Judge Joel Pearce prefers the film's prequel—50% Cotton, 50% Polyester.
Once upon a time there lived two old women who lived in a house full of garbage…
I suppose there's no rule written anywhere that film needs to make sense. After all, it is an art form that can take a number of different forms. It's hard to let go of logic, though, especially in a film that moves so slowly. Either way, Wool 100% isn't going to appeal to a wide range of people. I suspect that it will capture the imagination of a small minority, though, so don't stop reading.
Facts of the Case
Two women have been living in an old mansion since they were little girls. Each day, they walk together into town, collecting discarded items that they like. They return home with the objects, cataloging them and finding a spot for them in the ever-growing pile of junk. They are old women now, and their house is completely surrounded by garbage. Things change for the women when they find a basket of red wool that is attached to a young girl cursed to re-knit the same sweater over and over again. She moves in with them, which raises all sorts of memories and challenges their way of life.
There aren't enough women who direct films. It's strange that this hasn't changed, since there have been many female authors in the last few decades, who have opened up the world to new forms and approaches to literature—there is no question that women do see the world in a different way, and the arrival of their voices has been one of the most important human developments of the modern era. I say this because it's immediately obvious that Wool 100% has been crafted by a woman. It has a different form and a different style, and although I found it a bit frustrating, I can't deny that it's an example of the kind of work that we should see a lot more of. It approaches the memory and thoughts and experience of women in a way that we rarely get to see.
It also asks some important universal questions. Why is it that we become so attached to certain objects? As humans, the tendency to collect and accumulate stuff seems instinctual, and yet it doesn't make a lot of sense. It's just stuff, after all, often stuff that no-one else truly understand. Part of this tendency no doubt comes from our ability to project personality onto inanimate objects. We talk about our cars and computers as though they had personalities. We enjoy toys that are full of energy and personality. We know, deep down inside, that our stuff is just stuff, but it's a hard thing to admit.
The home of the sisters is full of stuff that is loaded with personality. They draw each object as it arrives, giving it a name and showing it as they see it. This is such a complete illusion for them, when Knit-Again arrives, they treat her as just another object. She is placed in the book with the other objects. Perhaps it's because she's truly alive that this action prompts the other object to come alive. We then enter a world where that personification becomes reality, and we get to see what it would be like if our objects really did respond with sentience. The house becomes more and more surreal until we enter the drawings themselves, and we lose all connection to reality, trapped with Knit-Again in a world of living objects.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This focus on living objects is fascinating, but it quickly becomes bogged down in a mess of symbolism and sluggish pacing. It doesn't take long to realize that the red of the yarn has deep significance—of blood, of menstruation, of memory. It makes a great image, but it's almost disappointing when we see back into the memories of the old women. The answers seem too simple, too straightforward for such a visually audacious film. As well, it takes so long to reach this point. Wool 100% is a film of repetition, and it takes far too long to get to the real story. Fables are rarely complex or long stories, and this one often feels like a short film stretched out to feature length, yet viewers will be able to get swept away by its visual charms.
That said, the visual charms are certainly worth mentioning. The film opens with a simple form of animation, which tells us the story of the two sisters. We then switch to live action, as the animated house comes alive. The filming style is highly static, but the sets are created with such imagination and detail that there is always something interesting to look at on-screen. Once the red yarn shows up, the rest of the film becomes a game of color, as director Mai Tominaga uses brilliant swashes of color to create meaning and confuse unsuspecting viewers. Still, most will find this parade of visual glee fades quickly in favor of frustration and boredom. Film can be a narrative form, and it can be art, but juggling the two is a challenge few directors can face.
On the whole, Cinema Epoch has done a fine job with the transfer of Wool 100%. It looks fantastic, an anamorphic video transfer that captures the color of the live action segments and motion of the animated segments without any trouble. The sound, on the other hand, is a disappointment. The film has an interesting sound design, with yelling that comes through all channels, a bizarre jazzy soundtrack and sound effects that come from all directions. This would have been awesome, I expect, in the original DTS mix, but I can't say for sure because all we get on the disc is a Dolby stereo track that does little justice to the artistry of the film. There is a production featurette, but it is in Japanese with no English subtitles—not a useful thing for most Verdict readers.
For fans of film that love art and want to see the unique voice of female directors, Wool 100% is a safe recommendation. It's a great looking film, one that comes at a simple story from a fresh and beautiful perspective. For most viewers, though, this will be a truly baffling and irritating experience.
For its uniqueness, I feel that this is the wrong court to be judging Wool 100%. It is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
• Production Featurette
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