Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Textual Analysis: Soy Cuba and Spirited Away

The free flowing cinematography, moving about as if in a daydream, seems to be constantly allowing the spectator to scrutinize every detail; it’s as if Kalatosov is visually bragging about Cuba.

This textual analysis was originally produced as one of my Film and Screen Studies assignments in my first year of undergraduate study. However, as this was produced for my second first year (because I elected to start again) the films de-constructed in this analysis are different to the ones I examined in my textual analysis from my first first year


Textual Analysis

This textual analysis will deconstruct the opening sequences of two films and will determine how their respective filmmakers have created meaning. The openings to be scrutinized will be the first four minutes of Spirited Away (Dir. Hayao Miyazaki, Japan, 2001), this will be the English dubbed version, and the first twelve minutes of Soy Cuba (Dir. Mikhail Kalatov, Soviet Union, Cuba, 1964). 

The analysis of the two films will be comprised of two parts. The first part will be in a table where one minute ten seconds of Spirited Away and six minutes of Soy Cuba will be deconstructed. The second part will be a prose analysis which will explain how the film form of each film sequence creates meaning. 


Spirited Away - the opening 4 minutes



Shot No. / Duration
Type of shot / Contents of shot
Dialogue / Sound
Shot 1, 2s
Black,                        
                                    
FADE INTO:
Non diegetic sound: a soft and sober piano begins playing on the film soundtrack.
Shot 2, 8s
A bouquet of pink flowers fills the screen. The bouquet moves down to reveal a set of legs and a car window – This is a POV shot.                                   
                                         





                                          CUT TO:
Chihiro: “I’ll miss you Chihiro, your best friend, Lilly.”
Father: “Chihiro… Chihiro, we’re almost there.”

Non diegetic sound: the soft and sober piano piece keeps playing on the soundtrack throughout.
Diegetic sound: the car’s motion and the rustling of bouquet.
Shot 3, 9s
MEDIUM CLOSE-UP. Chihiro is lying across the cluttered back seat, holding her bouquet of flowers.
                                           
                                         





                                          CUT TO:
Mother: “This really is in the middle of nowhere. I’m going to have to go to the next town to shop.”
Father: “We’ll just have to learn to like it.

Non diegetic sound:  the piano piece continues to play.
Diegetic sound: the car’s motion and jumping on bumps in the road.
Shot 4, 4s
MEDIUM CLOSE-UP. Father turns in his seat and looks in Chihiro’s direction.
                                          




                                          CUT TO:
Father: “Look, Chihiro, there’s your new school. Looks great doesn’t it!”

Non diegetic sound: the piano piece continues to play.
Diegetic sound: the car’s motion and the seat belt being pulled forward.
Shot 5, 5s
MEDIUM CLOSE-UP. Similar set up as shot 3 but slightly tighter. This is a reaction shot of Chihiro.
                                         

                                          CUT TO:
Mother: “It doesn’t look so bad.”

Non diegetic sound: the piano piece continues to play.
Diegetic sound: the car’s motion.
Shot 6, 4s
MEDIUM CLOSE-UP. From outside the car looking in through the back seat window Chihiro sits up, looks out the window and sticks her tongue out.
                                         CUT TO:
Non diegetic sound: the piano piece continues to play.
Diegetic sound: the car’s motion and other cars.
Shot 7, 6s
MEDIUM CLOSE-UP, same set up as shot 5. Chihiro lies back down on the back seat. Then she notices her bouquet is dying. She springs up.
                                          

                                          CUT TO:
Chihiro: “It’s gonna stink. I liked my old school. Mum…”


Non diegetic sound: the piano continues to play.
Diegetic sound: the car’s motion and rustling of bouquet.
Shot 8, 3s
MEDIUM CLOSE-UP. Chihiro jumps up into the centre of the front seats.
                                         




                                          CUT TO:
Chihiro: “… my flowers are dying!”

