Robert Wilson is a playwright and choreographer—apparently very big in avant garde dance. (I know virtually nothing about that world, and had never heard of him before seeing this short film.) Suzushi Hanayagi is a dancer and choreographer that Wilson worked with on a number of projects in the ’80s and ’90s. (I had never heard of her either.)
Wilson and Hanayagi dropped out of touch with each other for many years. When he decided to reestablish contact with her, he soon found out from her family that she was living in a nursing home in Osaka, suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s.
Kool: Dancing in My Mind is Wilson’s telling of Hanayagi’s story—her career, their work together, his visit with her in the nursing home, and the dance piece about her that he created.
Kool is not a completely obscure, avant garde film, like, say, Looking for Langston. On the other hand, it’s also not a linear, conventional, easy-to-follow film. It jumps around in impressionistic fashion from image to image, from topic to topic. Often there’s little or no explanation of what you’re seeing. But most of it I could figure out.
For instance, besides Wilson’s narration, sometimes unattributed text appears on the screen—first person statements about dancing experiences and the philosophy of dance and such. I was able to infer fairly quickly that these were quotations from Hanayagi, so any confusion was brief. On the other hand, there’s no context or anything for these statements, no indication of when she said (or wrote) them, or in what circumstances.
I would have liked to see and hear more about Wilson’s visit with Hanayagi. In fact, she is barely shown at all in the nursing home, when she is shown it’s mostly shots of her hands or something other than her face, and Wilson says quite little about the visit in his narration. And what there is of that is mostly in the last couple minutes of the film.
So this really isn’t a film about the effects of Alzheimer’s, how she copes with it, the impact it has on her family, etc. Not that those issues aren’t present, but they are more of an unspoken presence for 90% plus of Kool.
For totally subjective reasons, I didn’t have high hopes for Kool, and I would have had even lower expectations if I knew how little emphasis it put on exploring Alzheimer’s and related matters. I say this because dance, and avant garde dance specifically, as an art form—as I alluded to above—is something I have virtually no experience with and really haven’t developed an interest in. So I doubted that a film primarily about avant garde dance—even a good film—would do much for me.
But I was pleasantly surprised in that regard. Not to the extreme that I’m likely to rush out and attend whatever avant garde dance performances and plays I can find, but just in the sense that I did find something appealing and interesting about the dance clips in Kool.
It’s basically abstract art with movement. My interest in abstract painting, say, is modest but nonzero. But I found that this added element of movement (and typically music or some kind of audio accompaniment) bumped that interest up to a little higher level. It’s not completely far-fetched that if I explored this art more I might get into it—at least more than I would have anticipated prior to seeing Kool.