Aya Tsugehata (告畑綾, b. 1987) is an up-and-coming stop motion animator from Saitama Prefecture. She graduated from Tamabi in 2010 and then continued to develop her puppet animation skills under the supervision of Yūichi Itō (伊藤有壱, b.1962) at Geidai. The 5-minute short Imamura Store (今村商店 / Imamura shōten, 2011) was Tsugehata’s first film as a graduate student. At Nippon Connection 2013, Prof. Mitsuko Okamoto (Geidai) called Imamura Store and Tsugehata’s latest film The Sakuramoto Broom Workshop (櫻本箒製作所, 2012) examples of “animation documentary” because of her use of documentary recorded sound.
An unseen first person female narrator (Masumi Takino) leads us back into the animator’s childhood memories of going to Imamura Store to buy candy. The sense of nostalgia (natsukashii) is heightened by the sound of cicadas and the familiarity of the storefront. Imamura Store is an example of what we in Canada would call a general store (or dépanneur in Québec). The chain convenience store (konbini /コンビニ) has pushed out this type of family run store selling general merchandise in many places, but there are still many such shops that survive in tight knit communities with the customers valuing the atmosphere and local gossip to be acquired there. The simple metal framed sliding glass doors on the front of the building and the old-fashioned wooden interior suggest that the shop has remained little changed for decades.
We learn from the narrator that the central character, Toshiko, married into the Imamura family 60 years ago. Unfortunately, her husband died of malaria he caught while overseas as WWII soldier and his mother passed away soon after. Toshiko was left to run the family business on her own. Only recently, Toshiko has lost her only son, whom she had raised by herself. She tells people that when she dies, the shop will also cease to exist.
The film alternates between narration telling us about Toshiko Imamura and quiet observations of the store itself. The focus on the small details of the store from the few simple products displayed neatly on the shelves to the squeaky post box suggest that animator wanted to archive this special place which may soon disappear from the community. Through the narrator, one senses Tsugahata’s admiration for Toshiko – a woman who follows a daily routine without complaint (sweeping the entrance first thing in the morning and again when closing at night), who enoys hard work, and appreciates the simple things in life such as the love and kindness of her community. It is a slice of life animation made from the heart.
The music and sound was directed by fellow Geidai student Miki Sakurai (櫻井未希). Documentary audio of Toshiko Imamura and her friends/customers Chieko Tamba and Masakichi Furusho were recorded live at the Imamura Shōten.
Tsuguhata followed up Imamura Store with her graduate film The Sakuramoto Broom Workshop (櫻本箒製作所, 2012). It was awarded a Jury Selection Prize at the Japan Media Arts Festival 2013 and has played at many international festivals including Stuttgart and Fukuoka. Keep an eye out at festivals for this excellent young stop motion animator’s work.
Catherine Munroe Hotes 2013
Imamura Store was featured in the Tokyo University of the Arts Animation screening at Nippon Connection 2013. Many thanks to Prof. Okamoto for answering my questions about the making of this film.