Image downloaded courtesy of www.sitasingstheblues.com
Every once in awhile one gets a chance to experience a film that's truly rare and compelling. I had such an experience this past weekend while attending MangaNEXT, a Japanese anime convention held in East Brunswick, N.J.
There are several things that are downright awesome about Sita Sings the Blues. First off, New York City resident Nina Paley created this movie on her home computer over the course of five years. Secondly, this film is free for anyone to watch by clicking here. My advice: go watch it now and have the next hour and a half of your life illuminated. Read the rest of this review afterwards. This is the stuff that Disney wishes it could aspire to. I found myself in tears at the end of the viewing because due to the fact that for reasons I will get to later, this film has never had a commercial release and therefore will never be able to win an Oscar, although it is utterly deserving of one.
The movie is based on the tales about Rama and Sita from the Ramayana (all Indian folklore, fyi). Sita is at first embraced by her husband, but after a series of misfortunes, is shunned, and then ultimately redeemed by the gods (and goddesses). Woven within the story is Nina's own tale of how her marriage dissolved but ultimately led to her doing this very film. What is so captivating is Nina uses four different animation styles to tell various parts of her stories. The funniest parts of the film go to the three narrators of the stories of Rama and Sita, whom Nina recorded and then animated based on their conversations, which often involve them arguing about "what really happened."
What you get is an exquisite tapestry of color, animation, and humor, as well as music! Sita indeed does sing the blues (1930s and 40s blues sung by Annette Hanshaw, in fact, to add a twist) in various montages that reflect her current situation.
Having Nina actually there to answer questions about her fabulous work was a real treat. She's an incredibly kind and patient person who also happens to be a super genius when it comes to animation. In Nina's own words: "I'm just an ordinary human, who also can't make her marriage work. And the way that it fails is uncannily similar to the way Rama and Sita's [relationship fails]. Inexplicable yet so familiar. And the question that I asked and the question people still ask is, "Why"? Why did Rama reject Sita? Why did my husband reject me? We don't know why, and we didn't know 3,000 years ago. I like that there's really no way to answer the question, that you have to accept that this is something that happens to a lot of humans." (quoted from the movie website with permission.)
Having the film completely free to watch was something that Nina decided after she found out how expensive it would be to buy the rights to use the music in a commercial setting, and that it would take her years to earn back the money. As it is, Nina explained at her panel she is making more money having the film - and everything about it - free and open to the public. In a sense, we are all giving her free publicity, myself included, and I'm proud of that because it's a damn good movie.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is is Sita. And I dare you to find a more exhilarating and soul-filling moment than the sequence that comes at the end of the "intermission", which is a treat all by itself. Look for Ravana wandering off with several cokes for each of his several heads.
Well, what are you waiting for? Be inspired!