This beautiful and evocative short film, created and animated by hand over three years by Japanese anime artist Shingo Tamagawa gives us – through its journey and exploration of transformation – bearings and direction. A subtle and powerful prompting about the space of human life and the capacity for art and stories to redeploy and enhance our understanding. It is a reminder to a place where the real limit to transformation is no longer known, constituted as it is with beings and encounters that haunt at our insides and light up the night like a transformed sun.
‘An intermediate usually quiescent stage of a metamorphic insect (such as a bee, moth, or beetle) that occurs between the larva and the imago, is usually enclosed in a cocoon or protective covering, and undergoes internal changes by which larval structures are replaced by those typical of the imago‘ “Pupa” Definition, per Mirriam-Webster
Puparia’s opening scene features a girl, sitting cross legged in a verdant setting outside in the daylight. There is a warm light to everything, behind her is a flowering wall of bush or hedge, between the girl and which resides a creature seemingly of unknown kind. In some way it resembles a preternaturally large butterfly or moth (some of our principally observed users of pupa) though very different and much larger in form. It could also from its partly occluded position resemble something more mammalian, potentially feline or seal-like – while none of these resemblances in themselves seem overly defining.
A form that retains a feeling in this setting and moment, of authenticity as a being whether creature, animal, spirit or something else – in a way that resists the taxonomy of the known, perhaps resonating more closely as something dream-like (and part of the abstract-real). It has that striking sense of maintaining the alien, but with an eminent calm, non-hostile affect of residence.
It appears to rest with frond-like extension tubes, gently waving. There is a serenity, eyes with vaguely familar inclination; close, open gently – resting in the light while tiny luminous butterflies alight on its head.
This is a view of the outside that bridges the world of the everyday with a transformed nature, imbued with agency and possibility that are counter-thetical to positioning as per the norm. Puparia thereby suggests itself a passage-in-possibility, ontologically transformative as it pertains to the idea that dreaming up a story and world can contain elements of or might also simply be part of a navigation/realisation in wider circumstances of life.
‘I think Puparia is a very impressive film about metamorphosis. It suggests people are trapped, semi-frozen, and hunched/slumped, on the wrong side of a threshold. It puts Brightness and warrior poise (and a close connection with animals/insects/plants) on the far side of the transformation, and it’s very clear about the importance of exteriority (it shows the trap in terms of interioriy, and then shows that our ‘cosy’ interiority in fact freezes us). And it suggests the bright, charged Alterity, and warmly intense Lightness, of what is on the far side of the threshold’.
This was written by a friend Justin Barton in response to seeing Puparia.
In the accompanying short documentary promo (further below) Tamagawa understandably shies away from saying too much about the film’s deeper sides. Turning to concerns that the values of what had formed the human world were being lost and also wanting to ally people with a feeling of connection. It is remarkable as a gesture to people everywhere, across the void of obstreperous difficulty that marks our lives and journeys. Yet even as we see ever more stories of the apparently magical and extraordinary (which are often in fact restrictively normative in nature) Tamagawa here invokes – as part of this gesture – a connection back from a transformed edge of being and living more intensely than our generally confined and domesticated selves.
‘I aimed at expressing a feeling of being supported…‘ This is perhaps most evident with the smile, which becomes the final expression of the mysterious being who is finally pointed to (while they also deftly gesture that they are not the ‘end point’ of any journey we are seeing).
In a still (above) taken from the film, the directorial understanding from Tamagawa is immediately evident, these specific interior sequences are barrel-distorted, apeing a superwide or fish-eye style of camera lens. The effect is to make this interior sequence supturate while pushing at the overall space, bulging out towards us and giving things overall a vertiginous edge. Here the dimension is bent and distented by unseen forces. It also becomes clear that this distortion to our vision is preceding the arrival of something which patrols or intercepts, passing through these inside doorways at speed, towards the hunched man-at-the-threshold.
