At first glance, the serene scenes of mountain lakes and the soothing sounds of rushing water in Keisuke Sagiyama’s A White Paper Ship seem like an advertisement for another mindfulness app. Don’t be fooled. As the short film unfolds, tranquillity is replaced with unease as a certain eeriness creeps into the slow, still shots. Deceptively clever and haunting in its mystery, this is not a film to drift off to.
The rush of thousands of newspapers in a printing press acts as a kind of prelude to a series of scenes that take us from a mountain lake, through rivers and roads, to the sea. What stands out most in this film is its haunting sense of otherness. Things that should be normal – roads, boats, power stations and buildings – are made alien by Sagiyama’s directorial choices.
For example, even though the short predominantly focuses on human made objects, the entire film is eerily uninhabited. While the existence of humans is suggested by the myriad moving vehicles, the drivers remain unseen and so it is the cars, the lorries and the trucks that make their presence felt rather than the people. This gives an ethereal impression of an almost apocalyptic world where the products of humanity far outlast their creators.
In this artfully depopulated world, the refuse of human culture takes on a spectral presence. A field of black tarpaulins looks like rows of graves; skeletal scrap metal piles up like discarded bones and redundant white netting hangs from a tree in the very image of a ghost. A deathly palette of greys, whites, blacks and cold blues works with the unsettling soundtrack to enhance these haunted landscapes, while the quiet surrealism of the sea in reverse motion evokes the uncanny in the cohabitation of the familiar and the strange.
What we see is the afterlife of consumer culture. Compared to the speed of the newspapers being printed, the stillness of the discarded refuse is almost like another world. Except it’s not: Sagiyama’s skilful juxtaposition of noisy, rapid production and quiet, slow decay reminds us that both the life and death of consumer commodities occurs in one connected space. What we throw away does not disappear but continues to exist in another form.
At once a discarded newspaper and a newborn boat, the white paper ship hovers on the border of life and death. The triumph of these liminal spaces is to defamiliarise our relationship with the objects that allow us to live our ‘normal’ lives: newspapers float like phantoms, boats rot like washed up corpses and landfill sits like mass graves in Sagiyama’s world of haunted consumption.
'A White Paper Ship' was a film submission in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.