Shiver (2021) review

Introduction

Toshiaki Toyoda, known from narratives like Pornostar (1999) and Day Of Destruction (2020), delivers another filmic narrative. Yet, this is not film with a narrative, but an audiovisual experience. Toyoda’s latest film is, in fact, a portrait of a highly fertile collaboration of Koshiro Hino, an emerging contemporary musician, with the world-renowned Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble ‘Kodo’.

One can now rent Shiver worldwide on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/shiver2021en

Review

Shiver is not a typical film with a narrative, but an art-project that intends to introduce or re-introduce the beauty and power of the traditional musical art of taiko drumming. One feels, at all moments in the film, in the fabric of its very composition, that Toshiaki Toyoda tried (and succeeded) to emphasize the power of the drum as well as the tactile dimension of drumming as such.

Shiver (2021) by Toshiaki Toyoda

Before delving into the technical aspects of the composition – those aspects allowing the power and the tactile element of drumming to be evoked, let us highlight some visual peculiarities of the composition. The composition is visually structured around imagery of Buddhism and Noh-theatre. Buddhism is evoked by the visual repetition of Ojizō-sama statues – Jizō, the protector of the souls of children and mizuko (the souls of stillborn, miscarried, or aborted fetuses) – and a subtle reference to the legend of Sai no Kawara, i.e. a riverbed in the netherworld where the souls of departed children do penance, by stacking piles of stones that topple repeatedly topple over. Noh is integrated into the narrative by the visual reoccurrence of Noh masks (a sad Joumen mask, kishin (demon) masks, Onna-masks, spirit-masks, … etc.).

So why are these elements integrated into this audiovisual experience? Because of the history of Sado island. Due to its remote location, the island has served, in the past, as a destination for political exiles. Among those who were exiled on Sado island, three very important historical figures were included:Emperor Juntoku, Nichiren, who founded the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, and Zeami Motokiyo, the founder of Noh.

Buddhism and Noh are, in other words, historically linked with Sado Island. But this link is, in fact, not the reason why Sado island forms the backdrop for this experience. The main reason why Sado Island is featured is because it’s the home of Kodo, the world-famous taiko ensemble. Shiver is, in fact, not only a celebration of music, but also a celebration of Kodo as such – this year marks the 40th birthday of Kodo.

Shiver (2021) by Toshiaki Toyoda

Toshiaki Toyoda’s composition stands out due to its dynamism, a dynamism that keep the spectator’s attention from start to finish, and its geometrical compositional tendencies, i.e. its rhythm. Both aspects are evident in the way movement is approached.  

Toyoda makes great use of compositional power of fixed shots to frame movement, like clapping hands. In some cases, he utilizes cinematographical decorations, like slow-motion, to accentuate a certain movement. Camera movement is richly used as well (i.e. the slow spatial movement (e.g. zoom-in and zoom-out like vertical movement, floating vertical movement, horizontal movement, …etc.). This movement, while often emphasizing the beauty of certain shot-compositions, is used to provide variety at the level of scene-compositions. Yet, the thoughtful use of such variety betrays that the composition of scenes follows a well-thought-out geometry/rhythm as well.      

Shiver (2021) by Toshiaki Toyoda

Toyoda’s composition is, in truth, a veritable concatenation of beautiful shots. Each shot is a small work of art, each shot has a certain poetic flavour – be it due to the composition of the shot as such, the effect of lightning and colour on the shot-composition, or merely by the beauty of the framed scenery. The poetic flavour of the shot or the shot-sequence is further accentuated by the musical accompaniment. It is, in fact, this brilliant marriage between visuals, pregnant of poetry, and music, allowing the poetry blossoming in all its richness, that makes Shiver such a thrilling and satisfying audiovisual experience.

Shiver is not only an unforgettable audiovisual experience, but also delivers the proof that, in these Covid times, there are ways to share culture with the world. While Toyoda’s film cannot in any way replace the concert experience, this audiovisual experience does introduce the art of taiko music in a fresh and innovative way – highly intimate and, strange as it may sound, very tactile.

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