Iblard Jikan’s spellbinding combination of impressionism and surrealist fantasy

Iblard Jikan isn’t so much a “movie” as it is a montage of paintings. Released in 2007 by Studio Ghibli as part of their “Ghibli ga Ippai Collection”, this short film showcases paintings by artist Naohisa Inoue set in the fictional world of Iblard. For thirty minutes we get to follow a typical day in the lives of the citizens in Inoue’s fantastical world, from morning to evening. With their vibrant yet warm colors and creative settings, the images shown are nothing short of beautiful and a joy to experience.

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I also love how well the paintings are transferred to a motion picture format; by adding a minimal amount of animation (which includes everything from water streams and raindrops to vehicles and people) the paintings are presented with a layer of movement, making the world of Iblard move out of the canvas and come to life – all set to a perfectly calming score by Kiyonori Matsuo.

While watching this little short film though, I always feel like there’s something more to it than just visual beauty. It has this aura around it, this sort of delightful escapism that I just can’t seem to find anywhere else. It is distinctly apparent that the style of Inoue’s works carries a main influence from two specific art movements; impressionism and surrealism – something that is shown both stylistically and thematically. So to pin down what really makes Iblard Jikan so great, let’s look at what these two movements exactly are and how Inoue uses them in his artistry.

Impressionism might be the most well known of these two movements. It has its origin in Paris during the 1860s, where a bunch of artists rejected their contemporary, government-based art institutions’ fondness of technicality and details. Instead of painting an objective and realistic depiction of reality, the impressionists wanted to convey the momentary, the impression they got from a certain scenery. To capture this, they used light and pure colors, thicker and less refined brushstrokes as well as muddy, unclear lines. With their fuzzy and watery output, the impressionist paintings have a very distinct visual style. As opposed to their traditional contemporaries who constantly worked in the studio, the impressionists often went out in the open in order to directly portray a certain scene. And the scenes being portrayed were mostly simple, ordinary things happening in the daily life of Paris; things such as people sitting at a café, a breeze moving through a grass field, or a river laying still in the local park.

Monet, Claude. 'Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies', 1899.
Monet, Claude. ‘Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies’, 1899.
Monet, Claude. 'Irises in Monet's Garden', 1900.
Monet, Claude. ‘Irises in Monet’s Garden’, 1900.
Renoir, Pierre-Auguste. 'Luncheon of the Boating Party', 1881.
Renoir, Pierre-Auguste. ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’, 1881.

Surrealism on the other hand was something completely different. Having emerged as part of the modernist era during the early 1900s, this was a movement that – with the inspiration of Sigmund Freud’s dream interpretations – wanted to explore the strangeness of our dreams. A typical surrealist painting thus consists of strange things that could only occur in one’s dreams, such as melting clocks, long-legged elephant creatures, businessmen falling from the sky, disproportionate objects, and so on. The surrealists often combined several of these strange phenomenons into a sort of collage, as well as having a fondness for optical illusions. The desert-like environment with its distant horizon was also a commonality, sort of adding an extra sense of sublimity to the mix. The technique used in surrealism though was mostly of the same tradition as found in the classical art world that the impressionists were rebelling against, which is kind of ironic considering how unconventional the movement was compared to impressionism in terms of content.

Dalí, Salvador. 'The Persistence of Memory', 1931.
Dalí, Salvador. ‘The Persistence of Memory’, 1931.
Magritte, René. 'Time Transfixed', 1938.
Magritte, René. ‘Time Transfixed’, 1938.
Tanguy, Yves. 'Indefinite Divisibility', 1942.
Tanguy, Yves. ‘Indefinite Divisibility’, 1942.

In terms of depiction, impressionism and surrealism couldn’t be farther from each other. While the impressionists’ paintings are characterized by the ordinary, the things presented by the surrealists are nothing but extraordinary. Based on these factors, Iblard Jikan‘s combination between the two styles is a very peculiar, yet strangely functioning one. Considering how different the two movements are, you would think that this would create a strong contrast, but for some reason Inoue makes them blend together perfectly. I think this has a lot to do with what elements of his paintings he applies them to. Aside from a few images carrying the same classical painting technique as surrealism, the art style of Iblard Jikan is undeniably impressionistic. Although it’s when looking at what the images are depicting that things get really interesting.

