Usually in writing about abstract animation, there’s at least some statement from the director, some contextual writing, something outside the visuals to use as a starting point for understanding. With Onohana’s such a good place to die, though, there are only two things: the work itself, and the title. The film is a brief but gorgeous abstract work, a restless, morphing landscape that seems to combine air, water, land and life into a single plane. Accompanied by a serene score from Tatsuki TSUSHIMA, the overall feeling is, if not exactly pastoral, certainly serene. Even when the landscape retreats to a glowing orb floating in an empty sky, the mood is one of peace.

That title implies something else, though, and adds an air of ambiguity to Onohana’s film. It certainly casts a shadow on the film’s final image, where the viewer suddenly surfaces in a calm sea, bobbing in the waves barely keeping above the waterline. If this is a good place to die, you have to wonder—is that last moment a tranquil pause, or a gasp for air? Are we floating or sinking?

Maybe it’s a matter of mistranslation. Onohana’s precursor to such a good place to die, Origami of Landscape, concludes with the phrase “In such a place is good if I die.” That’s a bit inscrutable, but putting the synopsis into Google Translate offers the easier-to-parse “If you die, you should go to a place like this.” In other words, it’s not a good place to die, but a good place to be dead—an afterlife full of rolling hills, waterfalls, and scenic plateaus. 

Or maybe it’s a matter of interpretation. Simon Feat’s 2018 film Passage has a similar feel to Onohana’s, representing death by compressing vast scales of time to connect the rhythms of biology, geology and astronomy. In that film, the ebb and flow of continents echoes the swelling of lungs, the processes of life carrying themselves out at different levels of perception. Maybe Onohana’s landscapes are alive in the same way, as a means of showing the grand cycles of existence. That reading would imply that “a good place to die” is a good place to have lived. After all, the process of living and dying are one and the same.

Whether it’s a good place to live, to die, or to end up in eternity, one thing that’s unambiguous is the beauty of Onohana’s creation. Whatever the intention, it’s a world that’s a pleasure to revisit.

such a good place to die

dir: Onohana
syn: Forms shift like a landscape of memory in this enchanting work featuring music by Tatsuki Tsushima. (JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film, via Letterboxd)

Bonus: Don’t miss the trailer for Age of Obscure, a collaboration between Onohana and abstract animation legend Mirai MIZUE.

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