14 September 2008

Kashiko Kawakita at the NFC



This year marks the centenary of the birth of Kashiko Kawakita (川喜多かしこ, 1908-1993). Kawakita and her husband, Nagamasa Kawakita (川喜多長政, 1903-1981), dedicated their lives to the promotion of Japanese films overseas and foreign films in Japan. Her achievements include sitting on the Cannes Film Festival jury in 1963, founding the Kawakita Film Institute (formerly the Japan Film Library Council) in 1960, as well as contributing to the establishment of the National Film Centre (NFC). She was recognised for her contributions to Japanese Cinema with a special award at the Mainichi Film Concours in 1993.

With the assistance of the Kawakita Film Institute, the NFC is hosting an exhibition of artifacts related to the life of this respected 'film ambassador' known as Madame Kawakita. The exhibition is accompanied by a sereies of screenings entitled Madame Kawakita: L'Ambassadrice cinématographique du film européen (生誕100年川喜多かしこ展). The screenings include Le Million, Alexander Nevsky, Du haut en bas, Les sept péchés capitaux, Le Doulos, Repulsion, Il Desert Rosso, among many other classics of European cinema all on 35mm.

The exhibition runs until December 12th and the screening series runs until September 28th.

02 September 2008

Tomoyasu Murata Summer Animation Course


Tomoyasu Murata (村田朋泰) taught short courses in cel animation and puppet animation this summer at TMC Nishi-Nippori Atelier. He has posted a 9 second clip of the work done by the puppet animation class on youtube. While this may seem like a very short film, it would have involved a lot of work on the part of the students. First constructing the puppets, then learning how to position them in order to take each shot. 9 seconds times 24 frames equals 216 frames that made into the final result... with a lot of trial and error along the way. My favourite for character design is the large-headed character with glasses (second from right in the screencap above). For innovation in presentation, I like the shy couple on far left - the animator of those two managed to put humour (however dark) into a very short amount of time.

Watashi no Kimochi (わたしのきもち, 2004-present)

This short animation produced for the NHK by Aiga areba daijobu is one of my kids' most favourite Japanese television shows (along with Anpanman, Pokemon, and Ichi-jo-man). The Watashi no Kimochi (My Feelings) stop motion animation shorts (usually 2-3 minutes in length) aim to encourage children to openly talk about their emotions. The shorts feature an animated paper cup character who goes by the name Kimotchi (キモッチ) who directly addresses the child spectator and asks the child to participate in games and to follow him on his impulsive adventures, both real and imagined. Kimotchi makes many silly faces and asks the child spectator to guess how he is feeling.

My children howl with delight at Kimotchi's silly antics and word play. Kimotchi particularly enjoys playing games with the Japanese language, making up tongue twisters in an apparently spontaneous manner. The success of the Kimotchi character is due in a large part to the skillful voice acting by Sadao Abe (阿部サダヲ). Abe is a well-known actor (Kamikaze Girls, Kisaru Cat's Eye, First Kiss) and lead singer of the wild & crazy rock band Group Tamashii [check out their hilarious hit song "I Want to Buy You Some Juice" 君にジュースを買ってあげる♥ - this live clip includes some amusing banter with Kotoōshū, who looks like a giant in the front row of the audience].

The animator Mitsuo Shionaga (潮永光生) is the creative force behind Watashi no Kimochi, acting as director, storywriter and character designer. Jun Sasaki (佐々木隼) and Hirofumi Oohashi (大橋弘典) of mupy animation, who regularly do animation for NHK, are responsible for the animation. The concept of an animated paper cup is clever in its simplicity, there are a number of challenges to be overcome in order to execute it as well as Sasaki and Oohashi have. For one thing, drawing on a paper cup is tricky and I wondered when watching it how in the world they managed to do the frame by frame continuity when drawing on a curved surface is so challenging. Fortunately, Sasaki's blog features wonderful entries complete with behind-the-scenes photos that answered all my questions about how they animate the paper cup. Sasaki has even posted a template of the Kimotchi (キモッチ) figure so folks at home can try making their own. He also demonstrates how they draw the character's face flat and then shape it into a cup. Here are some photos of the hundreds of drawings that they create for the character.
The fact that much of the settings for the animation are outdoors or indoors near a window or open door adds another set of challenges to the stop motion animator. Outdoors, the elements interfere with the continuity of the film such as the differentiation of light levels, wind blowing leaves, grass, and curtains, and so on. This is why most stop motion animators choose to do their 'outdoor' work on an indoor model where they can control the levels of light (example: Murata's My Road series).
Jun Sasaki's blog has photos of the team at work outside: controlling rain by using a gardening hose to create rain and covering Kimotchi with a plastic cup to keep his face from running in the rain. In the final product, they've left in some of the 'flaws' inherent in using real locations for stop motion (changes in light, jump cuts of grass moving, etc.) but I think that it gives the film an authentic, hand-made feel that only adds to the charm of its script.

