Short Movie Time: Wheel Music (2019) review [Japan Cuts]


Nao Yoshigai, filmmaker, choreographer and dancer, has already been making short-films and music videos since 2013. Many of her short films, like I want to go out (2014), Grand Bouquet (2018), have either been screened at exhibitions or at international film festivals.

Japan Cuts 2020


With Wheel Music, Nao Yoshigai delivers an original take on the documentary genre. What is original in her narrative is how she uses metaphors in order to evoke the ‘truth’ of Sendagi. If one does not read the various signifiers in a metaphorical way, one can, in our view, not understand what Yoshigai wants to communicate.

The evocation of the dying goldfish – preserving energy until it dies – resembles, as a metaphor, the state Sendagi is current in. While Sendagi is still breathing, the urban development is slowly killing its current state. This area is, in other ways, only allowed to breath in its current state until the urban development has swallowed and transformed it completely.


But the playful metaphorical evocations of the sudden death of sunflowers and the equally sudden blossoming of the morning glories implies that the advancing urban development might not be negative in its entirety. Does Yoshigai not imply that the development of city-areas follows a certain natural rhythm, a rhythm of decline and revitalizing? While the present scenery might die, what will blossom in its place will have its own kind of beauty.

Nao Yoshigai’s Wheel Music is, in fact, neither a pure documentary narrative nor a pure fictional narrative. Her narrative is – for lack of a better term – a fictionalized or stylized documentary. The aspect of stylizing or narrativizing is evident in Yoshigai’s visual composition of her bicycle ride in Sendagi.

Wheel Music (2019) by Nao Yoshigai

Yoshigai’s use of static shots does, in fact, not only narrativizes her bicycle ride, but allow her, with stylistic precision, to highlight the flow of the daily life at Sendagi and reveal its scenic beauty, a beauty that due to the ongoing urban development is in danger of being ‘mutilated’. The atmosphere of this more traditional area is brought alive via Yoshigai’s thoughtful approach to sound and speech. By focusing on conversations – by letting the spectator overhear fragments of conversations just like a cyclist would – and observations Yoshigai emphasize that what the visuals already evoke: how lived-in this area is.

Nao Yoshigai’s Wheel Music, a narrative in-between fiction and documentary, is a pleasing visual and auditive experiment. Using the metaphorical dimension of language, Yoshigai allows the spectator to feel sad about the architectural past about to be destroyed as well as to await how the urban development will transform Sendagi.



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