Wool 100% Review
One of the more difficult Japanese films of 2006 to assess, Mai Tominaga’s feature length debut isn’t likely to set hearts racing. It’s a slow and contemplative light drama which sporadically issues quirky gestures alongside an oddball score from composer Hiroyasu Yaguchi as it strives to unravel such mysteries of the heart via a series of curious flashbacks.
The picture revolves around two elderly sisters: Ume (Kyoko Kishida) and Kame (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), who have lived together in the same house all of their lives. Their daily routines are defined by a strict routine, which sees the pair spending most of their time on the look out for prize junk, which they subsequently take home and catalogue in scrap books. Over the years their household has become so bogged down in unusual, but predominantly worthless items that it’s almost unrecognisable to anyone outside. One day Ume and Kame come across several yarns of red wool, which immediately excites them. They take the wool back home, but fail to spot that one of the balls has left a trail behind it; a trail which happens to have a young girl (Ayu Kitaura) attached at the other end. Soon enough the girl enters into their house, carrying nothing on her save for a scraggly red sweater and a pair of knitting needles. Day by day, night by night, the girl attempts to knit her perfect sweater, but it never turns out to her liking and she screeches that she must start all over again. Ume and Kame immediately take a liking to her and knick-name her Aminaoshi (Knit-again). This routine lasts goes on for an indefinite period until the sisters realise that Aminaoshi’s presence bears a significant impact on their own lives, one which will see them look back on their past and shape what’s left of their future.
Wool 100% is very symbolic by nature. It uses key metaphors strung throughout in order to emphasise various aspects of the human condition, and goes some length to philosophise such notions of life, death and dependability, as seen through naïve eyes. How love can make something all the more worthwhile, whether its being poured into making an inanimate object - as seen during Aminaoshi’s acceptance of her jumper - or a well prepared meal; we witness the culmination of these ideals as the film reaches its sweet conclusion. And it’s because all this time the protagonists have had little sense and order to their upbringing, purely collecting junk to satisfy an eternal longing, whilst filling a personal void at the same time. Curiously they’ve retained their childhood innocence well into their adults lives, which is why it seems to take a child like Aminaoshi to lift the burden that these lonely souls have carried for so long. What we end up with are sentiments that clearly signify the bridging of past and present, illustrating that perhaps we need to take a break from our own - perhaps unfocused - lifestyles once in a while.
The film builds upon the premise that in the end everything returns from where it came from. Tominaga commendably achieves much of what she sets out to do, and mostly without the need for dialogue. The script is minimalist of conversation to say the very least, with the driving force proving to be the director’s unruly sense of developing a narrative through mixed visual mediums. We have pleasant cinematography from Satoshi Seno, who keeps things neatly composed, though always visually alluring; working well with a somewhat limited palette of beige and olive hues, while the persistent use of red proves to be the most vibrant and significant aid to the overall story. Perfectly controlled framing devices see Mai Tominaga experiment to her heart’s content: the lovingly crafted collection book; a blistering animated segment at the half way mark that swiftly captures our attention, and later on one or two scenes being interpreted by little dolls which remarkably manage to deliver the most poignant moments of the feature. Indeed Tominaga throws as much as she can our way, though it never feels immaterial or done simply for the sake of it - every little step along the path to enlightenment means something. Granted, not everything is immediately coherent and there are moments in which the director dwells perhaps a bit too much, but if we can look over the shoulders of wooden toys being manipulated by human hands, for example, and still feel pure 100% emotion, then truly the magic of cinema is still alive and well.
Wool 100%’s anamorphic transfer of approximately 1.78:1 is generally pleasing. Letting is down somewhat is a spot of aliasing, which becomes most evident during outdoor scenes, in addition to being non-progressive, showing signs of combing throughout. But otherwise colours are stable, thankfully with no sign of bleeding as can be the case for difficult reds, while contrast appears reasonably acceptable. The overall image is a little on the soft side, but there’s nothing particularly untoward.
The Japanese DD Stereo track is equally pleasant enough, but we’re lacking the film’s original DTS mix. As such we’re left with an undoubtedly subdued track, but one which has its own merits. When there’s very little happening on screen the mix doesn’t do a great deal of anything, as even ambient effects are slight. But the track comes into its own whenever Aminaoshi goes off on one, and especially when Hiroyasu Yaguchi’ infectious jazz stylings kick into gear. The surround channels do indeed pick these up, but it’s more a case of them distributing sounds evenly across each speaker, so there isn’t a huge sense of immersion or finer directionality. Dialogue though is always clear, but as mentioned previously it’s one of the lesser components of Tominaga’s feature.
Optional English subtitles are included, and they offer a perfectly good translation. I find them to be a little on the large side, however.
Cinema Epoch have made a huge oversight with regards to the bonus material here. The main draw would have been the production featurette, which runs for approximately 18 minutes. This includes about 10 minutes worth of a poorly lit interview with the director and Kyoko Kishida and Kazuko Yoshiyuki, followed by a festival screening Q&A session and finally behind the scenes footage - but none of this is subtitled.
Also included is a collection of trailers for the film and a short still gallery.
If all this sounds very ambiguous then that’s how it is. I won’t pretend to understand every little thing that Wool 100% has to offer, but I can say that there’s enough here for viewers to make up their own mind about. It’s that kind of ambiguity that makes Mai Tominaga’s feature all the more interesting. It certainly doesn’t conform to convention or pander to its audience, but at the same time it’s a rather safe and charming humanistic tale that harbours deep sentiments of which many can relate to.
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