wakes up. When he opens his eyes, he is surprised to find himself in a station in the middle of a deserted place. A buffalo-drawn carriage, driven by an old man, stops in front of him and invites him to board. Inside, he soon finds an open piano, which takes him back to his past, which will be dealt with in the future, and closes it, as if to keep the memory of the trauma locked away and hidden. As he puts his hand under the falling rain, however, he faces his fingers, and a melody played on the piano begins to play. When she returns her hand to her knee, she is already fingering an imaginary piano, unraveling the memory that she wanted to keep hidden. Now Bob brings a melancholic look, as if turned inward. When he arrives at the next station, the same child who had offered him the flower boards the wagon. Along the way, the child opens the closed piano and plucks disordered notes from it. This sight is enough to make Bob's memory come alive, and it is then that we see what is probably his daughter, in the past, playing, on the piano, the same melody from memory, while being watched by him. And it is then that we see the cause of his reluctance to accept another's love and of his drive to keep the trigger for his past locked away: the death of his daughter. As he sails her body away, the piano in the room and the girl herself undergo a fade out and disappear, of them only the longing in Bob remains. Back on the wagon, he is now looking into the distance, as if absorbed in his thoughts; the child continues to play until he falls asleep, it is dark. Bob, his eyes glowing (holy detail, Tomoyasu!), faces the open piano once again, takes off his hat and brings it to his chest, closing his eyes. This, besides being a common sign of respect, may also be the beginning of a prayer, an attempt to find the grace he has denied the child. Decided, he then takes a seat and begins to play the piano, accepting the opportunity granted by the innocent purity of that child. Then he faces his open palms once more, and, with the child's hands over his right, closes his left over them, a gesture that is the final acceptance of the love offered by that child through the rose. Waking up, amazed, from this dreamlike adventure, Bob finds himself on the train again, but now the color saturation of the image and its luminosity are much greater than before, as if the world then seems more alive and warm to him. When he opens his hands, there is the rose, symbol of the acceptance previously mentioned. On that road, on that path that symbolizes the passage of life, Bob was first alone and stopped in the middle of the desert, but the presence of another person willing to give him back the grace took him out of this state, put him back on the road, and he now goes on, as the train goes on, looking for new meaning in life after the acceptance phase of mourning.
I would say that Scarlet is already a complete work in itself, but Murata has much more to comment on about Bob's life.
The symbolism of the color white: purity and innocence, concepts also related to childhood. In this second short film, we see him visiting the place where he spent the first stages of his life, as if to remember his whole life in search of finding himself again after the events of the train. His first memory is of him, together with a little girl, collecting acorns in the forest. The hand twisting on her blouse, a nervous gesture, already creates the idea of her affection for little Bob, which is reinforced by her gaze to the sky, as if fantasizing in a daydream. In the middle of the trees, they find another key element of this past, a puppy dog adopted by Bob. The affection he has for the animal is well evidenced by the time he spends lying next to it, and by his reluctance, shown by the look back that Bob has on leaving the dog alone in its separate room in the house. And it is then that two losses occur in sequence for him. One night, a blizzard starts, knocks down the window of the room, killing the dog with cold and covering the area in white, which is followed by the departure of the girl's family, her included, to another region, which we know is far away by the emphasis given in the girl's gesture of farewell. Interesting to note: when Bob, an adult, arrives at the place, it is still covered in snow, as if "nothing has changed", but in a psychological aspect: these two first traumas, related to loss and separation, have become strong enough memories in Bob for the whole place to remain as if stopped in time, always snowed, which reinforces the idea previously mentioned that this trip back to the place is made with the intention of changing this paradigm, of finding the good parts of his childhood. And rightly so, the next scene features Bob walking along a white path towards the old house, while his younger version runs past him, visually symbolizing this meeting of the past self. Nevertheless, the first thing Bob looks at outside the house is his old swing, a probable childhood companion. When he enters the house, he walks through the rooms not only looking at them, but also touching the furniture, in an attempt to relive each memory of that place through synesthetic stimuli. When he falls asleep lying on the floor, we see, as if in spirit, the older version of the dog (which should be his current form if he had survived) staring at his former owner. As if sensing the presence, Bob wakes up, and the first thing he sees, behind the door through which the dog has left, is a red flower. Bearing in mind the aforementioned about the symbolism of this plant, we can infer