Mai Tomangi, Wool, 100% (2006)
Really, what’s not to like? In a Japanese cross between Bagpuss and the Wombles, two elderly sisters, armed with pokey sticks and shopping trolleys, collect furniture, toys, and other discarded items from surburban rubbish bins. Their house totters and teeters under the weight of their gathered spoils, and their bodies beat time to the tick of a thousand pilfered clocks. This world of lost memories and found objects is invaded by the destructive, succubus-like presence of a girl they call “Knit-Again.” The name is an apt one, for she is wearing a tatty, badly knitted, chunky red sweater that looks like it might have been designed by Twinkle. But her work is incomplete: the girl labours away at the sweater frantically until her blood-red wool runs out. Only then does she notice what a terrible job she’s made of the knitting: “Damn!” she wails, brandishing her needles, “I have to knit it all over again.”
Starring Ayu Kitaura, Kazuko Yoshiyuki and the wonderful Kyôko Kishida (of Woman in the Dunes fame) Mai Tominaga’s debut feature is strange, unsettling, and very, very witty. Combining elements of fairy-tales and dream work, as well as puppetry and animation, Wool 100% is an incredibly powerful meditation on desire, loss and the secret life of things. It is also, of course, a must-see for every knitter.
The girl’s red sweater is full of meaning. The rhythms of it’s knitting match those of the female body through menstruation, childbirth and death. Knitting sublimates sexual desire (“If you knit, a baby will come” one sister tells another, looking with hate and longing at a young man outside their window). And, for the two sisters, who are forced to confront the story of their youth as the plot unravels, knitting also literalises the work of memory, showing how much the past is something that we are constantly making and re-making, in a daily effort of stitching and piecing together. The blood-red yarn is menacing, murderous, and also a figure for the discontinuous narrative thread of the film itself. I was strongly reminded of Takeshi Kitano’s Dolls, in which guilt, trauma, and narrative memory are similarly suggested in the long red cord by which an unfaithful lover drags his suicidal beloved through eternity.
Dolls figure importantly in Wool 100%, too, as do several other kinds of inanimate objects which might, at any moment, spring to life. The objects the sisters collect are living presences: as they catalogue and care for the things that other people throw away, so these things, in their turn, seem to watch over and care for them. Their cuckoo clock chimes to cheer their morning repast; a futon snores and shudders as it envelops its silent sleeper. At the beginning of the film, a group of children sing a song for the two sisters: a neat, suggestive fable that sounds like something straight out of Blake’s Songs of Experience. A sheep sneezes, and an apple falls from a tree: “it is now the sheep’s apple,” sing the children. But, after the sheep munches the apple, it becomes part apple itself, “it is now the apple’s sheep” the song concludes. The subject ends up being possessed by the object it incorporates, just as the sisters are ultimately owned by their things.
Much of Wool 100% seems to be about finding the appropriate process to deal with things and the memories they embody: to engage with them, to confront them, and ultimately to discard them (there is much funereal burning in the film: painful and theraputic in turns). And the film definitely suggests that there is something more than a little pathological in the repetitive, relentless activities of both knitting and object-collecting (the knitting will never be finished; the collection will never be complete). “Sleep tight,” says the sweater-wearing succubus to the two sisters, before her final destructive act, “when you awake, you’ll have to knit it all over again.” Hell, we all know that feeling.