A man goes into a restaurant and orders albatross soup. After he eats, he goes outside and shoots himself. Why?
Ever wondered what it would look like to animate confusion, to make visual the inner turmoil one feels when confronted with a complexity so rich and deep that it makes your brain feel like it must invert itself in order for the answer to reveal itself? One can’t help but speculate if that’s what inspired director Winnie Cheung, illustrator Fiona Smyth, and animation director Masayoshi Nakamura when creating the animated short film Albatross Soup. Constructed around the lateral thinking puzzle, Cheung recorded over 50 people attempting to answer the esteemed riddle, the answers serving as the birthing point for a psychedelic ride through the cerebrum. What begins as a slightly silly dive into the ludicrous mutates into a darkly quiet, introspective funhouse of horrors.
Two individual aspects make up the whole Albatross experience, the first being the vocals. The vocal aspects are fairly straight-forward. As with the lateral puzzle, someone asks a yes-or-no question and the quizmaster, portrayed here by Vit Horejs, either confirms or denies. You can clearly tell when the interviewees become frustrated, even a bit sarcastic, as they try to work out the problem, through questions that range from the simple to the ridiculous. Horejs, for his part, utilizes every inch of the vocal range as a means of infusing a simple “yes” or “no” with emotional support. Sometimes that means making his “no” sad or happy to indicate how close or far away the interviewee is from the right cognitive leap. In this regard, Horejs is an engaging, often hilarious quizmaster. Wisely, since Albatross isn’t as interested in the individuals answering the riddle as it is their critical thinking process, the various voices the audience hears working out the riddle rarely sound like one person at a time but a collection, one which builds toward a cacophony of answers before the answer is sussed out.
The second and more obvious aspect is the hallucinatory animations. Flowing like a stream of consciousness, the animation changes from one image to another. Sometimes this means it swirls and churns, other times it means taking the form of something specific. Each image, however, is directly connected to the voices. As a question is asked, the image takes form before seemingly melting into something new as the answer is given and a new question arrives. The closer to the answer the voices get or as the voices revisit a question which seemed to derive a more positive response from the quizmaster, the images hold, their visual actions carrying on longer. As the voices struggle to determine the answer, their conflict sends the images writhing and swirling, colors mashing against one another, though never mixing. In concert with the voices, Smyth’s illustrations become hypnotic, drawing in the viewer until they can’t possibly look away.
Though not even 7-minutes in length, Albatross Soup makes an indelible impression, not just for its simplicity, but for its creativity. Through the combination of sight and sound, Cheung sends her audience careening through a drug-free headtrip on a collision course with a grisly revelation: people value their own intelligence over incredible suffering. At least, that seems to be the point as the final image of Albatross Soup rests on the man who shot himself, lingering on this as the interviewees scream, shout, and laugh their celebrations. Like Charlie going through the tunnel with Willy Wonka, Albatross Soup’s childish exterior reveals its true face in this moment. It’s dark, surreal, and altogether human.
For more information on the creation of Albatross Soup, head to the official website, or watch now via the video below.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.