Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Directed by #JennieFeyen
Written by #JennieFeyen
Jennie Feyen’s ‘Sakura and Steel’ is an innovative take on representing war trauma and national recovery. Commissioned by Mosman Art Gallery, the film delves into abstraction and interpretive dance as a means of representing the journey of Japanese war submarines during World War 2.
Part of what makes the short film effective is that the director is aware that they're directing a film and not just a dance. The camera shifts between close up and long shot offering us footage of dancer (Kei Ikeda) in a vast dark space - the echoing sound of a submarine eerily transforms the dark dance space into something which feels submerged, beneath the surface in the depths of the ocean. A submarine is, after all, an object manoeuvring through the negative space of the sea; the use of dance is perfectly used to convey and render vulnerable the act of war, as the dancer pushes through various obstacles to have their body persist through the space around them. Abstraction, as Alan Resnais proved in his haunting film about collective trauma, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), is powerfully effective in bringing to the surface the strange weight of the past and how it effects the way we move through the present.
Kei Ikeda is great in ‘Sakura and Steel’ because their performance doesn’t just revolve around the technicalities of dance - their movement and face are full of expression and perseverance. Matt Bedford’s cinematography captures Ikeda’s beautiful gestures in light of the vacuous space around them, and the first half is perhaps the strongest part of the film. Structurally, the film is quite simplistic, perhaps naively so. It is split in two parts - the initial dance in which the dancer must move through nets, depths, and presumably the weight of the past, only to then undergo a form of spiritual recovery and rebirth. While beautifully shot and a calm rhythmic shift, the rebirth sequence is handled a little obviously, with a saccharine score that doesn’t help. Perhaps if the director stayed within abstraction, with an implicated soundscape like in the film’s opening, then the second half would fulfil some if its ambitions a little better.
The transformation from despair to hope is bridged by footage of cherry blossom (Sakura), the national flower of Japan, representing a time of renewal and optimism. When the dancer opens a seemingly defeated hand to reveal that they have been clutching onto the flower, it becomes clear that the dancer is potentially Japan itself - a collective body that has been marked by trauma during the Second World War, but whose heritage and cultural identity has been renewed, revived and rekindled. In this regard, it is well made film and overall quite compelling. While conceptually a little on the two dimensional side, Feyen has promise as a filmmaker and as an artist.