15 October 2009

Mirai Mizue's Fantastic Cell (2003)


Mirai Mizue (水江未来, b. 1981) is an exciting young talent in Japanese art animation. His work has recently been featured on the NHK’s ground-breaking Digista program (see Metropolis here).

Fantastic Cells (ファンタスチイック・セル, 2003) is an early work of Mizue’s that he completed while he was a student at Tamabi (多摩美術大学). In his animation, Mizue demonstrates an affinity for creating animation that is inspired by music. I think of him as a kind of Norman McLaren or Oskar Fischinger of the computer generation. His films appear to have been designed by CG animation, but in fact he carefully draws each image by hand and then scans and edits them into an animation on his Mac computer. 

For his music, Mizue chose Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Waltz of the Flowers’ from the Nutcracker Suite. This choice of music is quite bold for a young artist. Not only is the piece an emotive, well-known favourite but, as Mizue mentions on his website, it was also used for a sequence in Disney’s Fantasia (1940 watch it here).

‘The Waltz of the Flowers’ begins quietly and Mizue mimicks the gentleness of the music by using the frame sparingly at first. The shapes that he creates are composed of little cells. As the music’s tempo and volume increases, the cells densely pack the screen creating beautiful creatures both realistic and fantastic. The film also starts out entirely in black and white, but when it reaches it’s climax, pastel colours are added to flagellate-like creatures that pop out of a pod like balloons. At the song’s peak, the colourful cells combine to briefly form the shape of a human before cutting to a title card. Throughout the film, I was reminded of moments from McLaren’s Begone Dull Care (co-directed by Evelyn Lambart, 1949) – particularly in Mizue’s use of the image to complement the music.

This film and others can be viewed using Quicktime on Mirai Mizue’s website. He also has a gallery of some of his illustrations which show the depth and range of his talent, from off-the-wall to mildly disturbing to the truly beautiful and inspiring. You can also read more about him at anipages.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2009

Naoyuki Tsuji Ripped Off by Facets


I have been a big fan of Naoyuki Tsuji (辻直之)'s hauntingly beautiful charcoal animation since I first encountered it when I saw Image Forum's Thinking and Drawing. I have been collecting Japanese art animation for the past few years and looked into buying the American release of Tsuji's work earlier this year. One does not need subititles to understand it as the films have no dialogue, but I wanted to see if there were any films or extras of interest on the DVD. I was a bit hesitant to order anything from Chicago's Facets Video because while doing a research project in 2003, I ordered a copy of Nina Menkes's experimental film The Great Sadness of Zoharra (1988) from them. I was living in the UK at the time, and copies of Menkes's films were scarce, so the Facets VHS video was my only option. I was pretty shocked at the quality of the product. The VHS cover was merely a colour photocopy, and while one does expect poor image quality of a VHS tape it was exceptionally disappointing. I really could make no judgement of the artistic merits of the original film and had to rely upon the judgements of papers by academics who had seen the film projected.

After mucking about on the Facets website for a bit, I looked for reviews of the Tsuji DVD but found none. Eventually, I happened across a fiery discussion about Facets on the Criterion discussion boards. Needless to say, I decided it wasn't worth the trouble of ordering. I already have a copy of Columbia Japan's release Trilogy about Clouds (pictured above), which features not only the trilogy but also Sameru (Wake Up, 1992), Kiekaketa Monogatari-tachi no tame ni (For Almost Forgotten Stories, 1994), Yoru no Okite (Rules of the Night, 1995), and experiment (1997)., not to mention a documentary about Tsuji's time as a special guest at Cannes in 2005. Yami wo Mitsumeru Hane (A Feather Stare at the Dark, 2003) can be found on Thinking and Drawing.

It turns out that I made the right decision because representatives for Tsuji just released this statement earlier in the month:

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
October 1, 2009

Serious Problems in Facets Multi-Media’s DVD NAOYUKI TSUJI ANIMATION COLLECTION


Japanese artist Naoyuki Tsuji’s hand-made animations were packaged in DVD for the North American market and the DVD package titled NAOYUKI TSUJI ANIMATION COLLECTION was released in July 24th, 2007 by Facets Multi-Media (1517 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago IL 60614 U.S.A http://www.facets.org/).

During the DVD making process, neither the artist nor the video licensor had any chance to check the contents. They both finally checked the contents in February 2009 and found thefollowing problems in the DVD package:

  1. An omnibus movie consisting of three shot films titled TRILOGY ABOUT CLOUDS was not contained with appropriate sound - the sound track from other piece was recorded there
  2. FROM THE CLOUD, an episode of omnibus TRILOGY ABOUT CLOUDS was contained (with a wrong sound) but the credit for the episode was not recorded at all.
  3. A short film titled EXPERIMENT was not contained at all.
  4. There were some errors in the titles on the menu.
  5. The jacket did not show the correct credit.
The most serious problem is TRILOGY ABOUT CLOUDS, which was officially selected inDirectors' Fortnight in Cannes Film Festival 2005, was not recorded in its original form – the picture comes with a totally different music.

