Expression is a key driving force of cinema. Not only cinema, any form of art, whether it be visual or sonic cannot exist if the artist loses their desire to express themselves. The world of animation has pushed motion-picture to a level that was quite unimaginable when the concept of cinema was first introduced. Movies made by Disney and Pixar, and the Japanese Anime industry have taken motion-picture to a world so far beyond comprehension that the human mind tends to immerse itself in a reality that extends far beyond the reaches of existence. While their projects are in some way or the other tied close to the visual aesthetic of our world, there are some brave souls who tend to explore a more abstract form a visual story-telling. YiJun Wang, with her shortfilm ‘Engage Earth’ has accomplished such an arduous feat.
According to Wang, the short film is a visual portrayal of the Journey of Heliopolis, a favela in the district of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The town with not more than 200,000 people residing in it has risen from absolute nothingness. Hard work, patience, blood, sweat, and tears have made the favela into the semi-urban locale that it is today. With simple and complicated images, Wang has tried to showcase the ebbs and flows of Heliopolis, presenting to us a cycle of growth and decay, and then a sudden explosion of life and energy.
According to our young filmmaker, her artwork and animation is inspired from the works of the Brazilian artist, Denise Milan; she gazes inside Milan’s mind, intricately studying her art and sculptors, and her research on crystals and stones. Undoubtedly, Wang’s interpretation of Milan’s art has become the strength of this awe-inspiring short film.
Upon watching it without context, our minds might search for a clue amidst fragmented thoughts; however, after reading her explanation, the viewers can seamlessly join the visuals together like puzzle pieces and flow with the filmmaker’s narrative. When analyzing the shortfilm solely by its presentation and title, one may compare the art and animation to simple life processes like: the germination of a seed, its growth, blossoming of flowers, and then the death and decay of the plant. Besides that, one could also argue that the visuals showcase the birth of a human child, its life inside the womb, and how it grows into an adult, but is then struck by the curse of mortality.
The story of planet Earth is the story of Heliopolis, and it becomes the story of every living organism that dwells in our universe. To understand, or engage ourselves with Heliopolis, we must first learn to engage with Earth; hence the title, ‘Engage Earth.’ Earth could be seen as the image of our universe that was born from a single point; absolute nothingness, but then blossoms into particles, millions of them. It tells the ultimate story of life, death, and rejuvenation!
Besides the visuals, one cannot overlook the music used in the short film. The slow use of strings accompanied by piano, and the stellar, almost angelic operatic vocal rendition blends perfectly with the visuals that showcase such a grand theme! Moreover, the visuals flow fluidly with the music, creating a sense of oneness between them. Much like the visuals showcased in the film, it is felt that the music too speaks of a similar theme of creation, destruction, and rebirth. It was as if Mother Earth was telling her own story through a song.
To summarize, the short film has the potential to give its viewers an experience unlike anything they would normally see in cinema. This goes to show the abundance of creativity in animators, and their ability to pull us out of reality and present a world that lies only in the realm of imagination. YiJun Wang, with her short film, ‘Engage Earth,’ has taken the world and bottled it down to one minute and forty three seconds of awe-striking beauty.
Rohan Bhattacharya is a video editor, filmmaker and writer. His film Komorebi won the second prize in ‘South Asia Japanese Language Short Film Competition,’ organized by The Japan Foundation, New Delhi and his latest film “Tsubaki” has been screened at the Tokyo Short Film Festival in Japan. His production house Sunkaku Productions makes movies in Japanese language to create a bridge of culture between India and Japan.