that at that moment Bob obtained the puppy's forgiveness and love, gaining from him the grace of life as he had gained from that child. Leaving there, he makes his way to the small village cemetery, where he faces the memory of his last and desperate efforts in trying to warm the already dead dog. The dog, in spirit beside him, seems to show him that, by his intentions and feelings, he is free of the guilt he carried for the animal's death. Arriving, finally, at the place where he said goodbye to the girl, he sees the puppy in the same position as when he left, a clever way of the work to say that, as in her case, he will now have to deal with the definitive separation with him, which is reinforced by the passage of the bus. Facing the dark sky now, he holds in his hands the last remaining item from the girl's memory: the acorn they picked up the same day the puppy was adopted. In the last shot, we see the dog in the snow staring at a red flower, which I think is the final representation of what this stage of Michi had as a goal: Bob's attainment of the grace or meaning of life through the memory of his childhood and the elements in it. Doing a little research, I have found that it is well accepted in psychoanalytic theory to treat a patient's trauma by the forgiveness given to his past, a past brought to light through hypnosis, and forgiveness granted by the individual himself to his former self. Whether this is the parallel that Tomoyasu brings in this short film I cannot know, but I doubt it is just a coincidence, especially when we think about the visual presence of the dog, which is analogous to the experience of the patient under hypnosis.
Even though Bob has reconciled with his childhood, he has not yet overcome his most recent losses. The color blue, in more contemporary symbolism, carries with it mainly sadness and despair. Not by chance, the term "feeling blue" means, in English, to be sad. However, indigo, in specific, transmits "A better understanding of life situations. As such, the color is excellent for people who cultivate negative thoughts and obsessions of any aspect, since it cancels out these behaviors." Of the 5 states of grief, this stage is the fourth, depression, while the last short one will be the acceptance stage.
At the beginning, we see Bob awakening from his sleep in the open in the middle of an empty city, with a broom by his side. In the next scene, a woman arranges sheet music lying haphazardly in front of a piano. From then on, the narrative consists of interspersing this woman's domestic activities with Bob's visits to different abandoned buildings. Jumping to the final sequences, Bob enters the same room where we saw the woman, and it is from this point that we can interpret the passages I have ignored. Finding the room in a darker and dirtier version than previously shown to us, he bursts into tears, and from this, coupled with his visual search for recognizable traces, we can infer that not only was this his former home, but the woman shown was his companion, probable wife (given that Bob had a daughter), who also left. With this revelation, saved for the ending with cathartic intentions, in mind, every previous scene, which I have so far ignored, takes on new meaning. In the past, we can see a red flower in the window being visited by a butterfly; in the present, we see not only the dead butterfly being swept away by Bob, but the flower also withered and dead. Given the aforementioned symbolism of the flower, and taking the butterfly as a symbol of "happiness, beauty, inconstancy, ephemerality of nature and renewal," the death of the two in the present signifies precisely the lack of life, of grace, of the passage of time, that is, an eternal melancholy monotony in which the protagonist finds himself. In the past, the woman took care of Bob even when he was not present, as we can see by the organization and cleaning of the house, by the preparation of meals and the dinner table, by the assiduousness with which she arranged everything for when he returned from his job (which, by the way, was that of a pianist in an establishment, given the presence of a grand piano in the already abandoned place visited by Bob in the present time). The loss of her is for Bob the loss of a constantly received affection, of a reason why he returned home happy every day, of a safe haven in the midst of difficulties. When Bob sweeps a hallway, it is in memory of her. When he sees himself in the past cleaning the bathroom, it is in memory of the time he spent alone in that house after the loss. When, following the same path as his past self, he interrupts his walk to look at himself in the mirror, it is to contemplate his present self, finishing the three phases from happy memory to sad memory, and from sad memory to the empty present. Conscious now of the present, he finally goes towards the room in which he spent his conjugal life. His last illusion is of the woman coming to meet him to open the door at the same moment he turns the knob and opens it by himself. A black screen, a sudden interruption in the music. Disappointment and emotional shock come at the same time. When the colors return, from all the windows emanates indigo, whose meaning I have already mentioned. The interior, in contrast to the past, is decrepit and in disorder. It is precisely at this point that we see the withered red flower, whose meaning I have already explained. With the dishes of his last meal still together and haunting him, Bob falls asleep on his bed, bathed in the blue light that brings with it the cruel reality.