Since March 2009, the artist and the video licensor have requested Facets Multi-Media to stop selling the DVD and to re-produce the package completely. However, Facets Multi-Media has never responded them and done nothing. Unfortunately, the DVD package is still on the market. For the reason above, the artist and the video licensor consider that Facets Multi-Media’s DVD titled NAOYUKI TSUJI ANIMATION COLLECTION is 100% illegal copy. Now, Facets Multi-Media is selling illegal DVD copies of Naoyuki Tsuji’s work.

If you have any questions regarding this matter, please feel free to contact:

Tomoyuki Suzuki
video licensor for North America / CEO, Tomo Suzuki Japan.Ltd.
e-mail: mail(at)tomosuzuki.com
phone: +81-3-5468-7172 fax :+81-3-6277-5779
address: Villa Moderna C-403, 1-3-18 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0002 Japan

From this statement, it is clear that Facets has acting extremely unprofessionally throughout. It sounds to me like the deal was that Facets would put English subtitles onto the Columbia Japan DVD while maintaining the integrity of the original image and soundtrack.

Facets Video is truly a mystery to me. Surely someone who is a fan of the rare artistic films that they produce videos and DVDs of would also be concerned about maintaining the artistic integrity of the films. Am I missing something here? There is money to be made in selling phony reproductions of blockbuster films, but the kind of people who like art and indie films are concerned about the quality of the image and the soundtrack. It just doesn't make any sense that they would tamper with an artist's work in this way.

I encourage all fans of indie film to boycott Facets Video until they start to treat the artists' whose films they reproduce with the respect that they deserve.

To support this artist, please order Trilogy about Clouds through a reputable dealer like yesasia:

Naoyuki Tsuji - 3tsu no Kumo ("Darkside" Animation) / Animation

14 October 2009

Tadanari Okamoto's Are wa Dare? (あれはだれ, 1976)



Despite having won the Noburo Ofuji Award more than any other animator, Tadanari Okamoto’s work is rarely shown outside of Japan. However, his ground-breaking animation will be instantly recognizable to many Japanese people – especially those who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s because many of his films were used for educative purposes in schools and libraries across the country.

Of these educative films, my favourites are the Are wa dare? (Who’s that?, 1976) shorts. These ten tales, averaging about two minutes each in length demonstrate Okamoto’s true genius: using innovative animation techniques to tell simple but effective stories. Okamoto is famous for trying out new materials and techniques in each of his films. The figures in this series are formed by yarn (毛糸/keito) and shot on the painted glass of an animation table. The animation table has multiple layers of glass and scenes are shot from above looking down. Yarn is not an easy material to use in stop motion animation because it doesn’t hold its shape exactly and it blows away easily, so Okamoto’s animation team painted thin wires to match the yarn and inserted them carefully into each strand to allow for the fixing of shapes. Additional effects, such as the rippling water in Ie de (At Home) where painted onto a second layer of glass.

The charm of these shorts cannot be overstated. They are appealing both to the young children who make up their target audience and to parents. They would not be out of place if used as shorts during the the NHK children’s program Inai Inai Baa (Peek-a-Boo), which also hires contemporary animators like Maya Yonesho to do appealing little artistic shorts. Unlike the kind of short tales I remember seeing on TV as a kid, these films are not educative in the sense of teaching morals. Rather, they are slice of life pieces that point out the slight embarrassments and small joys that are a part of growing up. For instance, Ie de shows a young child arguing with his mother. In anger, he runs away from home swimming upstream. When he runs out of energy he falls asleep and the stream’s current brings him back home again into the embrace of his father. In the title film Are wa dare? (Who’s that?), a pair of fox siblings are out for a walk with their older sister (see image at top of post). They spot many different creatures along the way, asking their sister repeatly ‘Are wa dare?’ The older sister answers their questions confidently and patiently until a boy fox on a bicycle cycles by. When the younger siblings ask ‘Are wa dare?’ this last time, the older sister can only blush because, as the female narrator tells us, she has a crush on the boy.

The shorts are titled as follows:
1. いえで (At Home)
2. べんきょう (Study)
3. たんうきのかさ (Tanuki Umbrella)
4. ネコとネズミ (Cat & Mouse)
5. くまおじいさん (Grandpa Bear)
6. ながれぼし (Shooting Star)
7. キツツキ (Woodpecker)
8. やま (Mountain)
9. あれはだれ (Who’s that?)
10. おかあさん (Mother)



Tadanari Okamoto Zensakuhin Shu / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2009

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