23 May 2014

The Blooms (2013)


“Deep down in the forest there lived flower fairies in flower gardens, waking up with the sunrise, eating sweets, and chatting with each other.  One day they had a visit from him and then.  .  .”
– Geidai 2013 DVD description

“A richly coloured, horticultural emporium of all-sizes, an operatic break-out, a techno-hued extravaganza.”
- MIAF 2013 catalogue description.

There is a lot of pressure on Japanese women to keep a slender figure, so it is delightful to find a young filmmaker who has made a film that celebrates the Rubenesque form.  For her graduate film for Geidai (Tokyo University of the Arts), Ayasa Kugenuma collaborated with students from the Geidai music department to create The Blooms (2013).

Over the quiet stillness of a watercolour garden scene, a female operatic voices tells us that these deep red blossoms can be found in a tranquil garden in the deep forest.  Morning has broken, and the flowers open to reveal the chubby ladies who inhabit them.  The buxom forest fairies are dressed in negligee, some wearing heart-shaped sunglasses.  Some of the other blossoms are laden with objects of decadence: cakes, fruit and berries, jewellery, and wrapped presents. 



After a morning of indulgence a fat caterpillar appears, singing in his bass voice “Hello Honey!”  The women embrace the caterpillar and compete with each other for his affection.  When he leaves, they cry and mourn his departure.  The next day, the women bloom again in a spectacular way, bared their breasts to the warm sunlight accompanied by jazzy music.  It is a sensual declaration that they will enjoy their short lives as indulgently as possible.  It is a colourful tribute to the beauty of the natural world and to voluptuous femininity. 

The music was composed by Kayoko Naoe with sound design by Fumiya Iwanaga.  The music was performed by Saki Nakae and Maki Takimoto (sopranos), Shiho Ogawa (mezzosoprano), Miyako Honda (alto), and Takaki Kurihara (bass), with orchestral accompaniment from Honoka Maki (flute), Nami Sugai (alto sax), Yu Ishimoto (trumpet), Ayaka Suzuki (trumpet, piccolo trumpet), Yurie Shirai (trombone), Tatsuro Kano (bass), Shota Kowashi (drums), Atoko Noda (violin), and Makoto Fukumoto (cello).

Ayasa Kugenuma (久下沼朱紗, b. 1987) was born in Tokyo.  She did her BA in Graphic Design at Tama Art University (2011) and her MA in Animation at Geidai (2013).  In addition to animation, Kugenuma does freelance animation.  Check out her illustrations and other work on her official website or on her tumblrThe Blooms won best student film at FICAM 2014 and is continuing to screen at international festivals throughout this year. 


Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

It’s Time for Supper (夜ごはんの時刻, 2013)



At 5 o’clock in the evening in most Japanese towns and cities loudspeakers blast out a short melody.  This is the cue for children that it’s time to go home for supper – although, as Alice Gordener explains in The Japan Times and on her blog (complete with sample melodies), it’s main function is actually as the daily test for Japan’s emergency warning system.  In It’s Time for Supper (夜ごはんの時刻/Yorugohan no jikoku, 2013), animator Saki Muramoto depicts the time between when the chimes ring, so to speak, and suppertime. 

Using a monochrome grey colour palette to illustrate the look and feel of dusk, the film opens with children in a circle playing leapfrog (in Japanese馬跳び / umatobi, IE. "horseleaping”).  Their play is interrupted by the gentle 5 o’clock melody and the children – round, animal-like humanoids – line up patiently at the water fountain for their turn to wash their hands (Japanese play grounds always have a water fountain for drinking, with a tap on the side for washing). 



