[Short Review] Albatross Soup is a trippy delight

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Did you hear the story about the guy who entered a restaurant, ordered albatross soup, ate it and then immediately killed himself? It’s a riddle that fits under the label of “lateral thinking” where people must solve a problem through an indirect and creative approach. In this puzzle, the question starts pretty simply but the fact don’t seem to add up. Why did the man kill himself?

Albatross Soup is a short, seven minute animated film that begins with the words: “Over 50 people were recorded trying to guess the following riddle.” Variations of the above synopsis have floated around the internet and the world for awhile. But in this case, here are the facts:

"A man gets off a boat. He walks into a restaurant and orders albatross soup. He takes one sip... pulls out a gun, and shoots himself to death. So...why did he kill himself?"

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The people recorded trying to guess the riddle could only use “yes” or “no” questions. Was the man important? Was he a criminal? The short film takes these questions and answers and uses stunningly bright animation to create a kaleidoscope of hallucinatory imagery. The short was directed by Hong Kong born, Queens raised and Brooklyn-based filmmaker Winnie Cheung, who heard about the thought experiment and realized that the way the questions form an almost stream of consciousness narrative would fit perfectly with animation. Each frame was hand drawn by animation director Masayoshi Nakamura, based on illustrations by Toronto artist Fiona Smyth and took three years to complete.

It’s kind of hard to review a short that’s only seven minutes long and is more about the journey than anything. But, anyone not familiar with this particular thought experiment should go in blind. While versions of this story are easily found online, the way this short fuses stunning animation and real people guessing creates a hypnotic and trippy experience. I found myself mesmerized by the art on display.

The way the art melds with the story creates an oddly discordant feeling, particularly as the stream-of-consciousness-narrative races towards the inevitable conclusion. It’s a beautiful piece of art that, for those unfamiliar with the story, will stun you with its outcome.

Albatross Soup is a dark little gem of a story that, contrasted with bright and vibrant art, morphs into something even darker. Luckily, it’s available today on Vimeo! You can go watch it now. And I hope you do.

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