Atama Yama (Mt. Head) is a highly strange but thoroughly engrossing short film (10 minutes) from 2002. I’m not able to embed it, but you can watch it here.
Directed by Japanese animator Kōji Yamamura, it is a modern interpretation of a traditional story from a type of comic storytelling called rakugo. Yamamura’s surreal animation mixes hand drawn images with CGI. The story is narrated by Takeharu Kunimoto, a musician and storyteller who speaks and sings the narration while accompanying himself on the shamisen, a traditional three-stringed instrument. The effect, at least for this American viewer reading the English subtitles, is to heighten the strangeness and wonder of the tale. I can’t understand a word Takharu is saying, but I can hear the humor and exaggerated theatrics in his voice.
Here’s a plot summy from IMDb:
“A miserly man eats the pits of some cherries he can’t stand throwing out. A tree starts growing from the top of his head. He cuts it off; it grows back. After a while, he gives up and lets it grow, but the crowds that gather on top of his head to enjoy the tree (and leave huge mounds of trash) eventually drive him to uproot the tree. This leaves a crater on top of his head, which fills with water, which becomes a popular lake.”
With Hollywood commonly recycling plot lines and entire movies, I enjoy and appreciate it when a movie tells me a story I haven’t heard before. And I’ve never seen or heard anything like this.
While you can enjoy the movie without any explanation, a post at Nishikata Film Review talks more about Yamamura’s animation. And Mike Wittman discusses the film’s not-so-subtle environmental theme here.
While I don’t want you to think that the main point of watching the film is to receive a message (I’m posting it here mainly as a delightful work of art), I think it’s clear that the filmmaker has a point of view about society, and that comes across in his work. But watch the film first, and then consider this (SPOILER ALERT). Wittman writes:
“Yamamura’s Atama Yama presents an environmental message through the plight of the main character, a man who never throws anything away. This relates to society’s predisposition to keep everything, and acquire more and more things that eventually start to pile up throughout the Earth. However, along with being an archetype of the modern consumer, the man is also a representation of the Earth as a living, breathing organism. The scene involving cherry blossom watchers on top of the man’s head goes to show the often neglected consequences our actions have on the Earth.
“Eventually, the man as an archetype of both society and the Earth blend together in the final scene when the man looks into his own head pond. When he falls in, society and Earth have been merged together. At this point, Yamamura implies, both Earth and society have no future, stated simply by the narrator as he says ‘…And he died.’”