With the shadows growing longer, the children depart the playground to go on their various routes home, and we are treated to a series of vignettes that depict the kinds of things people encounter at dusk in urban Japan.  A man waits at a bus stop feeding birds crumbs, when one of the children glides through on his scooter causing the birds to fly away.   A parent and child come home from a supermarket with their bags piled so high that they cannot see where they are going and others have to negotiate their way around them.  A parent holds hands with four children of descending height at a bus stop and the kids try to jump over the shadows of passing vehicles.  A group of kids get stuck waiting at a train crossing.  The kid on the scooter encounters a dog tied up outside a shop, impatiently waiting for his owner to come out.

The film cuts between these and other vignettes, painting a picture of the daily habits of this typical urban neighbourhood.  It’s a snapshot of a Japanese city at dusk and viewers will smile with recognition of things that they themselves regularly do or witness at that time of day.  There is a lovely added touch of a group of snails next to a jidō-hanbaiki (自動販売機 / vending machine) preparing the night as well – a small reminder that the natural world also tries to fit in to this manmade environment.  It’s a lovely, observant little film and has screened widely at festivals, including making the Jury Selection for the 17th Japan Media Arts Festival (2013). 


Saki Muramoto (村本咲, b. 1988) was born in Shizuoka.  She did her undergraduate studies in the Department of Visual Media at Nagoya University of Arts and Sciences (2011) and has an MA in Animation from Tokyo University of the Arts (2013).  It’s Time for Supper was her graduate film project.  Learn more about her on her blog.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

Geidai Animation: 2nd Graduate Works 2011 (DVD)


Geidai Animation: 2nd Graduate Works 2011 (DVD)
東京藝術大学大学院映像研究科アニメーション専攻第二期生修了作品集2011

The second year of graduates from the Graduate School of Film and New Media at Tokyo University of the Arts (aka Geidai) were celebrated May 5-8, 2011 with screenings under the name GEIDAI ANIMATION 02 SOURCE, as well as other screening events held both domestically and overseas. For the first time, the accompanying DVD contains not only the graduate films of 2011 but also a selection of first year films made in 2010.    

The class of 2011 was taught by Professors Yuichi Ito (Model Animation), Mitsuko Okamoto (Production), Takehito Deguchi (Screenwriting), and Koji Yamamura (2D animation).  Assistant Professors were animators Hiromitsu Murakami, Sayaka Omodaka and Hiroko Tochigi and lecturers Ilan Nguyen and Eiji OtsukaEtsuo Tsukamoto and Arisa Wakami provided additional assistance.  Sound specialists for the films were Toru Kamekawa, Tatsuhko Nishioka, Yuichi Kishino, and Hiroshi Takayama.

Once again, the standard of the Geidai student work is excellent.  There is a wide variety of styles both in 2D and 3D.  There are examples of stop motion animation, anime style (though usually with a twist of some kind), abstract, 2D drawn animation and computer generated 3D.  The real stand out of this graduating class is Masaki Okuda, whose first year film A Gum Boy (2010) wowed audiences at international festivals.  It won the New Talent Award at Fantoche, the Best Short Film of Animation Schools at Animadrid, and Special Mentions at Animafest Zagreb, Anifest, and the Japan Media Arts Festival, among others.  His graduate work Uncapturable Ideas (2011) also screened widely, winning the top prize in the animation category at Chitrakatha’13.  Other favourites of mine from this graduating class are Aki Kono’s Promises and Ryo Orikasa’s Scripta Volant.

The cover art for the DVD is illustrated by Masaki Okuda.  The opening movie is directed by Atsushi Makino.  The DVD comes with a bilingual (JP/EN) booklet of film descriptions and animator bios for the graduating class.  Unless otherwise noted, the film descriptions below are from the booklet.  I have included links to the full reviews that I have written for some of the films.  The bios have been updated with the most current information I could find. Links to official websites and social media have also been included.   

Graduate Films
収録作品  第二期生修了作品


The Tender March, ver. 2
やさしいマーチ ver.2 / Yasashii Māchi, ver.2 / 2011 / 4'48"

“To sublimate the time-killer memories into something, a girl tries to march forward clumsily to eliminate a merely existing monster, using all her useless memories.”

