‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ Review: This Giant Frog Needs Your Help

An enigmatic adaptation of a short story collection by Haruki Murakami, this animated film is set shortly after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

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By Claire Shaffer

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The composer and painter Pierre Földes makes his feature film directorial debut with “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman,” an animated adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story collection of the same name. Following Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar-winning film “Drive My Car” — also based on an amalgamation of Murakami works — Földes’s effort skews more faithfully to the author’s inscrutable style, combining surrealist narratives with a pensive tone that can be hard to pin down. Adding to the opaqueness is an animation style similar to rotoscoping, where the characters’ movements are based on those of live actors; while beautiful and striking at times, the uncanny depiction of the film’s human subjects may alienate some viewers.

“Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” takes place shortly after the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami and is centered on the salesmen Komaru (voiced by Ryan Bommarito in the English-language dub) and Katagiri (Marcelo Arroyo), each of whom finds himself in a crisis. Komaru is mourning his separation from his wife, Kyoko (Shoshana Wilder), who spent hours watching televised news coverage of the disaster before walking out on him. We learn through flashbacks that the two got together under peculiar circumstances. Katagari, meanwhile, has an absurd meeting with an anthropomorphic frog named Frog (voiced by Földes), who tasks him with saving the city from a second impending earthquake caused by a giant earthworm.

Despite its original, unusual premise, “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” can’t shake the sense that it is multiple short stories stitched together, and the elusive nature of Murakami’s dialogue and characterizations does it no favors. It works well as a visual companion for fans of the author’s work, and as a flawed enigma for everyone else.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. In theaters.

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