Art, Dammit: “Water Brain”

Every now and then we try to lighten the mood around here with a little feature we like to call Art, Dammit. Today’s piece comes to us via ChinaSMACK, it’s a beautiful short animated film supposedly made domestically (although its high quality has made some netizens suspicious). Watch the film before reading our comments below, as there are spoilers. Also note that you don’t need to speak any Chinese to understand it; there is no dialogue in the film.

Our Thoughts

The film is obviously a commentary on education; children are held in a gigantic, factory like environment and forced to study like slaves by their menacing monster-backpacks. This arrangement is interrupted only by mistake, when one child discovers the monsters can be reduced to much smaller, harmless critters (coughing out books as they shrink) if they ingest a paper airplane. However, this change proves only temporary, and the next day students are dragging their monstrous monster-backpacks as one imagines they always have. The protagonist breaks free and launches one last paper airplane, which floats over a dream like city and finally up above the clouds and into the sunlight before disintegrating in a burst of fire.

One netizen said the paper airplane represents dreams, but one could just as easily imagine it to represent creativity, individuality, fun…even, perhaps, childhood itself. We leave it open to you to interpret the meaning, but we did want to note the ways in which this reminds us of May Fourth fiction, specifically of many of Lu Xun’s short stories. The classic elements are there: Chinese society is portrayed as dark, almost dystopian, and a healthy streak of pessimism is balanced by a vague ending that leaves room, at least, for hope. The paper burning up above the clouds, especially, strikes me as very similar in mood to the end of Lu Xun’s New Year’s Sacrifice (the Chinese title of which is 祝福 but which most Chinese people know by the name of its most memorable character, 祥林嫂), where the protagonist, distracted by the pomp and bright lights of the New Year, forgets about the sad fate of Xianglin’s wife. The final paragraph of the story really evokes a comfortable, holiday feeling, just as the end of Water Brain gives us a previously-unseen dose of color and sunlight, allowing us to forget for a moment the dark world below it. Will anything change for the Water Brains, or for the small village where Xianglin’s wife lives? The reader/viewer is never given an answer. Sometimes, no answer at all is enough for hope.

What were your thoughts on the film? Did you enjoy it? What did you think of the symbolism? Does it remind you of anything else?

0 thoughts on “Art, Dammit: “Water Brain””

  1. It’s good. I like the idea that their heads are like fish tanks with water in them that changes color when it gets heated.

    Comparisons with the Japanese are unfair. The Japanese anime industry is a global empire and this, according to a commenter, is only a student’s graduation project.


  2. I thought it was very good. I have a child who will need to attend school (we live in China) in 3 years or so. I did not have good thoughts about the schools here. This video puts my previously unformed thoughts into an accurate visual.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s