Thursday, 17 July 2014

PV Analysis: Number Girl - 'I Don't Know'

Number Girl was formed in Fukuoka, Japan, active from 1995. Featuring Mukai Shūtoku (guitar, vocals), Tabuchi Hisako (guitar), Nakao Kentarō (bass) and Ahito Inazawa (drums), the departure of bassist Kentarō led to the band's dissolution in 2002. Their sound was a raw, indie rock style that evolved over the years, similar to the Pixies or Husker Du in western rock terms. A recent 15th anniversary release has brought new attention to the band in recent months. Their final single “I Don't Know” features a PV that appears to be composed of shots from a feature film. Further research indicates the movie is 'Gaichu' (aka 'Harmful Insect') by Akihiko Shiota, a stark coming of age story from 2001. Large portions of Japanese text appear on the screen during the video, seeming to set up or provide further context; lacking translations for these portions the sparse lyrics may provide some further frame of reference.

For the purposes of analysis of the PV itself, I'll focus on the imagery in the order it's presented  rather than summarizing the plot of the movie it's taken from. Following a text screen and song title, we're shown a row of goldfish in jars, cutting to a woman about to slit her wrist and back again. We're shown a school-girl in uniform, apparently at a library, and alternate shots of the goldfish and apparent suicide are cut with the girl walking down a street, back to the library, fish and wrist again. She draws a book from a shelf, and the cuts remain quick as we see what appears to be a homeless man, banging on a steel drum in the street.

The footage of the man banging the drum in the street appears to be looped to repeat, and synced with the audio of the music track to some degree. The repetition is intercut with a shot of the girl running at night, played forwards and then seemingly backwards. From here we're taken to a violent assault on a kitchen floor, as a man appears to beat the girl while atop her prone body. He looks up, as though interrupted, as the shot cuts to a beaker with a flame burning down and sparking into it. The girl is seen walking down the street again, and a truck pulls up behind her as the scene fades to black. Thus far the scene has been fairly bleak with the suicide and possible sexual assault, setting a stage of youthful misery in relatively short order. The lyrics fit this tone of adolescent sadness, declaring “I don’t know the real her / I don’t know the fake her.”

If the fade to black ends 'act one' of the piece, the break into act two begins with the girl browsing the fish in jars at a pet store, and then reading a magazine in a convenience store, alongside a man in a suit. They don't regard each other, and then text shows on the screen again for 3 portions. At the 1:22 mark we see our heroine in an apartment in disarray, a cut to the outside of a house and then some foul scenes – She appears to help the man banging on the drum earlier syphon gas from a car, intercut with further exploration of the apartment. A slow pan across the bed shows what appears to be a man's corpse laying aside it, quick cuts to the house and syphoning gas, followed by running in a field of long grass. The body and criminal action would seem to indicate the girl's descending further into the darkness that we initially see in the first portion.

The field scene cuts back to the dead man's face, a group of school-girls walking and a wide shot of boys running to school, as if late. The scene loops back and forth, in time with the music. The girl is shown lying on a bed, staring straight up, and a blond boy appears to lie next to her, staring in her direction. Another text screen poses two questions, fading to reveal what appears to be an overhead window. The girl walks down the hall of a school with another school-girl, they hold hands as they proceed. The boy from the bed is seen in a night-setting, the girls are seen from behind walking down the hall. Another sentence on screen, and another, then we see the girl apparently readying herself to step into traffic. The contemplation of suicide apparently runs counter to the images we've just seen, appearing to convey friendship and possible young love, so perhaps the text indicates something has gone wrong in these steps towards contentment.

The step into traffic turns into another loop, as the girl falls to her knees, and back to standing again a few times. From here we cut to a girls' locker room, seen from sock-level, and then a shot of three girls discussing something, interrupted as they look towards the door. Three more girls are at the entrance, and we cut to the man striking the drum as before and a scene a man running in the street, chased by the girl. We cut to a diner table, bearing an apple, ashtray and glass of water as well as an assortment of condiments. Cuts include the man with the drum, cutting to a classroom showing an empty desk, back to the diner, then the drum, and the girl looking happy, back to the diner. A lone wrench on the ground, the man strikes the drum again, and then we see the girl walking at night. As the cuts get quicker the narrative appears to be building to a crescendo, perhaps a sad end for the heroine of the piece.

Amidst the quicker cuts, we're shown the girl walking with a man in a suit, the entrance of an apartment and the girl running upstairs. More shots feature the girl in library, apparently with her mother, playing piano, back at the library at the start. The speed of the cuts render the subject of the shots hard to make out but generally they appear to be more shots of home/school life. Another fade takes us to a long cut of the man-who-bangs the drum and the girl walking around a corner, with purpose. It's one of the longer shots in the video, followed by a few quick cuts and then bottles being filled with gasoline. We're shown the girl on passenger side of an orange truck, driven by the man as night has fallen.

We see her spill a glass of marbles with her head lying on a desk, watching the marbles roll away. This is intercut with the man throwing molotov cocktails at a house, accompanied by the girl. He laughs maniacally as it burns away, and her look turns from glee to horror with a slow realization at what she's done. She recoils, clutching her face and crying. The scene where she's spilled the marbles is played in reverse, refilling the glass. Perhaps this reversal is symbolic of how she regrets her role as accessory to arson. As the piece ends we see the arrary of goldfish once more, an allusion to the innocence lost over the course of these images.

The track correlates well to the imagery of the movie clips used to construct the PV, but overall the questions raised by the disjointed editing here leaves me wanting to see the movie. The imagery fits the tone and lyrics, and the looping segments bend the cinematic vision of the source material to the whim of the tune, and the raw rock sound is a suitable score for the slices of narrative from the film. It's nice to see a track from 10+ years ago hold up so well, visually and audibly.

By Josh Campbell

Check out all their 15th anniversary releases at CDJapan!