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Wool 100
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by David Cornelius

"Visually stunning and stunningly surreal."
4 stars

“Wool 100%” opens as a strange little fairy tale, peculiar in its delivery but quaint in its ideas. Then the thing begins to unfold - or, more accurately, unravel, considering the key imagery of miles of yarn - and we discover this fairy tale is a dark, somber fever dream, full of heartbreaking memories and furious magic. And yet no matter how bizarre the story becomes, it always retains a certain charm. Its very weirdness is consistently fascinating.

The film is from writer/director Mai Tominaga, an animator and commercial artist making her feature debut. In “Wool 100%”, she combines vivid animation and intricate puppetry with the live-action sequences, to stunning - if often baffling, on a story level - effect. The elements blend together smoothly to create a special kind of visual magic, and while I’m tempted to find comparisons to other, more familiar filmmakers, the simple truth is that there’s nothing out there anything like this.

Sisters Ume-san (Kyōko Kishida) and Kame-san (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) live alone in a wondrous dollhouse of a mansion, each room spilling over with all matter of junk. The ultimate pack rats, the sisters venture out every day and scour the city’s garbage bins, looking for all manner of unwanted objects. They then return home and meticulously clean and catalogue each item, a ritual that ends with the ladies creating lavish paintings of these things. This routine is presented with minimal dialogue, and maximum visual beauty.

The movie opens with fairy tale narration informing us that the sisters’ mansion may have magical properties (the garbage they find watches over them, protecting them out of gratitude); an early scene seems to hint that the sisters may be ghosts. Neither fact is clarified later in the film, although this is beside the point. All that matters is that the stage is set for the fantasy wonders that follow.

One day, the sisters pick up a discarded pile of yarn. They bring it home, only to find a young woman (Ayu Kitaura) has emerged from within the yarn, knitting herself a sweater. Disappointed with the results, the girl lets out a banshee wail, tears the sweater apart, and begins knitting all over again. This is her own daily ritual, and the sisters take to calling her “Knits-Again.”

But who is Knits-Again? Is she a phantom? A lost woman seeking refuge? Something sinister? Or innocent? We’re never quite sure. All we can know is that her mere arrival sets off a series of flashbacks for the sisters, who have their own dark secrets - involving the mother that abandoned them and the young man they both loved - spring to life once more. These secrets have been buried deep within the cluttered mansion. Is this why they had hid themselves away, to hide from their past, to smother it under a pile of unneeded trinkets?

“Wool 100%” lives entirely in a world of fairy tale metaphor and convoluted symbolism. The knitting connects to themes of sex and love; the sisters were told at a young age that babies come if you knit long enough, and one flashback shows a younger Ume and Kame reading a health text, shocked over the biological truths contained within. These flashbacks suggest the sisters have sheltered themselves from the “gross” realities of adulthood, forcing themselves to become permanent innocents. Their childlike behavior borders on the robotic at times, and the ladies we first thought were quaintly childlike are quickly revealed to be sadder, lonelier figures. They have more in common with tiny doll replicas of themselves than the everyday people who roam the real world.

Ah, but this is only one interpretation, and Tominaga opens her film to so much more. This is a movie to be absorbed, its many ideas and themes digging deep into your mind. You’ll think about this film long after you’ve finished watching it, sometimes to deconstruct the tiniest clues, sometimes to marvel at its visual intricacies, sometimes if only to wonder what the heck it all means. “Wool 100%” is as mysterious as its title, and as confusing, and as wondrous.

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originally posted: 01/04/08 02:52:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/01/09 Iti iti I adore this film, I am humbled by our world. Divine and masterful, superbly intricate we R 5 stars
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  12-Sep-2007 (NR)
  DVD: 08-Jan-2008



Directed by
  Mai Tominaga

Written by
  Mai Tominaga

  Kyōko Kishida
  Kazuko Yoshiyuki
  Ayu Kitaura

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