I was mainly out to-day doing some last minute Christmas shopping. Normally this is about the time I start shopping, but for months I've had a recurring nightmare that I'd forgotten to go Christmas shopping and I saw everyone shaking their heads in unsurprised disappointment, perhaps muttering, "We all knew he was a selfish asshole."
I felt good going out to-day, though, in spite of the rain and the cold. I'm just not in the right rhythm for cold. I keep starting tasks without my jacket and find myself surprised to notice I'm not properly attired. Yesterday, since I was so off the ball and strangely tired, I just went to my parents' and watched some Sherlock Holmes with my sister and came back here and watched Shiki-Jitsu, Hideaki Anno's second live-action film released in 2000 in Japan. It hasn't been released yet in the United States and it took me two weeks to download the fansubbed version, so I guess there's not a whole lot of interest for it in this country. Which is a shame, because, while it's certainly not perfect, it's definitely a fascinating and impressively constructed film.
The first thing I noticed about it was how strongly it resembled Evangelion. The setting is a section of town filled with factories and warehouses and, somehow, residences. The sounds of machinery and establishing shots of the grey, inhospitable buildings are almost identical to shots of the dismal part of town where Rei Ayanami lives and is accompanied by the same anonymous, rhythmic sound effect of pounding metal. It's reminiscent of Eraserhead, yet this place is quite real and, indeed, closely resembles the real home town of Hideaki Anno, if this video is any indication.
Shiki-Jitsu is told primarily from the POV of an unnamed anime director played by a live-action film director named Shunji Iwai. The guy couldn't more clearly be an avatar for Amano himself, so it's interesting that the other principal character of the film is an unnamed girl played by Ayako Fujitani who also wrote the novel upon which the film is based. I was very much surprised the movie was based on something written by anyone other than Anno, as the film seemed not only to feature autobiographical details but also seems to reflect opinions and desires I'd read of as attributed to Anno, most significantly in this quote from the clip I posted last night (which is also quoted in the Wikipedia entry); "Images, especially animation, simply embody our personal and collective fantasies, manipulating selected information, and fictional constructs even live-action film, recording actuality, does not correspond to reality conversely, reality, co-opted by fiction, loses its value. 'The inversion of reality and fiction.'"
Apparently the character in the book was a shopkeeper; Anno evidently made a great deal of changes. The movie would seem to be a successful fusion of two very personal stories, Fujitani's and Anno's, a success achieved by the stark definitions of their roles as director and subject. The director eventually starts making a documentary film of the girl, and seems to utterly lose sense of his place when she decides to turn the camera on him--though he's not frightened or particularly angry. He seems to relax into the realisation that he is an entity that finds subjects of interest, and he's not particularly interesting himself.
Anno's previous film, Love and Pop, seemed partly to be about Anno doing everything with a camera he couldn't do as an animator. Shiki-Jitsu, on the other hand, seems to be completely about adapting aesthetic sensibilities he'd honed as an animator for live-action. There are a great deal of static shots and extremely carefully arranged compositions.
There's a very appropriate ambiguity about the reality of what we're seeing. We're not bombarded with obvious dreamlike imagery or effects, but the very premise of the movie seems to be a metaphor.
Whenever I find myself in a girl's room, I pay careful attention to how she's decorated it, what books she has on her shelf, what objects decorate her desk and so on. I suppose there are guys who are this way as well, but I've found that generally women are more likely to try to communicate by how they've arranged their rooms. Shiki-Jitsu takes this phenomenon and expands grandly on it so that the girl played by Fujitani is the sole inhabitant of an office building, which functions in the movie as a physical manifestation of her psyche through which she permits the director to wander. Inside, she's carefully arranged furniture, pictures, umbrellas, bathtubs and telephones. So much detail is given quickly by Anno's tendency to throw things into rapid shots inserted into the middle of scenes of dialogue. I had to be quick to get these screenshots;
We're never quite sure what's happened to the girl's family, whether they're dead or alive, whether they abandoned her or she ran away. But she seems to have a bottomless appetite for love and affection, doing what she can for herself, and then demanding it constantly from the director when he becomes the only person in her life.
Another reason I was surprised the film wasn't an idea original to Anno was because, according to Wikipedia, during the production of Evangelion, "Anno became disenchanted with the Japanese 'otaku' lifestyle, considering it a form of forced autism." The girl's behaviour in Shiki-Jitsu seemed exactly that--a sort of self-imposed autism, and eventually the director becomes impatient with the girl's desire to create a world around her out of only the things in her life that pleased her, denying the existence of anything unpleasant. I was reminded of a question posed to Evangelion deputy director Kazuya Tsurumaki about episode 16 of Evangelion in this interview; "There was a line in that dialogue -- something like, 'We can't weave our lives only out of things we like . . .' That line was pretty intense. I would have thought it would strike right to the heart of anime fans . . ."
As I recall, in at least one of the translations of Evangelion I've seen, the line is something like "Stringing together the pleasant things in life like rosary beads." Shiki-Jitsu can be translated as "Ritual Day", and the girl's arrangements of her possessions, her costume-like wardrobe and extreme makeup corresponding to specific days or weather, seem definitely ritualistic.