The bizarre experimental art film Björk made about a Japanese whaler
“Drawing Restraint 9” is, like The Cremaster Cycle, not available on home video, but Björk did make a soundtrack recording, which was widely distributed by One Little Indian Records (now One Little Independent Records). On the record, Björk collaborated with Mayumi Miyata playing sho, a Japanese mouth organ. The soundtrack also included harp music by Zeena Parkins and celestial music by Jónas Sen, as well as sound effects, human gasps, and instruments only professional musicians could identify. The lyrics of the soundtrack’s opening track, “Gratitude”, are an English translation of a letter written by an unknown Japanese citizen to General Douglas MacArthur for lifting the ban on whaling in the country in 1946.
One aspect of Matthew Barney’s work that some find aggravating but others find rewarding is the amount of reading and research it takes to understand it. Barney likes to reference creation myths, serial killers, classical music, medicine and god knows what else, adamantly refusing to give the audience a skeleton key. However, he is open about his inspirations and will let you know that he researched Masonic initiation rites and Shinto wedding rituals which he incorporated into his aesthetic.
I see, more than anything, two interesting artists who may not welcome an audience into their intimacy, but who are clearly in deep emotional collaboration with each other. “Drawing Restraint 9” is strange, but it’s certainly beautiful. Giving the limited version of “Drawing Restraint 9” almost feels like a secret, like an art project that Björk and Barney wanted to do for each other. It was his project, but “Drawing Restraint 9” breathes the air of Björk’s music.
Still hurt by “Dancer in the Dark”, however, Björk had effectively retired from acting after that. It would take Robert Eggers to bring Björk back to the big screen, and she can be seen playing her first role in 17 years in Eggers’ Viking revenge story “The Northman.” In the film, Björk plays a blind seer who guides the revenge-inspired Viking hero. Reykjavík-born Björk was allowed to tap into her Icelandic roots for this film.
If she ever decides to do another movie, it will be something to look forward to. You can’t blame him for making bold and interesting choices.