Annecy 2018: 'On Happiness Road' is a Lovely Story About Happiness
by Alex Billington
June 17, 2018
One important lesson we all learn in life is that happiness is an endless pursuit. There's no such thing as a permanent state of happiness. But this is a hard lesson to learn, and something that takes years to discover, through trial & error, experience, and understanding. On Happiness Road is a lovely little animated film that addresses this very idea, taking us on a journey through past and present in the life of one woman from Taiwan. On Happiness Road is an autobiographical film made by Taiwanese animator/filmmaker Hsin-Yin Sung that is about her pursuit of happiness, and learning what exactly that means, how to get there, and that happiness is not forever, and is not something you can just obtain. It's a very deeply personal film, but also a very meaningful and enjoyable, with a light touch that makes it that much more captivating to watch.
On Happiness Road is both written & directed by Hsin-Yin Sung, and it tells the story of her life in Taiwan growing up, and eventually how she moved to America and met a white man that she married. It drifts back and forth between present and past, going into flashbacks and extended sequences involving various stories throughout her life. Before making the film, she thought her own story didn't have much to offer. But she was inspired by Persepolis, and realized that her story might have something to offer, and so she made this film. When she was young, her family moved to a house on a street in Taiwan called Happiness Road - how ironic, because throughout the film she struggles to find and maintain happiness. She admits often that what she imagined or dreamt of as happiness, isn't really what she thought it would be when she gets there.
Aside from being an endearing and thoughtfully-made animated film, On Happiness Road is an emotionally intelligent and incredibly mature film. It's not only about the carefree time of childhood and growing up, it's also about adulthood, parenting and parents, and how hard it is to live a life where everything is in balance. Hsin-Yin Sung deals with a number of complex topics in a very heartfelt, honest, open way. She also doesn't provide any answers, because in all truth, there are no easy answers to these challenging questions. No one person can simply explain exactly what happiness means or how to be happy, especially when it's unique to everyone. But through her film and through her very vulnerable storytelling, she allows us to empathize with and understand her journey through life and gain a bit of wisdom through her experiences and confessions.
The animation style she chose for the film also makes so easy to watch. While it is a 2D hand-drawn style, inspired by Japanese animation, it's something entirely all its own and unique in its own ways. I was able to easily follow the story and become invested in the characters because I wasn't spending time analyzing the character design or confused about who is who or what's going on. It's also very cute, but not too cute, and that's a relief (compared to a few other animated films I saw at Annecy where the female characters are so cute it's annoying). I have a feeling it turned out this way because she worked to make sure the character represented herself, and while she is cute (especially as a child), she's also honest and has other feelings and emotions and these are all a part of her character. They're not just one-dimensional, they're all individuals.
One of the most intriguing aspects of her story involves another woman she was sort of friends with growing up with in Taiwan. One day, a young woman shows up at her school that is different from all the other kids - she has blonde hair, and blue eyes, because she's the child of a mother who slept with a military officer from America (who then left them behind). Eventually, when we see her return to Taiwan later in life, this woman has also had mixed-race children and has decided to stay in Taiwan and raise them there - on her own. It's her conversations with this blonde-haired woman, as an adult, that teach her some of the most important lessons about life and happiness and what it all means. Especially because they weren't the best of friends as kids. But this is what time and compassion allow us - opportunities to learn and grow and develop ourselves.
Alex's Annecy 2018 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing