Mount Head is an animated short film directed by Koji Yamamura which reinterprets a traditional Japanese rakugo, Atama-Yama, by situating it in contemporary Tokyo. ONA won the Grand Prix for Best Short Film at the 2003 Annecy International Animation Film Festival and the Excellence Award at the 6th Japan Media Arts Festival.
The tale recalls the classic traditions of rakugo, which is a form of yose (Japanese spoken word theatre), in which a narrator dictates the story in a lyrical and comedic way. The mix of music, detailed animation, and its powerful warning message is an entertaining watch and will likely have viewers scratching their heads in many ways.
What is the plot of Mount Head?
Mount Head follows the life of a miserly man who saves everything he finds. He roams the streets of Tokyo looking for everything he thinks is still usable and accumulates these objects in his house. The man who pinches a penny seems to have no shame and lets his house pile up with the surrounding garbage. His stingy attitude eventually leads him to eat any cherry pips he finds on the floor, as he doesn’t want to waste even the most disposable things.
This causes a pimple to sprout from her head, and despite her best efforts to cut it every morning, it continues to regrow again and again. Eventually, the man decides it’s “a waste to think about it” and allows the bizarre phenomenon to persist without his manipulation. Onlookers scoff and laugh at the man’s rather odd appearance, but he still won’t alter his behavior and allows the developing bud to grow into a small tree.
Whether Mount Head the narrative wasn’t weird enough already, things get even weirder halfway through the movie. As the tree atop the man’s head blooms with cherry blossoms, a gathering of little humans begin picnicking at the site. Employees and office workers eat from bento boxes, smoke, drink and sing karaoke while the protagonist quietly tries to eat his ramen. This enrages the man so much that he rips the tree out of his head in hopes that it will stop anyone from coming back.
However, the hole where the cherry tree was located begins to collect water when the rain begins to fall. This attracts more visitors, who fish, swim and launch fireworks from the top of their heads. Ultimately, the recent events that have taken place become too much for the middle-aged man to bear, sending him into a state of madness. After running to the outskirts of town, he finds a pool of water. Looking into it, he sees himself standing on his own head, looking down into the hole where the cherry tree once rested. Eventually, the man throws himself into his head basin and dies.
What is Rakugo?
Rakugo is a form of verbal entertainment told by a single storyteller (rakugoka) seated on a raised platform (kōza) in front of an audience. The rakugoka uses only a paper fan (sensu), a small cloth (tenugui) and their ability to modify their voice to tell the story. This is all done seated in the seiza position, a traditional Japanese kneeling pose, from which they use their props, slight head turns, and changes in pitch and tone to indicate the difference between the two (or more) characters from the tale. .
Like humorous genres elsewhere, Edo Rakugo often criticizes society… Tales point out the shortcomings of people with higher status, such as samurai or retired know-it-alls, and sometimes display the superior insight of people who would probably have been the target. of jokes or contempt in real life, like Yataro, the madman. – Lorie Brau, “Rakugo Performing Comedy and Cultural Heritage in Contemporary Tokyo,” 2008.
This form of entertainment began around 1670 during the Edo period (1603-1867); however, the tradition dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), when Buddhist monks told humorous stories to preach their faith. The art form still endures to this day, in which storytellers perform classic rakugo, passed down from master to disciple over the years, or more recent works developed from the 20th century.
What themes are explored at Mt. Head?
In his heart, Mount Head is a comedic story about a man who has failed to understand what really matters in life. Like many rakugo of this nature, the audience is encouraged to laugh and rejoice at the despair of the protagonist as his bad deeds lead from one bad event to another. However, this short film contains a cautionary message that is conveyed for the benefit of the viewer and society.
Man possesses several characteristics which are clearly undesirable. He is a scrooge who takes and consumes whatever he finds, no matter how unappetizing or unpleasant it should be to him. His greed drives him to leave his home in a state of disarray, making him a danger not only to himself but to those around him. Man’s extreme focus on not wasting anything eventually led him to ignore the one thing that matters in life: caring for others and the world around him.
Whereas Mount Head provides a few laughs at this poor man’s expense, it’s also a warning to anyone watching how not to live their lives. The protagonist’s death stems from his selfishness and self-neglect. After consuming everything around him, he has nothing left to lose but himself and ends up drowning in his own misery. Like many comic acts, Mount Head turns the mirror back on his audience and asks them to consider the actions of those around them, society as a whole, and even themselves in a mixture of humor and dark realism.
Koji Yamamura paints a strange and surreal world that is as entertaining as it is informative. Mount Head wonderful blend of comedy, music and important messages on how to live a decent life will no doubt keep people engaged throughout its 10 minute runtime, leaving them wondering what’s really going on at the top of the head of this man.