Blood Tea and Red String is one of the most impressive, creepiest animated films I’ve come across. Created entirely by hand and taking a sprawling thirteen years to finish, it basically tells a Grimms-like morality tale between separate troupes of anthropomorphic creatures of differing social classes, each competing to take ownership of the one object of beauty desired by both. It’s extraordinary attention to detail is one of its most impressive facets, demonstrated in not only the characters themselves, but in the woodsy environmental setting that the events unfold within. It’s a fairy tale for the adult mind, no doubt. However, it also encompasses a type of unbridled imagination almost exclusive to a child’s primitive, yet rampant train of thought. This is the result of an artistic mind that truly flourishes to its full ethereal potential.
Blood Tea and Red String, from the beginning, presents itself as self-aware of its mythic ambience, as it is bookended by a couple of brief live-action scenes that root us in the real world. The initial scene presents us with a doll-like woman placing an egg into a teapot. This gives us the framing device of its story: a gang of half-human/half-crow creatures find an egg in a stream, which they place inside a rag doll to give to the royal family of white mice, whom they work for. Though there is no dialogue in the film whatsoever – besides a few crow squawks and mouse squeaks – but it is implied that they have fallen in love with this doll and refuse to give her up, setting up the narrative’s primary conflict. It becomes, not only a critique upon the seemingly gluttonous upper-class, but also a meditation upon the commonality of greediness within society as a whole. By the end, such a message is made pretty clear, as this film draws itself out like a slightly grimmer version of one of Aesop’s fables.
As mentioned before, the animation is quite delectable, especially in consideration with the scenes of nature. It must be so hard to capture such tiny actions and movements (e.g. running water, eating, thread running through cloth, etc.) in excruciating detail, yet the animators seemed to really handle it very well. Presenting it all in stop-motion animation wasn’t all of a bad choice either; in ways, it even reminded me of the similarly fantastical Alice from Jan Švankmajer, his take on Alice in Wonderland. The characters disjunct movements really added to the already surreal qualities that the film has to offer – and is something a bit unsettling. There’s something inexplicably eerie about a family of white aristocratic mice, casually drinking blood tea and playing a game with cards, none of which have faces. This is all topped off with a soundtrack that, while minimalist and rarely-occurring, greatly aids in setting up a fine atmosphere for this hell of an interesting flick.
The film runs at just over an hour long, but with its exceptional attention to detail in small movements and minor instances, it felt like it ran for considerably longer. It is so saturated in its otherworldliness that I, admittedly, found very few moments where I was actually emotionally involved with whatever was going on. Through the entirety of the narrative, I never actually reached a point where I saw the characters as more than just inanimate objects that have been filmed in a way that tells a fictional story. This is hardly a complaint, though. In fact, I find the title itself rather interesting. The mice weren’t literally drinking “blood tea” – it was created by the filmmakers to present that effect; on the other hand, “red string” is a literal citation to a real-life object used within the film’s boundaries. Therefore, I think it is this marriage between the literal and rhetorical – reality and fantasy – that make this film so stupendous. It is completely wild and imaginative, but treads lightly on the edges of escapism. Viewers of this film are encouraged to marvel at the complex detail and unique beauty this film has to offer, but also allowed to keep their distance and never submerge so much that it feels they are drinking this blood tea themselves.