Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Wool 100% Knits a Different Kind of Tale

The film:
Wool 100% (2006)

The under-the-radar-factor:
Seriously, have you heard of it? Then you're one of the few.

The review:

Two aging sisters hoarding junk in their rural mansion are disturbed to find a young girl compulsively knitting a wool sweater and refusing to leave their abode in Mai Tominiga's bizarre but interesting 2006 feature. Combining live action with animation, puppetry and anything else the Japanese filmmaker can seemingly get her hands on, Wool 100% is a difficult film to describe but a mostly fascinating one to watch.

The film starts with a "once upon a time" narration making the work to follow sound like a fairy tale and, in many ways, Wool 100% does maintain that quality...among others. The story itself begins in a droll manner, reflecting the mundane daily routines that Ume (Kyoko Kishida) and Kame (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) go through; rise, have breakfast and then head into town to see what discarded items with be accompanying them home. One person's junk is another's joy, as the women clean, catalog (they give their new possessions names) and illustrate the numerous items that have been collected in the many rooms of their cluttered palace, as well as on the lawn and roof outside. But one acquisition brings with it more than what was bargained for. A collection of red wool balls leaving a trail of yarn behind them seems to have attracted a disturbed young girl to their place. She sets up shop in the middle of their house and knits away at a sweater for herself, which she never seems satisfied with. Every attempt is marked by a blood-curdling scream and a redoing of her efforts all over again. The sisters initially hope the girl will quietly leave...but nothing is quiet with this mysterious person, who often goes on rampages, destroying many of the women's past acquisitions. Nonetheless, the siblings actually become more attached to and concerned for the strange stranger over time, as the film's presentation branches out into flashback's concerning the sister's rather dark past involving a mother who abandoned them and a young man they each fancied. The possessions of the house adopt more of their own come-to-life qualities as part of the overall explanation.

This is a film that's challenging to digest and open to many interpretations regarding femininity, love, longing, abandonment and other issues but is perhaps not meant so much to be rationalized as much as felt. It's a different kind of "chick flick" - one directed by a women from a very feminine perspective that I suspect may connect more readily with the better sex, leaving some guys to wonder WTF is going on. With its dream-like presentation (and the narrative loopiness accompanying that choice) Tominiga offers a film that feels both safe and risky. Toys, puppetry and animation continue to feed the whimsical aspects but are also powerful tools in conveying the very dark and ugly passages of the two women's past lives. While there are still many questions to ask about what has gone on, the last half hour of the film largely solves the puzzles of the first sixty minutes - perhaps needlessly so, as my major criticism of the film is that the last ten minutes are unnecessarily drawn out.

The art direction is particularity striking and the five leads (the sisters are also portrayed as young girls by other actors) deliver the kind of performances needed.  The pacing is uneven, dragging at times and not slowing down enough at others and the film does require a patience in viewing. Still, open-minded types will be rewarded by this sweeping cinematic experiment. Wool 100% is defiantly outside-the-box and not always comprehensible...but who cares? It's original in a highly impressive way. Definitely worth a look.

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