Director: Toshiaki Toyoda (Japan). Year of Release: 2021
Before the opening credits we see the rear view of a man dressed just in a headband and loin cloth playing a vertical drum. Soon after we hear a primitive sort of accordion, a hurdy gurdy, and a dozen percussionists playing something that sounds either like chirping crickets or like dripping taps depending on the rhythm and the part of the instrument they are striking. After that, apart from one contribution from two singers, it’s mainly drums.
Shiver is effectively a 90 minute music video showing a collaboration between contemporary Japanese composer Koshiro Hiro and the Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble Kodo. Taiko can be translated as thick drum. The number of musicians playing at any one time varies between 1 and around 20, but at any one time, all musicians are usually playing the same instrument and often beating out the same rhythm.
Reasons I might not get on with this film #1. I once went out with a woman who took me to a drum circle. It was in the early, hopeful weeks of the relationship in which you (by which I most definitely mean she) take your partner to groups of which you are a part to show them the real you. I believe this was the same day that we want barefoot walking in the muddy and stony countryside.
The drum circle was full of what can only be described as enthusiastic hippies. They sat in a circle (the hint’s in the title), each behind a drum and beat the shit out of it. As time went on, the drum beating became faster and louder and everyone became increasingly excited and excitable. There are a number of reasons why that woman is an ex, and that evening is one of them.
To be fair, the Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble is not like that drum circle – for a start, they are professionals. The music that we see performed in Shiver is undoubtedly something to be impressed by. For most of the time the camera focusses on the group. They’re mainly men and dressed in black. It’s like watching an Oriental pugilistic Kraftwerk. And, by and large, it’s pretty good.
There is a scene towards the end where they’re in a warehouse and the camera twists and turns so that we lose focus and it’s not really clear what’s going on. I could have done without that bit. But the simpler scenes of watching the drummers standing side by side and hitting things are eye-catching, especially the landscapes filmed on the island of Sado of drummers doing their thing as powerful waterfalls cascade in the background.
Reasons I may not get on with this film #2. I am of an age and background which means I remember going to concerts where about half way through, most of the band left the stage – presumably to go to a soundproofed room – leaving the drummer on his own with his kit. The drummer proceeded to bash every last drum and cymbal (and there were usually a lot of each of these). It often ended with him bringing out a soft mallet and striking a gong.
There were not jazz drummers, with an infinite variety of rhythms and cadences. They were, generally speaking, big men with beefy forearms who mainly got the gig because they were able to hit their kits with great force. There is a plausible theory that the lengthy drum solo was there to make the rest of the concert sound tuneful. I don’t know if such concerts don’t happen any more, but the troubling memory hangs over me like a nightmare.
There is a little of the lengthy self-indulgent drum solo in Shiver. The beauty, if that’s what it is, of the playing here lies less in its nuance than in everyone doing much the same thing, and doing it very loudly. To an outsider, the performance may look like a group of people hitting things, but there is something hypnotic about the performances that maintain your attention throughout.
I’m not sure that a film (or “video” as it’s described in IMDB) is exactly the best medium for Shiver. It feels like something that would work better as an installation in an art gallery. Something you can watch for 5 minutes then move onto other exhibits, before returning in half an hour to be satisfied that it’s still all going on. You don’t really need to see all of it, but it’s good that it’s there.
I’m sure that there are intended subtleties that I just didn’t get, but I’m less keen on the sort of the self-referential art that is only made available to people who are part of a small élite club. While I probably missed some of the specifically Japanese cadences, I was amused by the building works that started next door half way through the film. This added an intriguing hammering to a slightly different beat to what was showing on screen. If anything, I think this enhanced the experience.
I’m sure I’m not the core audience for Shiver, and the people who particularly like this sort of music should be neither encouraged nor put off by my bletherings. But it’s probably to the film’s credit that someone like me can get something out of it, even if once is probably enough for now.