Non diegetic sound: the piano is now accompanied by a swell of a bigger orchestra.
Diegetic sound: the car’s motion, rustling of flowers and Chihiro shifting in car.
Shot 9, 17s
MEDIUM CLOSE-UP. From the driver side of car we see father nearest, mother furthest and Chihiro poking through the seats in-between.




                                         




                                          CUT TO:
Mum: “I told you no to smother them like that. We’ll put them in water when we get to our new home.”
Chihiro: “I finally get a bouquet and it’s a goodbye present, that’s depressing.”
Mum: “Daddy brought you a rose for your birthday. Don’t you remember?”

Non diegetic sound: the piano and orchestral keeps playing.
Diegetic sound: the car’s motion.
Shot 10, 10s
MEDIUM CLOSE-UP of Chihiro sat back on the back seat. This shot is set slightly further back than the previous back seat shots.
                                          






                                         

                                         CUT TO:
Chihiro: “Yeah one; just one rose isn’t a bouquet.”
Mum: “Hold onto your card I’m opening the window. And quit whining. It’s fun moving to a new place. It’s an adventure!”

Non diegetic sound: the piano and orchestral keeps playing. Then begins to swell into something bigger.
Diegetic sound: the car’s motion, shuffling movement of mother, the opening of window and gust of wind.
Shot 11, 3s
POV SHOT of Chihiro looking out the window.
                                          

                                          CUT TO:
Non diegetic sound: the orchestra continues to grow.
Diegetic sound: the car’s motion, rustling of bouquet, passing traffic and wind.
Shot 12, 22s
LONG SHOT of the car speeding away from camera. Then as the climbs up a hill the camera TILTS up to a SHOT of houses under which is the road up which the car drives. Over the last 4 seconds the film title: SPIRITED AWAY fades onto the screen.
Non diegetic sound:  the orchestral music reaches its crescendo throughout this shot. Diegetic sound: the sound of traffic coming and going.

With the beginning sequence, Miyazaki presents a grounded representation of a family moving house: “This really is in the middle of nowhere. I’m going to have to go to the next town to shop.” Before the film’s title and the following sequence come up, there is no indication that Spirited Away is, in fact, a fantasy. All the opening sequence suggests is that the film’s narrative is about transition and will chronicle Chihiro’s journey in coming to terms with this: “Being enclosed, protected, and kept away (from dangers), children cannot help but enlarge their fragile egos in their daily lives where they feel their lives as something dim” (Miyazaki 2001). 

The cinematography in the car sequence is all motionless and, as such, is representative of Chihiro’s melancholy state of mind and attitude towards this transition: “I finally get a bouquet and it’s a goodbye present, that’s depressing.” 

The whole colour pallete of the car sequence is also indicative of this: the car is composed of sober greys and blues. The fact also that the camera seems to be always in the car looking out creates a framing device that presents the otherwise lush outside colours as distant and dominated by the dark colours of the car and, as such, appear equally as bland. 

In fact, the only shot which is outside the car, shot 6, is dominated by the frame of the car and the trees and buildings are reflected murkily in the car’s window. In this sequence Miyazaki has crafted mise-en-scene which creates a sense of confinement and disconnection: everything that Chihiro is feeling. 

“Hold onto your card I’m opening the window. And quit whining. It’s fun moving to a new place. It’s an adventure!” In fact, it is only when Chihiro’s mother says this, while opening the window, that a gust of fresh air blows in and Miyazaki visually gives the spectator room to breathe. 



Accordingly, the music builds and as shot 12 slowly tilts up it becomes dominated, more and more, by lush and vibrant colours. From here on out, as the car ascends up the hill to bigger and better things, Miyazaki is, like Chihiro, allowing the spectator to be spirited away. 

Now that Miyazaki created a down to earth stepping on point for the spectator he begins to introduce the mythical elements that uphold the rest of the narrative. The first instance of this is the little houses: “They’re shrines; some people think little spirits live there.” These act as a visual warning or prelude to what is awaiting in the forest which Miyazaki allows to appear ominous by the shadow which falls over the entrance of the track into the forest. 

