Interview with Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: Pierre Földes adapts Murakami

Director Pierre Földes tells IndieWire about his unique approach to animating the short stories of the author whose work inspired Drive My Car and Burning.


Having inspired two of the most impressive features of recent years, Burning and Drive My Car, it should come as no surprise that author Haruki Murakami’s work is ripe for adaptation. There is something very special about his short stories, texts that are as dense as they are accessible, and filmmaker Pierre Földes knows that. Foldes’ first feature film, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, takes its title from a Murakami collection and includes a series of short stories by the author – Super Frog Saves Tokyo, Birthday Girl, Dabchick, The Wind Oops”. Bird & Tuesday’s Women, Blind Willow Sleeping Woman and UFO in Kushiro – to create an intimate and playful study of characters searching for meaning in their lives.

Weaving together these stories—and their diverse themes, including breakups, office-job monotony, strange desires, and stealthy assassins—is a special endeavor. And while the film stays true to Murakami’s sensibility, Földes never lost sight of his own aesthetic principles. Speaking to IndieWire at the Toronto International Film Festival, the filmmaker said, “As an artist, it was really important for me to develop my own language.”

“I’m not really comfortable with taking techniques that are very, shall we say, traditional,” Foldes said. “My first films had really primitive techniques, but they were mostly mine. For this I have developed something very special that combines live action and animation. The entire film was shot with actors and a DP in a studio with almost no background and no lighting just to be able to capture the actors’ main expressions. It’s not motion capture, nor is it a rotoscope.”

“The characters in the film don’t resemble the actors at all and they’re all drawn in a fairly traditional way,” Foldes said, citing the human-sized, anthropomorphic amphibian frog as a prime example. Although it sounds like a reverse storyboard, the director explained that in the storyboarding process, he actually drew 1400 frames himself “so that every scene with actors was shot exactly according to the storyboard.”

The original intention was to mix the footage with animation, but instead Földes used it – along with 3D designs he modeled in ZBrush – as a reference and created unique works in designing the actual art that the audience sees, leading to what is to come an aesthetic that feels tangible without sacrificing the lack of realism that comes with fable telling. It gives the feeling of being unfinished, although it is still polished, which was intended by Földes. “For me, there’s something attractive about doing something that looks almost unfinished, even though it’s a finished aesthetic, and that leaves enough room for people to invest themselves in it,” he said.

It is ideal for a film that exists between realism and fantasy – as immersive in its exploration of humanity as any other recent Murakami adaptation, yet told in imagery that could not be realized in live-action. Take an early scene of a man driving a train – his character is fully designed while the figures around him only appear as footprints or shadows in the scene – and how the train turns into a giant worm and its drivers inside holds captive. Földes’ creative choice emphasizes Murakami’s exploration of distance. “There are different layers within the design and the image itself,” the director said. “Supporting cast are more or less transparent, not for their importance in the picture, but to create a spooky feel that makes you feel like you exist in your own universe within the world compared to everyone else around you.”

The ethereal quality of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman can be either playful or melancholic depending on the scene, and Földes’ work as composer and writer alongside director and animator is key. Although his father was an animator, Földes was self-taught and “unschooled” and more interested in forging his own path of storytelling, which he explored by making short films and composing for games, television and film (including the score for Michael Cuestas’ LIE”).

Blind willow, sleeping woman

“Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”

Courtesy of TIFF

“I made the music almost traditionally after the film was basically done, but it’s connected to the storytelling, which isn’t that traditional,” he says. “When I was working on the screenplay, I didn’t want to go into the techniques that are taught in screenwriting classes because I was really fed up with it. It’s good enough – you know, you can create great suspense, laughter and tears – and they’re useful techniques in a sense. But they just don’t inspire me when there are other things to explore and when I can create something that’s closer to Murakami’s way of storytelling.”

Murakami’s stories are often simple but effective vignettes, and Földes sees his own short films as somewhat of a pair with them. “I’ve always explored storytelling through little vignettes,” he said, with films like Microdramas and De La Subjectivite made up of miniature scenes and conversations. “These little vignettes start interacting and it becomes a story, but you don’t follow a structure that was laid out from the beginning of the film. I find this form very rigid; there is no natural flow.”

“When I was writing the script, I just picked the stories because I liked them and they inspired me,” Foldes said, admitting that his way of shaping the script was as fluid as the finished product. “I had no idea what I was going to make of it, but it’s actually important that I have no idea because I wasn’t trying to take that and model it exactly as I imagined it or take it and make it exact. It was more that I’m attracted to it and I don’t really know what draws me to it. There’s something deep about them, and because of that depth, I feel like there’s room to explore those stories and find those things within myself.”

From there, the filmmaker found what elements the stories had in common and mixed and mixed them. While Murakami’s short stories are relatively distinct despite their overlapping themes, “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” unites them through their similarities. “They extract those elements, with or without removing the rest, and take them to a new level,” he notes. “And then, naturally, the ideas start to flow, little by little the story unfolds.”

Although Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is based on the work of a world-renowned author, it took Földes several years to find the funding and creative partners needed to complete the film – something he still embarrasses today. But he’s incredibly pleased with the film, its reception in Annecy and TIFF, and how it resonates with a certain audience that has a similar take on art as he does. “When I talk to some young people about the film, they understand it in a way that I find so inspiring. I was really amazed because older people understand it in an intellectual way, but younger people accept the way it works and embrace the flow of the story and it inspires them, which interests me.”

Blind willow, sleeping woman

“Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”

Courtesy of TIFF

“I don’t see myself as a source of ideas, I’m just part of a flow. This idea was of course inspired by Murakami, and I’m inspired by him, but I’m also inspired by the things that inspire him, because that’s how it flows. And I try to translate that as precisely as possible in my own words, through my art and music. Maybe precise isn’t the right word, but I’m trying to go as far as I can to create something personal, true and honest for myself and I hope that someone watching the film will find it inspiring and helpful. ”

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman will be screened at the Busan International Film Festival on October 8th, 11th and 13th.

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Lindsay Lowe

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