Short Movie Time: Bath House of Whales (2019) review [Japan Cuts 2020]


Mizuki Kiyama’s graduation short film Bath House of Whales is a creative reworking of her memories of accompanying her mother, a person of Korean descent living in Japan, to the public baths. Bath House of Whales (2019) was also screened at the Pia Film Festival, where it won the special jury prize.

Japan Cuts 2020


With her Bath House Of Whales Mizuke Kiyama proves that poetry can be found in any mundane activity whatsoever. Kiyama elevates the mundanity of a visit to the bathhouse by visualizing the bathhouse visit from the narrative perspective of a girl, a girl who, when all is done, represents no one else but the filmmaker herself.

Kiyama’s whole stylistic approach is focused on evoking the perspective of the girl and by giving the spectator a possibility to experience the bathhouse visit from the girl’s perspective. For the girl and the spectator, the adults – gigantic but elegant – are nothing but whales.

Bath House of Whales (2019) by Mizuki Kiyama

Kiyama’s artistic style – paint on glass – is unique, modern but with a flair of tradition. While her animation style, focused on evoking impressions, is fresh, her depiction of the female face and her hairstyle, echoes the old-styled drawings of the Edo-period. What makes Bath House Of Whales a true visual delight is not only Kiyama’s exquisite use of colour, but also her play with rhythm and repetition.

The interplay between the impressionistic image and minimalistic traditional Japanese music, an interplay defining how the girl’s experience is evoked and how the spectator experiences the visit to the bathhouse, turns Kiyama’s short into a meditative but also an estranging experience. By way of evoking these two emotions, Kiyama powerfully echoes how strange the societal world is for the little subject still struggling to find his way in language and society.


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