As the car speeds along the track, the music revs up as if it is building up towards something. Already, the iconography: the old forest, a strange statue hidden in trees and the old cobbled track is becoming more mythological and is in stark contrast to the car: ‘By combining traditional designs with a modern story, and putting them in as pieces of colorful mosaic, (I think) the world in the film will have a fresh persuasion’ (Miyazaki 2001). 

As the car speeds along the track, the music revs up as if it is building up towards something. Miyazaki is playing on the audience’s anticipation and then… “What’s that?” the father asks; hitting the brakes. He supplies the spectator with a moment to catch their breath, before enticing them onwards: “The wind is pulling us in,” Miyazaki is continually teasing the viewer. Here the spectator gets a sense of the fantastical force that Chihiro will inevitably come to face: ‘the world is encroaching and trying to consume (everything). It is the main theme of this film to describe such a world clearly in the form of a fantasy’ (Miyazaki 2001).


Soy Cuba -  the opening 6 minutes




Shot No. / Duration
Type of shot / Contents of shot
Dialogue / Sound
Shot 1, 10s
A Black screen over which the initial opening credits are played.

                                    FADE INTO:
Non diegetic sound: soft patting of palms on drums begins to play.
Shot 2, 1m 10s
EXTREME LONG MOBILE SHOT. The camera moves across a vast landscape populated by trees and occasional patches of water. 1m 2s in the film’s title: “SOY CUBA” fades onto screen and remains there for 8s.

                                    FADE INTO:
Non diegetic sound:  the drums are now accompanied by the hypnotic presence of a flute. Then finally by the soft strumming of a guitar.
Shot 3, 42s
EXTREME LONG MOBILE SHOT. This shot is similar to shot 2. Over this the rest of the credits play.

                                   FADE INTO:
Non diegetic sound: the drums and flute have now gone and only the strumming of the guitar and a soft humming remains.
Shot 4, 34s
EXTREME LONG MOBILE SHOT. Again, like shots 2 and 3 but another length of footage faded with the previous shot.
                                    FADE INTO:
Non diegetic sound: the guitar and humming continues.
Shot 5, 15s
EXTREME LONG MOBILE SHOT. Exactly like shots 2,3 and 4 but a new piece of footage faded with previous shot.

                                   FADE INTO:
Non diegetic sound:  the guitar and humming continues.
Shot 6, 20s
EXTREME LONG MOBILE SHOT. Exactly like shots 2, 3, 4 and 5 but a new piece of footage faded with previous shot.

                                    FADE INTO:
Non diegetic sound: the guitar and humming continues.
Shot 7, 36s
EXTREME LONG MOBILE SHOT. Exactly like shots 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 but this one ends with the camera going off the coast and over the sea.                                   














                                    

FADE INTO:
A statement reads:
‘The Cuban Motion Picture Institute and Mosfilm Studios of the USSR acknowledge the cooperation of the Rebel Army, the Popular Defence Organization, the Ministry of the Interior, the Academy of the Sciences, and all of the institutions and individuals who made the filming of the motion picture possible by their contributions.’

Non diegetic sound: The strumming continues and is now re-joined by the flute and humming.
Diegetic sound: The sound of the gentle ocean is introduced.
Shot 8, 55s
LONG SHOT. This begins by looking at the ocean it then TILTS up and around onto the coast line and end by looking up at a cross which sits there. For the remaining 30s the camera maintains a LONG SHOT of the cross.
                                         

                                          CUT TO:
Voice of Cuba voiceover: “I am Cuba. Columbus landed here once. He wrote in his diary, “This the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.” Thank you, Mr. Columbus. 
Non diegetic sound: The humming ceases but the strumming continues.

