Japanese Film Festival Review: The Girl from the Other Side

Where: Online

When: Screening in Australia from 12 December

How: check it out here

An exquisitely detailed animated film that interrogates the notion of dualities on both the personal and environmental scale, The Girl From the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún (とつくにの少女) is a truly charming short directed by Yutaro Kubo and Satomi Maiya. Adapted from the 2015 graphic novel written by the mononymous Nagabe, produced by Production I.G., the film depicts the charming relationship between a prepubescent girl and her anthropomorphic avian guardian in a world beset by a strange curse that is transmitted via touch. The film’s loose narrative depicts a few sequences in the two character’s cohabitation, as the young girl is kept safe by her guardian from strange cursed creatures in the forest, and generally cared for within their victorian manor. 

This curse is central both narratively and thematically – a single touch immediately turns unblemished uncoloured uncoloured skin to a deep black. The Girl From the Other Side is obsessed with dichotomies, and rarely with the vascilliating liminal status of the in-between, being entirely built around the juxtaposition of these opposing colours. The film clearly isn’t attempting to comment or discuss race or ethnicity with this polarised colour dichotomy, but it’s worth noting that it does fall prey to the common visual depiction of ‘othering’ often associated with dark(er) skin. Whilst this has little bearing on the film itself, it continues a pattern of visual practices that has been discussed at length by scholars and critics, where often in animation certain visual stylisations are prioritised or taken for granted. 

The black/white colour scheme is not the only dichotomy, though it is perhaps the most immediately obvious. The film features no dialogue at all, instead employing all manner of visual strategy to emphaise the contrasted nature of the world these characters find themselves in. Once the viewer becomes cognisant of this visual motif the film practically spills over with examples of dichotomous visualisation: tall vs. short, child vs. adult, innocence vs wise, waking vs. dreaming, light vs. shadow etc etc. Moreover, several scenes play with literal reflections – puddles, lakes, casks of wine, mirrors. 

Each scene in the film generally works in service of delivering or emphasising a little more of the circumstances of the characters and their emotions, but always compounds this thematic thread of duality in all things. Fascinatingly, and in rather unexpected narrative ways, the film doesn’t attempt to marry, reconcile or resolve these dualities at all. Poignant throughout, and especially bittersweet in ending, the film speaks both to the dangers of the outside world and the dangers of emotional repression within our close relationships. The (literally) unspoken love and affection carried by the bird-guardian tempered by the inability to touch, hold, and care for the young girl lest he pass on the curse is particularly resonant in 2020 for a multitude of reasons. Even despite it having unintended resonance in this most horrible of years, the film’s depiction of the unsaid in family relationships is powerfully moving regardless, pulling very effectively at the heartstrings. This kind of inability to hold, speak, know, or even explain the forces preventing someone from being with another fully offers up many empathetic universal and specific experiences. My small immediate response to this thematic contemplation was one of homesickness, of distance and communique. On further consideration after viewing I’m struck by thoughts of that inevitable grasp toward youth and stasis as one goes through senescence. 

Interestingly, for a film obsessed with such a distinct set of binarisms and ultimately opposing forces, it certainly isn’t afraid to jump between several staggeringly different animation styles at whim. Most of the film is done in a fairly standard anime style that, whilst definitely exaggerated and animated, is relatively realistic. Within one dream sequence the film opens into a wonderful crayon-like set of children’s drawings that add additional narrative depth to the characterisations, and – let’s be honest – helps to get your eyes welling with the remembrance of things past. Later, during a stressful potentially calamitous sequence, the film rapidly switches into a pencil-sketched blur, capturing that blind sense of speed and panic so wonderfully. 

Finally, I’d be entirely remiss to fail in mentioning the astonishing deft use of light and shadow within this film. Several sequences are told or displayed almost entirely through the use of white space, with only the barest shifting creases in a garment of clothing, or across the light of a character’s limb. The coherence, subtlety, and complexity of these sparse frames left me spellbound; I was compelled several times to rewind the film and examine every line, every movement in complete rapture at the skill and joy in the animation. One particular section focussing on the young girl’s dress, reminded me very much of the 

2015 short Prologue, directed by the seminal Richard Williams, with both films’ strike use of the blank screen just totally masterful. 

I simply must highly recommend The Girl From the Other Side for any viewer, but most especially for fans of animation (Japanese, British, American or otherwise). It’s a truly remarkable feat of short form visual storytelling, that stands as a rare example of animation that is carried with this much skill and charm.

4 out of 5 stars

Alexander Possingham

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