I watch people. I observe, quietly and from a distance. Like a naturalist out in the wild, I do this so that I might better understand the behaviors of others—all y’all are often a mystery to me—and, in seeing what it is that makes them tick, take that knowledge and use it to create more believable characters in my writing.
If you study what moves someone emotionally, you can learn a lot about them, but while this works well with other people, I find that it doesn’t work well when I try to do it on myself. That is, I can’t seem to learn much about myself when I study the things that affect me. Other folks? When something makes them happy, sad, angry, it’s usually pretty clear why. But for me? All my deductions, all my insights are obscured by the fog of my own feelings, and the reason why I feel the things I feel remains a mystery.
“Miyako” is a short film by Erez Sitzer (the video is below). It’s only three and a half minutes long. It comprises a single, static camera shot. There is no dialog, no sound other than the music Sitzer chose as a soundtrack.
In the film, we see a small, one-car train pull into a tiny station in rural Japan. A young woman, the stationmaster, Miyako, meets the train. She smiles at the departing passengers, chats with the engineer, and then, as the train pulls away, she waves.
That’s it. Seriously. That is all there is to it.
But there is so much more embedded within that simple narrative.
When I watched it, I was completely transfixed by the scene, the setting, and especially by Miyako herself. Her poise, her stance, the way she cants forward when she speaks, the animation of her white-gloved hands, spirited, elegant. And then as the train departs, she says goodbye first with small bow, then with a salute, and finally with a wave, a wave, a wave, given while the train disappears down the track. A wave, a wave, half signal, have farewell, formal yet fond, almost a performance, a wave given long after anyone on the train could ever see it.
The film faded to black, the credits rolled, and I found that I was smiling and crying at the same time. Even now, in retrospect, it affects me. Why?
I cannot say. The beauty of it, the gathered grace of Miyako’s movements and gestures, the contained formality of her motion, it was like a dance, elegant and meaningful. Her awareness—her mindfulness—of her actions, suffuses them with deeper meaning, giving us a glimpse of what is important to her. I can build stories around the character I see in this film. I can imagine a personality and history based on each simple, thoughtful action…
But I cannot tell you why it brought tears to my eyes. What was I feeling? Appreciation. Wonder. Enjoyment of the visual. Nostalgia. Envy. Wistfulness. Peace.
No bloody idea.