Wataru Uekusa (植草航, b. 1987) was born in Chiba.  He has a BA in Animation from Tokyo Polytechnic University (2009) and an MA from Geidai (2011).  Uekusa works as a freelance animator and illustrator.  Follow him on twitter @WATARU336, YouTube, and check out his official website.


Uncapturable Ideas
アイデアが捕まらない。 / Aidea ga Tsukamaranai / 2011 / 11'52"

“A man is racking [his brain] at a desk. On his desk there is a tiny man also racking [his brain] at his desk.  The big man remains still without any ideas.  The tiny man moves around in vain trying to catch some idea, which is supposed to be inside of him.  Both men.  .  .  become desperate and after the daybreak the big man is struck by an idea.  .  .”

Masaki Okuda (奥田昌輝, b.1985) is a native of Yokohama.  He discovered animation as a Graphic Design student at Tama Art University (2009).  His first year film A Gum Boy (see below) was a big hit at international festivals winning prizes including the Grand Prix at Animadrid and the New Talent Prize at Fantoche.  After graduating from Geidai (2011) he spent a year in Montreal in a “Program of Overseas Study for Upcoming Artists”.  He now works as a freelance animator (animated credit sequences, educational TV) and illustrator (book, CD, and DVD covers).  You can follow Okuda on twitter and vimeo.  Check out his official website.


Scripta Volant
Writings fly away / 2011 / 13'17"

“I try to set this work – a film using texts, or a film-book – between watching and reading. This film is dedicated to J.L. Borges, a great artist, who translated ‘The Happy Prince’ by Oscar Wilde [in] his early childhood and became one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.  .  .  continu[ing] to publish .  .  .  works by dictation even after losing his eyesight”

Ryo Orikasa (折笠良, 1986) has a degree in Education from Ibaraki University (2009) and graduated from Geidai in 2011.  He’s not particularly active online, but you can check out his old blog posts (2009-12).  Scripta Volanta did well on the international festival circuit, making the Jury Selection at the Japan Media Arts Festival 2011.




Promises
約束 / Yakusoku / 2011 / 08'27"

“It was a season when the tree leaves turn red.  There was a woman crying in front of the child’s [body].  She takes the shadow off.  .  .  her dead son.  Just to stay with him she runs with the shadow in her arms through the town at night.  Then she makes a promise.  .  .”


Aki Kono (河野亜季, b. 1985) was born in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku.  She has a degree in Information and Media from the Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts (2008) and an MA in Animation from Geidai (2011).  Check out her official website.


creator
2011 / 09'07"

“A man is left alone in empty white space.  He starts to create his own world with materials popped up out of nowhere and build a house and make animals.  But there is a hole in this world and he wonders about it.  .  .”

Hiroki Kono (河野宏樹) is a graduate of the Department of Information Design at Kyoto University of Art and Design (2007) and completed the MA in Animation at Geidai (2011).


Ygg's Bird
ユッグの鳥 / Yuggu no Tori / 2011 / 05'27"

“We are all living in a food chain.  All of the living beings support each other as predator-prey relationship in the balance of nature.  Yet there is a huge and ferocious bird.  It is so brutal that all the creatures are afraid of it.  .  .  Everything repeats itself, slightly changing form.”

Mariko Saito (齋藤まりこ, b.1984) was born in Tochigi Prefecture.  She did both her undergraduate and graduate studies at Geidai with a BA in Design (2008) and an MA in Animation (2011). 


tick tack
2011 / 09'03"

“A little Chinku thinks his father does not love him.  And when he thinks [that] his grandfather, his only supporter, rejects his hand for help, Chinku feels betrayed.  .  .  Chinku draws circles with a huge and heavy pencil, which the time to fly fast.  .  .”

