Based on the Japanese novel “An Afternoon on November 3rd” and beautifully shot in 16 mm, The Chicken is a short film directed by Neo Sora that alludes to the conditions of our contemporary society. Produced by Jackson Segers, who won the Fest Fiction Film Award for Minikino Film week with his short film Kimchi (2018), I got the chance to watch the Chicken prior to an online session with the producer, in which the latter talked about his films that touch upon political issues, something that we will also find in the Chicken.
From the perspective of the Japanese immigrant Hiro, the plot follows him and his visiting cousin Kei during an eventful day in New York. Starting with Hiro’s daydream to build up a farm in Siberia to escape the stifling heat in the city and live off its own crops, the short film develops into a journey of the protagonist’s own reflection on life. While offering the viewer several thought-provoking impulses without explicitly expressing them, it leaves us with many open questions on its meaning.
Throughout the narrative, Hiro’s actions are marked by contradictory behavior: Complaining about gentrification and dreaming about building a farm in Siberia to live off its own crops to teach his children “the value and perviousness of life from a young age”, he proudly presents his new apartment in China-town to his cousin, in which he will move into soon with his wife Anna and their future child. Also, when the film begins, we see him killing a fly with his palms by slapping it against the windowpane and leaving traces of blood behind. However, at the end of the film, he is unable to butcher a chicken that he bought for dinner and decides to eat a meatless meal instead, leaving his wife questioning how he will be able to fulfill his plan of running a farm.
The film portrays the thought development of Hiro, initiated through the experiences of the day and especially tied to one specific skipping point in the story: When visiting the new flat in Chinatown Kei observes an old man screaming out loud from pain, while rolling back and forth on the floor. Kei shows concern, but Hiro ignores the situation, writing the man off as a crazy old drunkard and withdraws himself from the responsibility to help. When he eventually decides to intervene, (as no one else did), the old man presses the words “no ambulance” out of his mouth. But Hiro and Kei only understand too late and have no other choice than leaving the old man with the paramedics against his will.
The main attraction of the story consists of the chicken that Hiro brings home to butcher for dinner at the end of the short film. In a close-up shot that depicts the calm chicken in a beautiful play of warm light, we observe Hiro in his attempt to cut the throat of the chicken. When he fails to do so, his wife takes over and we see the blood dripping into a big bucket.
While we slide with Hiro and Kei from one situation into another, there are a multitude of topics that the film touches upon: Police violence, gentrification, ignorance towards our fellow citizens, access to healthcare, violence against animals. By offering us glimpses of these topics, the film offers considerations without treating them in depth. Like the protagonist, we start to reflect on our own relation to these topics.
In addition, The Chicken confronts us with many open situations that provoke after-images in us. Such as when the police suddenly leave the restaurant in their full protection gear, when the old man who asked for no ambulance is left behind, or when Kei mops up the liquid of Anna’s ruptured water at the end of the film and discovers blood in the puddle. We then try to imagine the story to the shot and their future impacts. Will the police get violent? What will happen to the man who probably has no medical insurance? Is the blood coming from the unborn child or the chicken?
The openness of situations and images represents the strength of the film. They stick with us after finishing the film, but also show us that political articulations do not have to be explicit to be effective. Embedded in aesthetically pleasing shots, The Chicken questions different structural principles of society in a subtle tone and thus creates moments of openness that are taken up by our own reflections.