Ginga no Sakana - URSA minor BLUE / Animation
© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2008

01 September 2008

The Diary of Tortov Roddle (或る旅人の日記, 2003-4)


This year Kunio Katō (加藤 久仁生 b.1977) won the Annecy Cristal at the Annecy International Animation Festival for his latest film La maison en petits cubes (Tsumiki no Ie) as well as both the Hiroshima Prize and the Audience Prize at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival. In so doing he is following in the footsteps of Kōji Yamamura who won the Annecy Cristal (in 2003 for Atama Yama) . Yamamura took the Grand Prix at Hiroshima this year for Kafuka Inaka Isha, as well as in 2004 for Atama Yama.

While Katō may be following in Yamamura's steps in terms of winning prizes at festivals, his animation style is very different. The Diary of Tortov Roddle (Aru Tabibito no Nikki, 2003-4), which showed at Annency in 2004 under the category films for the the internet, demonstrates Katō's distinctive style, which Iwa ni Hana likens to the art of Raymond Peynet.

The Diary of Tortov Roddle seems to be the films official English title, but I prefer the more literal translation of the Japanese title: A Traveller's Diary. The film consists of a series of six dream-like vignettes, each approximately two minutes in length, in which a tall, slender man wearing a tall top hat and riding a pig with long, giraffe-life legs recounts his travels through a strange and unusual land.

1.The City of Light (Hikari no to)
2.Midnight Cafe (Mayonakan no Kouhii-ya)
3.The Little Town's Movie Gathering (Chisana Machi no Eigakai)
4.Moonlight Travellers (Tsukiyo no Tabibito)
5.The Meloncholy Rain (Yuutsu na Ame)
6.The Flower and the Lady (Hana to Onna)

Each vignette contains an element of the surreal: cities on the backs of frogs, a fish jumping out of a coffee cup to eat a butterfly, an outdoor cinema projected onto the back of a shirt-wearing bear, slender rabbit people riding off into the sky aboard a flying streetcar, and so on. Vignette #3 seemed inspired both in theme and music by Cinema Paradiso (Guiseppe Tornatore, 1988) , and the flying streetcar in #5 is reminiscent of Galaxy Express 999 (銀河鉄道999, Rintaro 1979).

Katō uses a rather dark, blue-grey-green colour palette in The Diary of Tortov Roddle. His use of clean lines with a fill that has the softness of watercolour is the same aesthetic he uses in his work as an illustrator (examples here and here). He really would make an excellent illustrator of children's picture books. The softness of the fill and the warmth of light flooding into scenes, usually from a single light source like a lamp or window, mean that the film has an atmospheric, slightly melancholy tone without becoming overly gloomy.
The film is also prevented from becoming too melancholy by the marvelous sense of humour that Katō infuses into each vignette. Even the gloomiest of vignettes, such as The Melancholy Rain, end on a positive note with a page from Tortov Roddle's journal putting an optomistic slant on the recounted events. The music also becomes less melancholy with each short film ending with an upbeat musical refrain.

The surrealism of the film is indicated not only by the unusual characters and events that inhabit the mysterious, fictional world that Tortov Roddle travels through, but is also indicated by the slightly off-kilter framing choices. Often the main action or character within a frame is off-center, as in this still taken from the opening of the first vignette.
There are many clever framing choices in Tortov Roddle that create interest on the part of the spectator. In vignette #5 there's a great unexpected shot from the ground looking up with the rain falling directly onto the camera. Another great example is the moment in vignette #3 when the movie being projected in the town square is shown from the perspective of the bear acting as the movie screen.


The music for the film was composed by Kenji Kondo. The animation was produced by Emi Matsumoto at ROBOT animation studio where Katō works alongside other young animators/directors Tatsutoshi Nomura, Takuya Inaba, and Osamu Sakai.

The DVD of this film is available at cdjapan, as is his latest award-winning film Tsumiki no Ie. I am hoping to get my hands on it sometime this month.





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