Chiaki Shibata (柴田千晶, b.1987) is a native of Fukushima.  She has a BA in Animation from Tokyo Polytechnic University (2009) and completed her MA at Geidai in 2011.





Better Back Then
少女のいと 魔法のいと / Shōjo no ito Mahō no ito / 2011 / 07'45"

“A girl is kept on the [move] by a witch and continues to peel potatoes.  She is fed up and tries to escape in vain.  She gets desperate and decides to beat the witch.  .  .  what will she find?  What is her intention?  Can we undo what has been done?” 

Naoaki Shibuta (渋田直彰, b. 1985) has a major in animation from Tokyo Zokei University’s Department of Design (2009).  He completed his MA in Animation at Geidai in 2011.


Rootless Heart
さまよう心臓 / Samayō Shinzō / 2011 / 09'52"

“Two high school students are playing in the ruins.  They hear something from the darkness and one of them goes deep into a dark room where something suspicious is hiding and both of them [have] their hearts [taken] out.  Later a boy and his sister drop by the ruins.  .  .”

Toshiko Hata (秦俊子, b. 1985) was born in Fukuoka.  She specializes in stop motion animation and did both her BA in Crafts (2009) and her MA in Animation (2011) at Geidai.  Since graduation, she works as a freelance animator and illustrator.  Check out her official website and her YouTube profile.


Specimens of Obsessions
標本の塔 / Hyōhon no tō / 2011 / 12'08"

“A man jumped out of the window.  Why did he have to leap out of his room?  As time reverse[s], his struggles gradually get revealed.  He has confined himself to his room and tried to escape from the horrible illusions and the memory of a.  .  .  man.  His room was full of specimens and each specimen had a significant name.”

Atsushi Makino (牧野惇, b. 1982) is from the city of Echizen in Fukui Prefecture.  He has a degree in Graphic Design from UMPRUM (Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, 2009) which he followed up with an MA in Animation from Geidai (2011).  He works as an animation director for Eallin Japan.


Wish Upon a Snowdrop
魔術師と雪の花 / Majutsushi to Yuki no Hana / 2011 / 11'14"

“There is a family living in an air base town.  I got a younger brother.  Dad was only absent for work at the base and Mom was busy with the brother and little time for me.  Out of loneliness and jealousy I [hid] brother’s charm.  From that day, Dad stopped coming home.  .  .”

Ken Yoshida (吉田健, b. 1978) is a native of Tokyo.  He did a BA in Visual Design (2002) at Tokyo Zokei University.  He had a stint as a visual designer at Konami Digital Entertainment until 2004.  He then worked at IKIF+ and attended classes at Digital Hollywood University before taking his MA in Animation at Geidai (2011).  Yoshida founded his own company Picona Creative Studio.

Okuda's A Gum Boy

First Year Films  
一年次作品集2010

Walls
2010 / 大川原亮 / Ryo Okawara / 05'43"

“A man walks in a crowd.  He cannot stand the crowd but to cover his ears.  Then it disappears and he gets lost in a white void space.  In that space there is no other man but himself.  He had nothing to identify himself and his existence was to come to naught.  He starts to struggle to get away from there.”

A Gum Boy
くちゃお / Kuchao / 2010 / 奥田昌輝 / Masaki Okuda / 03'48"

“Nobody in a class loves ‘Kuchao’ who cannot live without.  .  .  gum.  When all [his] classmates fly their balloons, he wouldn’t let his go.  After school, on his way home, he gets to his own imaginary world with a bubble gum.  His balloon turns to be a face and to many things as he chews [his] gum. His imagination doesn’t stop flying.  Then comes a bird.  .  .”


Rain and fish
赤い魚 / Akai Sakana / 2010 / 金原里紗 / Risa Kimpara / 04'48"

“One rainy day a boy was waiting sulkily at a bus stop.  Pitter-patter, raindrops leap and make waves in a puddle.  Watching it, he saw something [jump].  When the boy looked into the puddle, there was a red fish swimming.  It is a story of a red fish a boy saw on a rainy day.”

