PIANO LESSON 鋼琴課 is a Contemplative Sci-Fi Short that Teaches How to Feel Amidst Mechanical SIlence4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
When a deluge wipes the earth’s surface off all its human inhabitants, a sole pianist struggles with holding onto his music and what it means to be human.
Directors: Yang Yi-Chien
Cast: Winston Chao, Fu Meng-Po, Lyan Cheng
Runtime: 22 minutes
From Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) to Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2014), the rise of technology and, more recently, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has prompted countless discussions about what it means to preserve the humanity of humans. Faced with uncannily life-like talking robots and impeccably advanced motor movement, what is to say that the entirety of the human being cannot be completely replicated next?
Piano Lesson by Yang Yi-Chien delves into this issue of differentiating the human from the machine with her own answer: music. Even more classically, the piano – an instrument that dates back to the early 18th century – is presented and given centre-stage.
An unnamed pianist (Fu Meng-Po) takes up an assignment to play the piano in front of an empty theatre, with his every movement documented as ‘data’ for the larger collective. Or as the data collector (played by Winston Chao who executes eerie stoicism with controlled flair) calls it, data for the “wills of human”. The pianist, both indignant yet resigned, finds himself confronted with his own beliefs about his unique humanity. His feelings, his very status as human, are what differentiates himself from the manufactured machines that have taken over the new world. Or are they?
Lyan Cheng succeeds in balancing the fine line between supposed unfeeling and careful curiosity, in her role as the indistinguishable Man/Machine ‘daughter’ of the data collector. However, Piano Lesson is not a story new to the universal film audience. Complete with rehashed statements about the intrinsic nature of the human soul, the film is undeniably overt about its message. But there is no denying of the film’s ability to still trigger contemplation and reflection anyway.
Set in a futuristic world of floating cameras and non-physical transactions – perhaps a hint at a future that may not be as far as we think – Piano Lesson’s graphic effects are thankfully convincing, albeit economical. There isn’t much to situate us in a modern and technologically advanced world, but the sprinkling of such reminders throughout the film proves to be sufficient.
Instead, much thought was put into conveying the mood of the film through different ways, such as the ominous monotone hum lurking behind passionate piano music and the frequent interjections of wide landscapes void of human beings. Only seeing the three main characters appear before us, we are thrust into meticulous world-building that seeks to create a sense of terror and uneasiness, instead of the usual wonder associated with the high-tech future. With the pianist’s understanding of himself being shaken to the core, we are also stripped down to our bare being with a growing anxiety that we are nothing more than parts that make a whole.
Yet, Piano Lesson is not all dark and gloomy. And this is subtly conveyed through the changes in colour grading in the short film. As the film deftly progresses from cool, washed-out tones, to warmer sunset glows, as the pianist slowly becomes less sure of who and what is human, Piano Lesson suggests that maybe all those questionable definitions are redundant. A shared experience, a common understanding – who is to say who is human, apart from one’s own belief? And why does that matter?
Watch the trailer here: