SHORT FOCUS 2018: Somehow [Misa Nishihara, Japan, 2018] /// The Noise of the Light [Valentin Petit,
In the vast majority of feature length films, five minutes is far too long for a sex scene, let alone a sexual fantasy. However, Misa Nishihara’s animated short, coming in at just under five minutes, is anything but cringeworthy.
The film depicts a line drawn lifeguard daydreaming about a former lover. It is Nishihara’s use of lines that really makes this short; the uniformly black lines intersect and interlock as sensual shapes morph and twist on the screen, giving the impression of a physical fluidity between people and objects. Here, Nishihara really makes the most of the animated form, as the permeability of shapes would not be so effective in a live action film.
This sense of transpersonal intimacy creates a quieter, gentler expression of sexuality that is a breath of fresh air from the glut of scream-a-thons as seen in Netflix’s new series You (USA, 2019-), Fifty Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor Johnson, UK, 2015) or pretty much any James Bond film. In these scenes, sex is so much more about power and domination than it is about connection. Ironically, the permeable sensuality in Somehow seems more realistic than in any of these live action romps.
The silence in the film - interrupted only by intermittent clips of panting - contributes to this pared back portrayal of intimacy. Although heavy breathing is not a traditional ingredient for a successful film, the authenticity of this soundtrack lends this short a striking physicality. Unmarred by over-theatricality, it strips back to bare, non-performative sexuality. Paradoxically, Nishihara manages to capture the human body in its most natural form without a single human actor in sight.
Somehow thus offers a kind of honesty that is so seldom found onscreen. It is explicit and chaste at the same time, showing sex not as an elaborate choreography but as a dissolute experience of sharing, which, if you think about it, is pretty impressive in four minutes and fifteen seconds.
While out for a run with her headphones on, a slim, young, good-looking woman gets struck by lightning and all of a sudden, she can hear light as music. Her two slim, young, good-looking band mates take advantage of this power in their slim, young, good-looking car in order to produce their dream album.
An interesting premise, but it is all a bit much. The idea of crossing mediums from light into sound is promising. The extreme synaesthesia experienced by Lou, the unfortunate protagonist, suggests that there are art forms out there that we are yet to experience, and this is exciting. Initially, her injury blooms with the promise of untapped inspiration. However, this very quickly turns dark as her two male band mates, Marius and Pablo, become increasingly violent and exploitative. They eventually take it too far, culminating in a heavily stylised orgy of urban-outfitted torture.
One of the issues with this film is that there isn’t any sufficient justification for the pain to which Lou is subjected. Furthermore, the imbalance of power between Lou (the only woman in the film) and the two men is uncomfortable. While one could argue that the short is holding this gendered exploitation up for critique, the sheer coolness of the scenes of suffering makes it feel as though we are voyeurs to an oh-so-instagrammable masochism, as Marius and Pablo go to greater and greater lengths to pioneer a unique sound.
The whole film oozes an almost unbearable coolness (who really sleeps next to an old television blaring white noise?), and the set design is unabashedly “hip”, every bit the manifested product of an art school co-op uninitiated in the realities of rodent infestations and toilet paper famine.
Despite this, The Noise of the Light highlights the pleasure of aesthetic beauty and more than that, it gestures towards the possibility of newness. In a time when Disney remakes and rehashes of almost every franchise starring Harrison Ford are topping the charts, this is just short of a miracle.
'Somehow' was a film submission in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.
'The Noise of the Light' was part of the Official Selection at Short Focus Film Festival 2018.