“Sugar Water” (Cibo Matto/Michel Gondry) June 1, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Music Videos.
To this day I have to admit that I am a stranger, like a fly in a glass of milk, to the music of Cibo Matto. I have never had any peculiar interest in them, for I thought the genre they play is too arty and clubby, something I couldn’t see myself sincerely enjoying. Sometime in college I came across their music, unexpected rather than intentional, when one of my professors lent me the Directors Label DVDs of Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, and Chris Cunningham. The discs feature the works of these young filmmakers, most of which are music videos that came out in the 90s and early 00s. My love for all of them was immediate, Jonze and Cunningham leaving me inspired and insecure at the same time, but it was with Gondry whom the affection stayed the longest.
His imagination strikes me as this vast warehouse of concepts where no idea is repeated, where no decision is done on account of insipidness, and where boredom is not an enemy but a character to be dolled up. Suffice it to say Gondry has become a convenient source of encouragement: a confession you’d expect from a film nerd who used to stay in the library until 12 midnight. Aware of the obvious posturing, I’m under the impression that he has pushed me to be continuously creative regardless of the result, good or bad, interesting or not, liked or hated. When I’m asked what my favorite Gondry video is, the lovely split-screen, one-take video for “Sugar Water,” a single released by New York-based Japanese duo Cibo Matto in 1996, is the first thing that comes to mind.
The song is heavy on atmosphere, the beats at the beginning are characteristic of any post-trip hop classic, and the background “woooos” and “la-la-la-las” provide an eerie and enchanting vibe. Yuka and Miho build a refrain that sucks everything in, filled with soft touches of mood and uncanny temper, sashaying steadily without being too indulgent. But veering away from their usual food fetishism, clearly, it’s the lyrics of the song that stand out amid the melody. “A black cat crosses your path,” seems straight out of early Breton. “I’m riding on a camel that has big eyes / The buildings are changing into coconut trees / Little by little,” is a familiar setting from a tableau done by an eighteenth-century Japanese painter. Strong is the song’s sense of origin, evoked by the unusual English, but it only fits the feel of the track even more. The images, brought to mind by Miho’s angelic singing, make “Sugar Water” a pleasant earworm, one that could have inspired Gondry to create one of his iconic videos, a work that looks deceivingly simple yet proves to be a difficult task to pull off.
In an interview he says that the song’s symmetrical quality makes him think of a palindrome. Interestingly, what he does is translate that observation into film. He cuts the screen in half, Yuka occupying the left side and Miho the other. Yuka moves forwards and Miho moves backwards. They get up from bed, take showers of sugar and water, dry themselves up, put on their clothes, and walk outside the flat. When they meet in the middle, in a conspicuous car accident, the role is reversed. Miho transfers to the left, Yuka to the right, and the video ends where it starts: on the bed. Watching both screens, the film is indeed a palindrome: what you see on one side is reflected on the other from beginning to end. Gondry fills the video with quirky details: the letters exchanged between the two women, the words in them that says “YOU KILLED ME,” the mysterious black cat crossing their way, the cramped staircase, the sunglasses and the helmet, the flower pot falling from the window.
See, the true mark of creativity is when the artist madly falls in love with his or her idea and executes it regardless of success or failure. More often than not it’s the most ridiculous of ideas that linger in memory and leave an impression of sincerity. In “Sugar Water” Gondry has managed to fulfill his childish ambitions: a kid so keen on telling a story, on sharing with the world a beautiful discovery, so happy with a creation resting in his own hands. Moreover, he has introduced to a wider audience a band whose music is often overlooked, a genre whose few members are outside the limelight, taking their time, exploring and experimenting, never giving up on possibilities.
*A version of this article appears in Papermonsterpress’ S/Trip-hop Issue. Pick up a copy (with a free CD) while it’s still available. The goon squad will be happy. Shoot the editors an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.