A Brightening Life
2010 / 河野亜季 / Aki Kono / 07'59"

“It’s an underground world.  Up on the ground there are many people coming and going.  There lives a garbage bag.  .  . underground.  He has no work, no home and no family.  This is a story [in which] a dirty black garbage bag gains a new life through.  .  .  various experiences.” 

The Vesper Mutters
宵がつぶやく / Yoi ga Tsubuyaku / 2010 / 河野宏樹 / Hiroki Kono / 04'21"

“As dusk closed in, a streetlight in a park was turned on.  Moths flew towards the light.  Suddenly they stop the motion.  Under the streetlight.  .  .  playground equipment appear[s].  .  .  A child strayed among them.  .  .”

Another Time
 ジージとバーバ / Another Time / 2010 / 柴田千晶 / Chiaki Shibata / 04'54"

“It is the day of [Grandpa’s wake].  Grandma is a alone in her room looking at the album full of memories [of] him.  ‘Are you sad, Grandma?’ asks the boy.  She [answers] her grandson merrily with jokes.  .  .  she falls asleep and in her dream she meets a man and makes [him] a promise.  .  .”

Come Back to my Mind
うわの空からかえってくる / Uwa no Sora kara Kaetekuru / 2010 / 渋田直彰 / Naoaki Shibuta / 02'52"

“The protagonist is with friends but bored with the conversation.  His mind often slips away to his own imaginary world and comes back to them.  .  . “

PART BLUE
2010 / 宋永盛 / YungSung Song / 04'16"

“The blue evolves.  The blue rises toward the upper world.  The blue becomes green and then yellow, which makes things unstable.  So red circle appears to bring into balance between blue and yellow.  These three colours unite into one, [rising] until the summit, over the boundary line, and becomes a white circle to a full stop.  And then it returns to the first state.”

Where He Can Relax
安息の場所 / Ansoku no Basho / 2010 / 秦俊子 / Toshiko Hata / 05'17"

“After losing a job at the company a man starts working part-time handing out balloons in a rabbit costume.  He finds it comfortable to disguise himself in the costume, as nobody would recognize him.  Finally, he decides to wear the costume all [the] time in [his] daily life.  Then the costume becomes a part of his body and confines him inside.  .  .”

About the Girl
少女考 / Shōjokō / 2010 / 深瀬沙哉 / Saya Fukase / 02'39"

“An old man is trying to create a girl out of his memories.  Little by little the doll is being made and given a physical body of machinery parts.  The old man makes her as a pure creature, but she denies her identification.  The doll demolishes herself, saying ‘This is not Me!’”

Hole
/ Ana / 2010 / 牧野惇 / Atsushi Makino / 06'56"

“There was a man with a hole in his belly.  The reason was not certain but he just kept eating the food that grew on the tables as if to fill his hole.  All of [a] sudden the food disappeared, something came up from the table and ran away.  He was at a loss but killed it to fill the hole with the [dead body].  The hole was filled half by the dead body.” 



Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

15 May 2014

The Hyuga episode of Kojiki (古事記 日向篇, 2013)


The Hyuga episode of Kojiki  (古事記 日向篇/ Kojiki Hyūgahen, 2013)

In 2012, Japan’s oldest extant chronicle the Kojiki, or Record of Ancient Matters (712), celebrated its 1300th anniversary.  The publicity surrounding this anniversary triggered a marked increase in tourists travelling to the mystic places related to the Kojiki, such as the sacred Takachiho Gorge, home to Yaoyorozu no Kamigami  (八百万の神々) and Aoshima Shrine, where the love story between Yamasachihiko and Princess Toyotama takes place.