The world of Iblard is a pretty strange one. Maybe this isn’t so apparent at the beginning of the film, but a few minutes in we start to see things like islands floating in the air, plants and mountains in all different shapes and colors, houses and tram rails appearing on the strangest places, and much more – all in typical surrealist fashion. In addition to this though, we see how the people of Iblard are living perfectly normal and relaxing lives in this strange environment; a mother and daughter standing in their garden and enjoying the ocean view, someone opening up the local shop, a pilot getting his plane ready for a flight, people wandering around the shopping mall, and so on – all in typical impressionist fashion. What this essentially boils down to is an impressionistic depiction of everyday life within a surrealistic environment. Instead of the combination turning out contrasting, the two styles kind of cooperate with and complement each other; the surrealism gets “tamed”, not appearing as wild and crazy, while the impressionism gets slightly taken out of its ordinariness.

Especially the aspect of tamed surrealism is something that I find highly reminiscent to the works of Hayao Miyazaki – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that the sort of fantasy inherent within Miyazaki’s films can be called “surrealism explained”. I don’t mean that in the sense that his movies contain an explanatory overview of the surrealist movement, but in the sense that the surreal elements presented are always explained or in some other way justified within the movie’s setting. Miyazaki’s works contain a lot of stuff that, if taken out of their context, could easily fit into any surrealist painting, but since they’re presented within their respective context – thus rationalized on that context’s grounds – they aren’t experienced as nearly as weird. I think the most evident example of this is at the beginning of Spirited Away, when the movie’s protagonist Chihiro unexpectedly experiences her parents getting turned into pigs, followed by strange shadowy creatures filling up the streets as the evening arrives, and her own self starting to fade away before her eyes. At this point, both she and we as the audience are shocked and confused by this sudden surreal nightmare, but as the story develops we get to know that everything has its rational explanation; her parents got turned into slaughter pigs to pay back for the food they ate up, the strange creatures are spirits who either live there or have resorted to the town’s famous bathhouse, and the reason to why she started to fade away was because of her not belonging in the spiritual world (and in order to stay there she had to eat something from it). The thing with the surrealists though was that they didn’t bother to explain anything – as a matter of fact, the unexplained was a core ingredient to what made surrealism what it was. As Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel famously did during the writing of the script to their 1929 collaborative short film Un Chien Andalou: if they ever came up with a rational explanation as to why they had put something in the story, they immediately erased it.

The surrealism in Iblard Jikan isn’t so much “explained” though as it is “normalized”. The film doesn’t contain any dialogue, characters or coherent story at all; as pointed out, it is simply a montage of paintings converted into motion picture. Because of this, there isn’t really any room or possibility for “explaining” – although that’s not to say that its surrealist weirdness isn’t tamed otherwise. As previously mentioned, we see within this strange world of Iblard how people are living harmlessly normal and also seemingly joyful lives, despite all of its surrealism – thus the strangeness becomes completely normalized. I find this kind of similar to what PBS Idea Channel talked about in their Welcome to Night Vale episode, in which they explained how the podcast may work as a form of confrontation with Lovecraftian horror, aka the “fear of the unknown”, as all the strange phenomenons daily happening in the town of Night Vale are safely and harmlessly reported by the host Cecil from behind his radio booth, as if they’re just regular occurrences (which they kind of are too). I get the same sort of sense from Iblard Jikan as I do from this particular thesis; the sense of the unreasoned being tamed through normalization rather than explanation.

Although as I’ve previously stated, not only does the surrealist element get tamed by impressionism, but in addition to that the impressionist element also gets sort of untamed by surrealism. I write “sort of” because the factor isn’t quite as strong; because of its surrealist fantasy setting Iblard Jikan obviously doesn’t have the same level of ordinariness as traditional impressionism, but the depiction of peaceful, everyday lives is still prominently the main theme throughout. Contrary to that though, it’s not like either Iblard Jikan or the impressionist movement are induced by mundanity just because of their subject matter – quite the opposite actually. Because of the impressionists’ wish to capture the momentary (and with that their tendency of painting in public), their works have a very free and spontaneous attitude to them that I also think is highly apparent in Iblard Jikan. There isn’t a single image in the film that feels arranged or organized; it all appears so natural, as if Inoue was actually on the spot within his own fictional world when drawing his paintings. Due to this spontaneity, both Iblard Jikan and the impressionist movement very much highlights the often tucked away charm and beauty of everyday life, showing that it’s sometimes the little things in life that matter – like the summer breeze, the colorful flowers in the park or the nice coffee at the local café.

To sum things up, what I think really creates the magic of Iblard Jikan is this perfect mixing of fantasy and daily life. Inoue’s works are on a delicate line between impressionism’s cozy everydayness and surrealism’s creative adventuring, managing to blend them together in a way that they complement each other instead of clashing together. The result is one of the most wonderful works of escapism I’ve ever encountered, and one that I always seem to return to whenever I feel the need to relax and get away from reality for a while.

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