Feeling Seen: A Day of Us
Feeling Seen is a column in which different authors offer personal reflections on films and moving images.
Film critics are generally thought of as purists, only interested in established venues: cinemas, television, streaming platforms—places fit for the “high art” that they critique and discuss in considered reviews and tweets. But lately, I find myself (and I know other critics in the same boat) poring over YouTube videos, mostly with the intention of distracting or entertaining myself. Sometimes, though, I find something on these deep dives, something that connects to me more deeply than any film that I’ve seen recently. That’s how I found A Day of Us, a series of Korean animated shorts created by Kim Mi-young, which, right now, is the only moving image work I feel connected to. More than any movie or prestige show, it’s this web series that I rely on for comfort and support. I know, strange choice, but hear me out.
Each episode of A Day of Us consists of an animation less than two minutes long, featuring a brown cat and a white dog who live together (the cat is female and the dog is male, but that only becomes apparent after a few entries). Sometimes they argue, but most of the time they support each other and have beautiful experiences together. They eat out, they sleep together, they care for each other when sick, and they buy each other gifts and small presents. The episodes are almost silent, with minimal sound design, and the images consist of mostly pastel colors. A Day of Us is the work of a single South Korean woman, inspired by her life and memories, and the show reflects that in a handmade, highly personal aesthetic.
The animation in A Day of Us isn’t what you’d call fluid or professional: you can tell that Kim is starting out as an animator (the first two episodes are in black and white). But there are some elements—the focus on small, silent moments shared by the characters—that help build the feeling of true love between the cat and dog. These moments make me think about Kim’s aesthetic choices beyond the “cute” designs of the two lead characters. In particular, the way the dog and the cat move their arms, jump, or look at each other have made me laugh while, at the same time, experiencing a sensation of warmth and love.
My connection to these short animated videos surprises me. I’m not the kind of person who yells out “relatable” about anything that mimics the basic outline of my daily life. If anything, I’m skeptical of the motives behind any work in which I immediately recognize common feelings and experiences. Yet, these short films express, in many ways, precisely my feelings and experiences at this moment in my life. My girlfriend and I recently moved in together to a small two-floor apartment. Neither of us has a steady job: I studied film and she studied drawing. Yet, we’re managing (up to now) to pay for rent, food, and bills with small miracles every month: I wrote a screenplay for-hire, she bought and sold a car. We both want to make it, and work in fields we love. But it’s hard here, in a country like Chile, where ours aren’t considered serious professions.
This is also the first time that I’ve ever lived outside of my parent’s house. It’s been hard to get used to, and my girlfriend and I sometimes argue about the housework and how to maintain a shared life while allowing each other space to be individuals. It was during one of these arguments that I found A Day of Us while sitting on narrow staircase that leads to the second floor, scrolling through my Twitter feed. It was an episode called “Dumplings”: the cat and the dog sitting together, eating dumplings. The cat eats slowly, savoring each treat, while the dog munches quickly, while making sure that they both eat the same amount. The dog does this by picking up the dumplings and putting them on the plate of the cat, while he gobbles the next one. At that moment, there was something funny in the interplay between the two, which, over the course of the episode, became truly moving.
The dog stops eating and looks blankly into space, waiting for the cat to finish. Meanwhile, the cat splits the remaining dumpling and gives half to the dog. Instead of eating it, the dog breaks it down again, eats a quarter, gives the remaining quarter back to the cat, and on and on. It moved me. My girlfriend and I do the same thing, putting food on each other’s plates, finishing each other’s desserts, feeding each other the last bite. As soon as the video ended, I ran down the stairs to show it to her. She was reticent at first, but the warmth of the animation quickly brought her in. And before I knew it, she was laughing. She looked at me, smiling, her beautiful eyes brightening up. She knew why I showed her the video. A Day of Us was “a day of us.”
Other than the two central animals, there are no other characters in A Day of Us (with the exception of a small bird who appears once as a waiter). It’s as if the world is full with only the two of them. Sometimes, when my girlfriend and I spend the whole day working or relaxing without leaving the house, I feel as if nothing could be more perfect or complete, that the world contains only the two of us, and nothing else is necessary. Of course, that isn’t true, but in those moments I feel more like we’re living a series of vignettes, inspiring future episodes of the animated series.
My girlfriend’s favorite episode is “Cockroach.” The first time we watched it we couldn’t stop laughing. Not because it was particularly funny, but because every moment had an equivalent in our lives. In this episode, the cat is sitting at her desk, working on a computer with her headphones on, when she suddenly sees a cockroach on the wall. My girlfriend is incredibly scared of spiders, and what follows in the episode is exactly the same routine that we go through whenever she finds one of those eight-legged creatures. She yells for me. I come in, see the bug, and I find a way to squash it. All while she runs in place and then away from the insect, as I heroically finish killing it. Then she gives me a long, grateful look as I take the bug out and throw it in the trash. Only then can I fully express the fear I also have for that particular insect.
When we first saw the episode, I found myself marveling at how closely the subtle movements of the animated dog and cat mirrored our own: the way in which my girlfriend runs in place and then backwards when she knows that I’m killing the bug, how I react when she can’t see me. The warmth I feel inside when I see the cat and dog go through this comes from the fact that the animation reminds me of her, and that I love her, even in the way that she expresses fear. I can see her in that cat, and she sees me in the dog, so it’s reciprocal.
Since I discovered the show, my girlfriend and I have watched the remaining episodes of A Day of Us, and have seen ourselves in the small adventures of a dog and cat who so marvelously evoke our own personalities, traits, and experiences of the small adventures of living together. We point out moments when we’ve found ourselves in the same situations as the characters: grocery shopping, eating at a restaurant, and arguing about this and that. The videos are an easy way to forget our quarrels: I search for an episode and press play. The show has helped remind us that there’s a reason for us to live together and to share our love, both for each other and for the things that inspire us.
Before I started writing this, I asked my girlfriend to re-watch all of the episodes on YouTube. First, we commented on them, but soon enough we found ourselves in silence, watching the computer screen, holding hands. While we watched the Christmas episode, she started to cry, and my own tears soon followed. In this episode, the dog wants to buy a tree, but he can’t afford any of those on display. Instead, he comes home with a very small tree, which the couple decorates and admires, holding hands. We both recalled the first Christmas we spent here in our new home, looking at our small plastic tree draped with white LED lights, holding hands and thankful for each other’s love. In every episode of Kim Mi-young’s web series there are moments like this, a couple seconds of the two animals, motionless, just looking at each other or sharing a space—intimate silences filled with love. And every time, it feels as if we are being drawn into that world.
Jaime Grijalba is a freelance film critic (MUBI, Kinoscope) and filmmaker based in Chile, and a programmer at the Valdivia Film Festival.