In March 2013, the NHK aired a documentary called "Kojiki" Girl Travelogue (古事記ガール 日向路を旅する, 59 min., 2013) that follows the actress Tomoka Kurotani (Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog) as she travels to Miyazaki Prefecture to visit some of these mystic places in and around the city of Hyūga.  Instead of just hiring a narrator to recite the relevant passages from the Kojiki, the NHK engaged the services of Oscar-nominated animator Kōji Yamamura to bring these much-admired mythological stories to life. 



Yamamura has a long history of collaboration with the NHK dating back to his wonderfully imaginative series for children Karo and Piyobupt (カロとピヨブプト, 1993) – which was recently released on DVD in France.  Other NHK projects include the Karo and Piyobupt spinoff Pacusi (パクシ, 1991), which was a series of short-shorts, and more recently Prekiso English (プレキソ英語, 2011-12), a series of micro-stories designed to teach preschoolers English vocabulary. 



The four animation sequences written and directed by Yamamura are set in Hyūga and concern themselves with the Shinto creation myth and the emergence of gods.  After screening on TV and NHK on Demand, the sequences were edited into a festival version under the title The Hyuga episode of Kojiki (古事記 日向篇/ Kojiki Hyūgahen, Japan, NHK, 2013) and in French, Récit des temps anciens : épisodes de Hyûga.  The festival edition competed at Ottawa, MONSTRA, and Animafest.  It also made the Jury Selection at the 17th Japan Media Arts Festival.  The festival cut will screen at Nippon Connection as part of their Koji Yamamura Retrospective

Episode summaries:

The Cleansing (/ Misogi, 3’17”)



This the myth of how Japan was created.  Yamamura depicts a couple formed of clouds embracing and resulting in the birth of Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto.  The cloud forms of Izanagi, holding a spear, and Izanami look down upon the islands of Japan.  Burned giving birth to Kagu-tsuchi, the god of fire, Izanami descends to the underworld.  Izanagi misses his wife and tries to visit her, but she demands that he look away.  Before he can do so he sees that she is covered with maggots and eight gods of thunder.  Izanami sends demons to chase Izanagi but he manages to escape the underworld and seeks to cleanse himself.  He goes to Awakihara, Himuka in Tsukushi country.  There he strips in order to bathe, and this cleansing process results in the birth of twelve gods.  Two gods are born from the impurities of the netherworld, three to clean the first two, and six sea gods.  Then, Izanagi washes his left eye and the sun goddess Amaterasu is born.  The moon god Tsukuyomi is born from his right eye and Susanoo, the god of sea and storms, from his nose.  Delighted by the birth of these three holy figures, Izanagi gives Amaterasu the heavens to reign over, Tsukuyomi is given the night, and Susanoo the ocean.  However, Susanoo neglects his duties and cries until his beard grows long.  Trees die, rivers and seas dry up and evil descends on the world.  Izanagi asks him why he cries and neglects his domains.  Susanoo explains that wants to see his mother Izanami in the underworld.  This episode ends with Izanagi sending Susanoo to sea on a boat in exile. 

Sun Goddess Amaterasu (天照大御神/ Amaterasu Ōkami, 2’11”)



This episode begins with the exiled Susanoo going on a rampage in the heavens, which are the domain of Amaterasu.  Amaterasu is frightened by Susanoo’s behaviousr and hides herself in a cave.  Darkness descends upon the world and brings evil with it.  The gods of all the elements gather by the river near the cave and come up with a plan.  Ame-no-uzume, the goddess of dawn, mirth, and revelry, overturns a tub and does an amusing dance in which she exposes herself while the other gods cheer her on.  Amaterasu is overcome with curiosity about the sounds of celebration.  She wonders if a god more divine than herself has descended from the heavens.   When she opens the cave to peek out, she sees her own reflection on a mirror placed in front of her.  Ame-no-Tajikarawo dashes to close the cave behind her while another god seals the entrance to the cave with a magic shimenawa rope.  Amaterasu is thusly returned to her rightful place bringing sunlight to the heavens and the earth.  The gods tell Susanoo that he must bring offerings in order to be redeemed.  They cut his fingernails and his beard and exile him from the heavens.

