Review by Sean Boelman
Animation aimed at adult audiences is reaching its prime these days, with stories becoming more intelligent and art styles becoming increasingly sophisticated. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is impressively animated, but it is held back by some frustrating choices with regards to the film’s spectacle and casting.
The movie follows a group of people and a giant talking frog who work together to prevent disaster after a natural disaster strikes Tokyo. Of course, given that the film is inspired by the work of Japanese author Haruki Murakami, there is another layer to this beyond the surface, as this adventure causes the characters to come to realizations about themselves and life.
The fact that this movie is based upon a collection of short stories means that it naturally has a somewhat episodic structure, but Földes manages to make everything feel nicely interconnected and kaleidoscopic. Although the pacing is hardly fast, Földes does a great job of creating a cinematic experience that is immersive and transfixing.
What is really missing from this adaptation is an understanding of Murakami’s intricate character work. Although it is understandably difficult to balance multiple characters in a film with interconnected storylines like this, the issue here is more with Földes’s inability to grasp scale. Murakami’s work is defined by its intimacy and humanity, and while there are glimpses of that here, other parts feel frustratingly distant.
Indeed, the biggest issue with the movie is that it often feels more like a spectacle than a character study. The film is at its best when it slows down and lets the characters just talk — as this is when many of the more poignant and insightful moments come. When the movie is about talking frogs and fighting monsters, it falls somewhat flat.
That being said, there is no denying the impressive technicality of the film’s animation. Földes animated the movie with the assistance of live-action reference performance, and the result is character work that feels absolutely full of life. The visuals as a whole are also excellent, with a very trippy, immersive palette.
Unfortunately, the decision to release the film in English is just frustrating. To an extent, it is understandable given that the collection on which the movie is based was initially published in English, but in the visual medium of film, the decision to have these Asian characters voiced by a predominantly non-Asian cast is… a choice.
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is certainly impressive from a purely technical angle, but it leaves something to be desired on a narrative level. Although there is plenty good enough here to recommend it, there was a lot of potential here for it to be something more.
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman opens in theaters on April 14.