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Ryo Orikasa’s “Miserable Miracle” takes viewers on psychedelic trip at Whistler Film Festival

Miserable Miracle
Words, images, and sounds collide in Ryo Orikasa's "Miserable Miracle".

Belgian-French poet and artist Henri Michaux swore off drinking alcohol. However, he wasn’t opposed to taking psychedelic drugs. And his experiments with mescaline led to his wildly imaginative 1956 book, Miserable Miracle (La mescaline).

“These texts are among Michaux’s most carefully crafted writings,” concluded Richard Sieburth in The Times Literary Supplement. “He emerges as one of the most extraordinary voices of our (post)modernity, a true technician of the sacred and perhaps the century’s most genuine Surrealist.”

More than six decades after publication of Michaux’s illustrated Miserable Miracle, the National Film Board of Canada, France-based Miyu Productions, and Japan’s New Deer teamed up on an animated short film with the same title. Japanese filmmaker Ryo Orikasa’s “Miserable Miracle” in a group of shorts at the Whistler Film Festival.

“It seems quite natural to me that my work, which has revolved around the relationship between words and images, crossed paths with the work of poet, writer and painter Henri Michaux,” Orikasa declares on the National Film Board website. “For more than a decade, I had been thinking about adapting his remarkable literary work into a film, but two reasons stand out for why I began production on my animated short in 2018.”

Ryo Orikasa Miserabl Miracle
Ryo Orikasa directed “Miserable Miracle”, which won the Grand Prize for Short Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival

First off, Orikasa discovered Michaux’s interest in film. Plus, the poet had “envisioned a cinema endowed with movement inspired by his own writing”.

“The second factor motivating this project is more personal,” Orikasa reveals. “I had been feeling powerless and constrained by the need to use ‘correct’ words—I refer to words that follow grammatical rules and serve as tools for communication—particularly after 2011 and the Fukushima accident.”

Poetry informs “Miserable Miracle”

Furthermore, Orikasa discloses that he had “been having trouble with ordered, structured sentences”.

“This feeling of powerlessness was not depressing; rather, it contained a sense of the absurd and the foolish,” he continues. “This pushed me towards the language of poetry.”

Orikasa’s eight-minute film revolves around handwritten text in French, illustrations, and sounds. They come together in a variety of unusual ways.

Miserable Miracle

In September, “Miserable Miracle” captured the Grand Prize for Short Animation after its world premiere at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. One of his previous short animated films, “Datum Point” won the prize for Best Experimental or Abstract Animation at the same festival in 2016. It also took home the Golden Zagreb Award at Animafest Zagreb in 2016.

Some viewers may feel like that “Miserable Miracle” resembles going on a psychedelic trip replete with messages about the power of the natural world. Actor Tony Robinow’s energetic and evocative English-language narration reinforces this effect.

To me, Orikasa’s “Miserable Miracle” sometimes seems like a commentary on the power of the Earth to overwhelm humanity. Perhaps that’s because I watched it while the COP28 international climate conference was underway in Dubai. Keep in mind that Michaux wrote his these verses long before greenhouse gas emissions leapt into public consciousness.

Perhaps, my reaction is further evidence of how the brain can reshuffle words and images into strange new concoctions in the presence of psychedelic stimuli. Which is precisely the point that Michaux made with his book so many years ago.

Watch the trailer for “Miserable Miracle”.

The Whistler Film Festival presents “Miserable Miracle” at noon on Friday (December 1) at the Maury Young Arts Centre. The festival continues with in-theatre screenings until Sunday (December 3), followed by online screenings until December 17. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.