Flowering Tree (木花之佐久夜毘売/ Konohananosakuya-bime, 2’31”)



Amaterasu and Takaki-no-kami command the god Ninigi, the grandson of Amaterasu, that he should descend to Earth and govern for them.  At Cape Kasasa, Ninigi meets a beautiful girl.  She tells him that her father is the great mountain god Kamu-Atatsu (also known as Ōyamatsumi).  She is known as Kono-hana , or “Flowering Tree”.  Ninigi is impressed by her and asks her to marry him. She cannot give him and answer and bids him to ask her father for permission.  The great mountain god is happy to accept Ninigi’s proposal and also offers up his other daughter Iwa-Naga (Eternal-as-a-Rock), but Ninigi only wants Konohanasakuya-hime (Kono-hana / Flowering Tree).  He sends back the ugly Iwa-Naga.  If Ninigi had accepted Iwa-Naga, the great mountain god would have blessed him and his descendants with prosperity and longevity (as strong as a rock in a blizzard).  But since Ninigi only accepted Kono-hana, his descendants’ lives will be fleeting (as long as the leaves on a tree).  Princess Kono-hana gets pregnant that night but Ninigi is suspicious.  In order to prove her innocence, she gives birth to three sons in a burning shack.  Her first son is Umisachi (he who harvests from the sea). Her second son is called Hosuseri, while her third son is Yamasachi (he who harvests from the land).

Umisachi and Yamasachi (海佐知山佐知/ Umisachi Yamasachi, 3’30”)



Umisachi harvests from the sea and his brother Yamasachi from the land.  Yamasachi wants to borrow his brother’s fishing rod and offers to trade him for his bow and arrows.  Umisachi turns his brother down three times before relenting.  Yamasachi fails to catch any fish and even loses the hook.  To make it up to his brother he makes thousands of replacement hooks out of his own sword.  But Umisachi is not satisfied.  He wants his own hook back.  Yamasachi cries in despair.  The god of the tides tells Yamasachi he should visit the god of the sea, Ōwatatsumi, for advice.  Ōwatatsumi tells him to marry his daughter Princess Toyotama.  After three carefree years of marriage to Princess Toyotama, Yamasachi remembers his debt to his brother.  He tells his wife about what happened.  Her father summons the fish and asked them if they have the lost hook.  They tell him that it was caught in the throat of a fish.  Ōwatatsumi gives Yamasachi the hook and says that when he gives it to his brother, he should keep his back turned away from his brother and chant “Obochi, Susuchi, Majichi, Uruchi”.   He advises him that if his brother plowed the upper rice paddy, then Yamasachi should plow the lower one.  On the other hand, if he plowed the lower rice paddy, then Yamasachi should plow the upper one.  He will limit the water so that after three years, Yamasachi will prosper while his brother will struggle.  If Umisachi’s grudge leads to war, the Sea God tells Yamasachi to drown his brother using a flood-inducing charm.  If Umisachi apologizes, the ebb-inducing charm can be used to rescue him.  He must ensure that his brother suffers.  Yamasachi does as the father-in-law suggests and eventually Umisachi falls at his brother’s feet to beg forgiveness.  Umisachi swears eternal fealty to his brother. 

The animation style:

Atsushi Makino and Yutaro Kubo assisted Yamamura with the animation for this documentary (see their profiles below).  Both studied under Yamamura at Tokyo University of the Arts, with Makino graduating in 2011 and Kubo this spring.  In the documentary, the NHK includes footage of Yamamura on location in Hyūga taking sketches of the reputed locations for the events that unfold in the stories. 

