Mindcandy for the unsettled, Heartstring Marionette is another strikingly unique, visually daring and deep movie by uberector M dot Strange. I could stop right there and feel completely vindicated in leaving you with that simple sentence, but there’s more to this film than can be simply encapsulated in one turn of phrase. Come with us into the dark, angular world of Strange, as we venture into another epic and twisted tale.
“You Will Die Inside” – M dot Strange
Heartstring Marionette is the story of a world of puppets in chaos, rooted in Japanese Noh and feudal narrative. A tale of vengeance and identity, and of caste, religion and personal struggle, HSM forms a compelling story from many strands. On the surface, a faceless samurai searches for a wicked clown to exact violent revenge on behalf of his brother. Unfortunately, his memory is unreliable, he may or may not have a brother, and the rogues and bizarre characters he encounters knot these strands into a tangle of story arcs that add to the dreamlike quality of the film and expand its complexity. Things aren’t always as they seem and this clever use of confusion adds an extra layer to the film, as we are completely enthralled by the story and at the same time are unsure of what to believe. Ultimately the characters and the audience are equally tasked to keep going and follow Strange on a quest for the truth. What is real and unreal are both one and the same, as our puppets strive for the realm of the marionette, and our marionette searches for his face.
Visually inventive, the movie is beautifully atmospheric and absolutely epic. The cinematography is at once dark, disturbing, and enticing. We have a lush dreamscape composed of doll limbs, books, scrap, and other artistic cast offs. This unique terrain screams of candy colored death, the darkness often illuminated in glowing warm hues of purple and pink. Everything else is wrapped in shadows. The character design is angular and left of center, and most of the characters are always wearing masks based on demons and monsters in the Japanese tradition. Then there are creatures unique to Strange alone and they defy categorization and explanation. You won’t see another film quite like this. You may not need to, as Strange’s personal brand of filmmaking is redefining the nature of animated movies in a big way. Each frame is highly detailed and fantastical with an air of deformity and dread. The battles are graceful and kinetic, a hypersurreal ballet of carnage and movement.
Endika’s score adds a lot of depth and emotion to the film and is superbly haunting and memorable. For those confused and displaced to Strange’s movies after watching We Are The Strange, which was more abstract and distant (which I felt added to the experience), you’re in for quite the wake up call. His previous film, while a triumph in its own right, seems like a warm up in comparison. The music amps up the seriousness and appeal of the movie and compliments the quirky humor and offsets the material to great benefit. Strange and Endika prove to be a powerful partnership, and the film soars for it. The dialogue is quirky but real, adding a layer of character to the movie that connects. HSM is at once reverent and irreverant, touching and funny and fierce and bizarre.
HSM is truly a work of dedication. Strange worked nonstop for 12 months to bring it from concept to screen, and it shows. What would take industry giants 5 years or more to make real, Strange and company threw themselves into the process, completing voiceover work, soundtrack, concept design, and more with a small group at a breakneck pace. This movie is not the product of enormous budget, of an army of animators, or of endless hype and marketing. This is a close knit group of dedicated people working around the clock with all the heart and soul they have.. The best part is you can’t tell the difference. In its singular creativity and honest heart on its sleeve approach, HSM is head and shoulders superior to its digitally animated brethren. Technology can dazzle, but Strange shows us it can evoke a presence and feeling lost to others working in the same genre.
Wishing my hair had hands now. Damn.
Heartstring Marionette is a visionary, renegade work created and released on its own terms. No pun intended, M dot Strange and co. create movies with heart, and HSM is a twisting, turning experience that goes for the head and the soul. Odd and riveting, this is a great movie, and another example of dedication and personal triumph at hand. Edgy visually and sonically, with a story to back it up, HSM defies expectations and categorization and Strange once again delivers a film unique and personal, and at the same time mind blowing and soulful. Computer animation is often a love and hate affair, but Strange proves in the right hands, it’s merely another resource to help an artist shine a light on their inner world and pull us in. Some of the denizens there have claws and teeth and are deranged lunatics, so tread lightly and keep your sword at your disposal. You don’t just watch this film, you experience it, and you should do so immediately. You will die inside, but be reborn into this Strange new world. This is why M dot Strange is honorable like samurai, for giving us a new cinematic experience.