"The taste of lemon makes it a reference to the feeling of bitterness and disappointment. For the Hebrews, however, this fruit is the symbol of the heart." As stated earlier, the latter short is the acceptance of the bitter reality left over after disillusionment, and the attempt to create a heart, in the metaphorical sense, for oneself within it.
Most of it is made up of sequences that show Bob's routine life after the events of the other three. With the change of weather marking the passage of time, we see Bob coming and going, several times on different days, from a public library. Although there are now people around him, he is still reluctant to accept new contact, preventing another party from dialoguing with him through the use of headphones. A woman, sitting at the same table inside the enclosure, looks at him with interest, a detail that will be important for the conclusion. As we see him, at first, returning two books and already taking out a new one, we deduce that he has become an assiduous reader, trying to fill his life with literature; the clock, twice framed, shows the great amount of time Bob spends in the place. On one of these visits he finds, inside a book of his interest, a paper note, containing a telephone number. The sound of footsteps heard in the background added to the emptiness of the library gives us a hint that one of the regulars there has left him, probably being the woman who had looked at Bob earlier. At home, he refuses to call, for there is still in him a reluctance to start a new life, both out of fear of another loss and because he has not gotten from his ex-wife what he got from his dog; there has not yet been a schism between the Bob of that stage and this one. At a certain point, since there has been no connection on his part, the other party starts calling, giving him the maximum opportunity, but he still ignores it.
And it is then that the dream comes to change this situation. Inside, Bob is in a room, in which there is a telephone and a window. The telephone rings, clamoring to be answered. But just as Bob is gathering the courage to cross the line, the object is pulled out of the window by the cord. Looking through it, our protagonist sees a summary of his fears and traumas: all the things and people around him being swallowed up into nothingness, a visual metaphor for the losses he has suffered, leaving only him, alone, static and inactive as the days and nights go by. The fear that this will happen again is what keeps Bob isolated, refusing to interact and meet new people, lest new happiness become new pain.
Looking into the room again, he sees a huge lemon beside him. And the lemon, what could it be? As I mentioned in the introduction to this section, the heart, but a heart full of the bitterness and sourness of life; Bob's own sentimental core. And it is then that this heart, with an effort that was only made possible by the forgiveness and flowers received in the first two short films, prints him the note from the telephone, which he had in hand. Accepting the open space in his heart, Bob takes his pass to a new life, and wakes up from the dream.
The next morning, he goes to the phone booth and calls the number on the paper, but is not answered, and the call drops. A final defeat after the last momentum? But suddenly the music becomes more cheerful and energetic, the sky takes on a vivid color, and the atmosphere is bathed in sunshine. The paper, left in the cabin, has its numbers erased, and becomes a butterfly, symbolizing that, even though this chance was only a failed attempt (and that is why the writing is gone), Bob's acceptance to say goodbye to the past and try new possibilities to be happy with other people and environments around him gives him a new lease on life, gives him the rebirth, already mentioned as one of the meanings of the butterfly, the hope to be happy. And for this reason, the last scene of the play shows us Bob, drinking coffee in a brightly lit place, surrounded by red flowers, of love and the grace of life, even though for the time being he is alone. For, without the blockage of his past, the chances to be happy are in all places and people, and a new meaning to his life can be longed for and sought after. As long as he decides to face the world and risk being betrayed, hurt, and losing everything again, he can rebuild everything he once had, and if the worst happens, he will have the strength to overcome it again, as he has done before.
If in Indigo the butterflies and flowers were dead and withered, now they fill the environment!
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