Look! Aren’t these beautiful snowflakes the forgotten words of the poor?
Shijin no Shogai – A Poets Life (1974) is an exquisite short film from Kihachirō Kawamoto (1925 – 2010), a Japanese animator whose distinctive style of stop-motion filmmaking and storytelling, encompasses traditional Japanese stories and philosophy that are reflective of human mortality and frailty. A Poets Life is based on a short-story by Kobo Abe, a Japanese writer, poet and playwright known for his postwar Japanese literature and radical social, artistic theories.
In this tale, a man is fired from his job because he wanted a pay raise. The rest of the small town exists in poverty as well while the management and societal overseers are kept in warmth and luxury. Winter is coming, and without proper wages, the poor cannot buy sweaters to keep them warm. Defeated, he returns home to his mother, her spinning wheel, and their poverty. As he rests in the depression and as if in a dream, he watches as his mother is caught in her spinning wheel and transformed into yarn.
His mother is made into yarn and from the yarn into a sweater. A sweater that could not be sold because the people did not have money. So the sweater was returned to the shopkeeper’s shelf and stored along with the other sweaters the poor could not afford and without money to buy food, the poor sold their shirts to the shop kept.
Winter came and with the snow, the poor became depressed, and the more the snow fell so too, the spirits, dreams, and desires of the people. This sadness blocked the sun. Soon the town was blanketed with snow, its people began to freeze. Eventually, the cold reached the mountain homes of the privileged, with their fires dying out, they too started to freeze. Their dreams and desires became the snowflakes that fell; their souls the cold and bitter wind.
Suddenly, the snow stopped, and a mouse ventured out to find material for her nest when she found the sweater made from the yarn of the old woman. When the mouse bit into the fabric it began to bleed–its teeth accidentally pierced the heart of the old lady. The sweater came to life and sought out the son and then blanketed him to warm him. It was then the boy realized that he was a poet, and his purpose is to restore the dreams, hopes and desires for the people.
He began to compose a poem written with the words of the poor to revitalize their dreams and desires. The words began to melt the snow, and the sweaters, that were stored, were given to them. Their souls and spirits returned to them. The sun began to shine again to melt all the ice. Harmony and prosperity returned once more.
A Poets Life, although made in the mid-70s, is still relevant to this day. It serves as a surreal rumination of today’s modern culture where the wealth of a few is warmed on the economic frailty of the poor, which continue to deny impartiality, will soon eventually lead to suffering for everyone. Beautiful cut-out animations are paired with stylish and distinctive backdrops that incorporate puppet theater offers viewers a unique style of storytelling and notes at the same time, societally conscious awareness.