Tamagawa relates that his time to that point as a professional animator (before embarking on making Puparia) had been taking its toll and in deciding to quit, was in effect rescuing his love of drawing and anime. He took a year and a half away from drawing and spent that time reading and walking outside. During which time, ideas began to flow.
He credits a producer at Sunrise Studio – his former employer, of being unusual (in some sense ‘noble’) and with giving him space to work while Tamagawa mostly used savings to get by, providing also that he helped the studio out from time to time when required – and for which he was still paid.
While Tamagawa suggests the figure at the end maybe either male or female, it is a breastless and yet female kind of figure. Suggesting also at the beginning and middle, that it is the direction of women as key figures in the spaces outside the norm. In Puparia, each human figure we encounter in some way allied or otherwise with transformed or seemingly other-worldy kinds of creature; the butterfly being, the tube-network / plant and the large fox-like cat-deer. Each time, these human figures we call by upon, direct us; walking off-screen, pointing. The direction being expressed is towards both continuation and further out to what has not yet been encountered. Away from the patrolled interiority of adorned walls and furniture – to the recesses of a transformed world of striking verdancy, with its own edge of unknown, protruding here as part of this story.
In at least one key respect Puparia connects itself back to front. When we see that the terrain which is being examined by the figure at the end, appears in fact to be the same as the patterned pupi-shapes with which the film opens. It becomes relevant to think that the story takes you to the place not only where human beings (and conspicuously animals) are transformed, but also to where the planet itself is in a process of transformation.
By being non-verbal, Puparia evades most traps associated with language. Whatever must be communicated is done by glance and expression, by expressions of direction and movement – in this sense, it becomes entirely a process of the active, while purveying a stillness elsewhere. An ontology of silence.
The use of the section ‘Fast’ from Steve Reich’s 2009 piece ‘Mallet Quartet’ is inspired and helps the film immeasurably. If you were scoring Puparia, it would be difficult to imagine doing something that in its singular presentation could be as perfectly positioned and poised – together and in its role. It is propulsive in pace and rhythm while simultaneously expressing both a simple and beautifully rendered lead melody and an ongoing sense of depth and calm even among its speed. It is something that both the film and story gain from and are empowered by as to this sonic energy and character. Tamagawa simultaneously also expresses from these qualities and rhythms in the animation, a high-energy plateau is formed through the two. Which raises the question of how much the animation and its dimensions of speed, rhythm and space might have been influenced by it.
It’s possible Tamagawa added Mallet Quartet at the last minute, but also possible is that the piece became a part of the process of writing and animating, feeding and contouring affect and expression from its spaces of distended sonic balance and caress. If music, in its alien facet of being partly unknown can be in contact with or express strange and transformative realities of perception, then this very quality in the rhythms and populations of the visual world it accompanies become both transfusion and transformation.
Reich’s piece also seems to bring an edge of jeopardy in its beautiful minor rise; that there is peril in taking off, Tamagawa using that timbre, infusing the meeting at the threshold, entailing the apparently unknown from a direction that one has already turned against. And yet we are aware, Tamagawa reveals each time upon seeing the three human figures we encounter, that they are accompanied by transformed nature and beings, who are not patrollers of the corridors of the interiority, but something else. Tamagawa responds here to the question of the unknown in respect of these beings specifically, as an affective response. In terms of the affect of each of them in turn, we are left with respectively; calm-serene, vegetal-fungal, attentive-playful.
Where Tamagawa speaks of wanting people to feel supported, while reaching outside the world of our daily preoccupations and habit-formed schemes of thought and consideration (the primary ‘bandwidths’ of the modern individuated-as-socium) – we are left with the quality of what has been envisioned here as a gesture towards what is beyond these artifacts. Of sentience and agency – even in the context of these being ‘dreamed elements’ – from a space where the bridge of abstraction is both a dream and a story – as a gesture for a life that in meaning and reality points and lives somewhere decidedly and materially different. This would be a transformation and encounter entirely in keeping with the reaches of this extraordinary and poignant work.
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