Diegetic sound: sound of ocean.
Shot 9, 1m 11s
MOBILE SHOT from boat. At the front of the boat there is a man whom is pushing it along and all the while the camera is looking about its surroundings, a small collection of huts built on a river. A mother holding her baby, children playing in a boat, a woman hanging washing out to dry, Another woman sweeping her floor, more woman cleaning. Another man pushes another barge past in the opposite direction. A mother walks with her two children over a bridge.
Voice of Cuba voiceover:
“When you saw me for the first time, I was singing and laughing. I greeted the tufted sails, I thought they brought me happiness. I am Cuba. My sugar was carried away in ships. But my tears were left behind. Sugar is a strange thing, Mr. Columbus. So many tears go into it and it’s still sweet.”

Non diegetic sound: the strumming of the guitar.

Soy Cuba has a visual dexterity unlike anything else that was being made at the time of its production. The camera freely flows through the scenes like some supernatural presence scrutinizing every detail the mise-en-scene has to offer. A spectator of today, after watching the opening sequence, would probably be surprised to discover that Soy Cuba was a fictional film, told in four separate stories, which recreate elements of life in Cuba before the revolution. 

If anything, Soy Cuba feels like an actual documentary; it was a film very much ahead of its time, it feels like Koyaanisquatsi (Dir. Godfrey Reggio, USA, 1982) only twenty years previously: ‘The acrobatic camerawork and striking montage employed in Kalatosov’s reconstruction simply jarred with the experience of his audience’ (Stone 2006: 68). 

As the disclaimer states, at the end of the opening credits, Soy Cuba was a film made in co-operation with the Soviet Union. But, more importantly, the disclaimer recognises all the other contributors: the Rebel Army, the Popular Defence Organization, the Ministry of the Interior etc. In true communist fashion, this was a film made by the people for the people about their country. Hence the title: Soy Cuba a.k.a. I Am Cuba and the first voice that is heard in the film is that of the voice of Cuba. Literally, Kalatosov made a film that told the story of the entire country. 

In terms of narrative this was also unheard of and the setting is not only a character in the film but also the narrator of it. So arguably, in addition to the film being essentially a docudrama: ‘In the case of historical representation or reconstruction, the first thing to go was the distinction between fiction and documentary’ (Stone 2006: 66), there are also surrealistic elements as well. 



The soundtrack, especially of the first six minutes, is very serene, soft and surreal. Kalatosov is using all the film form at his disposal to emphasize the continual presence and beauty of Cuba; as the voice of Cuba says: “Columbus landed here once. He wrote in his diary, “This the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.” Indeed, Kalatosov achieves this also in his constant visual scrutinizing of the Cuban landscape, both urban and rural, and the people who populate it. 

The free flowing cinematography, moving about as if in a daydream, seems to be constantly allowing the spectator to scrutinize every detail; it’s as if Kalatosov is visually bragging about Cuba. 

As in the sequence on the roof of the hotel the staging is such that the camera is allowed to shoot a single continues take. This starts by exhibiting and scrutinizing the various people on the roof, it then descends on the lift and, finally, ends up being submerged in the pool where various figures swim past; allowing themselves to be scrutinized. Clearly, this goes a long way in visually displaying the carefree opulence of the pre-revolution Cuba: ‘The politicised recreation of events is overwhelmed by a strident use of expressionistic techniques that render the events as spectacle’ (ibid 67). 



Filmography 

Spirited Away FILM; directed by Hayao Miyazaki. 125 minutes. Japan: Studio Ghibli, 2001. 

Soy Cuba FILM; directed by Mikhail Kalatozov. 141 minutes. Soviet Union, Cuba: ICAIC, Mosfilm, 1964.

Koyaanisquatsi FILM; directed by Godfrey Reggio. 86 minutes. USA: IRE Productions, Santa Fe Institute for Regional Education, 1982. 



Bibliography 

Stone, Rob. ‘Mother lands, sister nations: the epic, poetic, propaganda films of Cuba and the Basque Country’. In: Dennison, S and Hwee Lim, Song eds. Remaping World Cinema: Identity, Culture and Politics in Film. London: Wallflower Press, 2006, pp.65-72. 

Miyazaki, Hayao. The Purpose of the Film, 2001. [Online] Available from: http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/sen/proposal.html [Accessed 14.12.2010].

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