The character design is distinctly that of Yamamura.  Viewers familiar with his work will notice similarities to characters in films like Mt. Head (2002), Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor (2007), and Muybridge’s Strings (2011).  However, the overall look each of Yamamura’s films is uniquely grounded in the subject matter.  For the Kojiki, Yamamura has chosen a colour palette similar to that of a sumi-e (ink wash painting): blacks and greys with red used for Amaterasu, the spring blossoms of Kono-hana and other scenes where a pop of colour is needed (the sun, flames, to distinguish the fish that swallowed the hook from the other fish, etc.).  The background colour is sepia like that of an aging scroll.  In order to facilitate the episodic nature of these tales, Yamamura transitions from scene to scene by panning the camera from one illustrated vignette to another.  He gives a nod to the fact that these are based on stories that have been passed down from generation to generation on ancient  scrolls by incorporating the characters’ names in Chinese characters into the scenes.  Yamamura’s tendency toward the surreal and absurd in his films is a perfect match for the oddities of the stories – from Amaterasu’s flaming crotch due to the birth of the fire god to depicting the relationship between the gods and the natural world.  The NHK really ought to produce a book of these stories with Yamamura’s illustrations. 

The Animators:

Kōji Yamamura (山村浩二, b. 1964) is from Nagoya.  He studied painting at Tokyo Zokei University (1987).   He founded his own animation studio, Yamamura Animation, with his wife Sanae Yamamura in 1993.   Yamamura has received numerous awards in his career including Grand Prix at prestigious festivals (Annecy 2003, Zagreb 2004, Hiroshima 2004, et al.) and an Oscar nomination (2003).   In addition to making his own films, Yamamura is professor of animation at Tokyo University of the Arts (aka Geidai).  He is currently vice-president of the Japanese Animation Association and a member of the board of the Japanese branch of ASIFA.  Yamamura recently opened an animation store and gallery called Au Praxinoscope in Jiyugaoka.  The gallery is currently holding an exhibition on Pritt Pärn which runs until May 31st and will be followed by an Igor Kovalyov solo exhibition. 


Atsushi Makino (牧野惇, b. 1982) is from the city of Echizen in Fukui Prefecture.  He has a degree in Graphic Design from UMPRUM (Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, 2009) which he followed up with an MA in Animation from Tokyo University of the Arts (2011).   Makino’s graduation film was Specimens of Obsessions (標本の塔, 2011).  He works as an animation director for Eallin Japan.

Yutarō Kubo (久保 雄太郎, b. 1990) is from Ōita.  He did his BA in Animation at Tokyo Polytechnic University (2012) where he made the film crazy for it (watch on vimeo).  He continued his study of animation in the MA programme of Tokyo University of the Arts (2014).  At Geidai, Kubo made the films Kicking Rocks (石けり/Ishikeri, 2013) and 00:08 (2014).   Check out his website or follow him on twitter to learn more.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

"Kojiki" Girl Hyugaji Travelogue (古事記ガール 日向路を旅する, 59 min., 2013)
Reporter: Tomoka Kurotani
Original airdates:
- Saturday, March 16th, 11:00 - 11:59 am, NHK BS Premium
- Sunday, March 24th, 10:05 - 11:04 am, NHK World Premium
- NHK on Demand

Animation Cast and Crew:

Narration: Isamu Akashi, Fukiko Endo
Music: Koji Ueno
Sound Design: Koji Kasamatsu
Animation: Atsushi Makino (Eallin Japan), Yutaro Kubo
Script, Animation, Direction: Koji Yamamura
English subtitles: Dean Shimauchi (Rosemary Dean and Tetsuro Shimauchi)
Production: NHK Enterprise       

French title: Récit des temps anciens : épisodes de Hyûga
Festival edition12’07”, 2013
© 2013 Koji Yamamura / NHK Enterprises       


The Hyuga episode of Kojiki will screen at Nippon Connection 2014 as part of the Koji Yamamura Retrospective.  


A boy who wanted to be a super hero (2004)



Superhero comics usually rely on familiar character types and formulaic plots of good overcoming evil and restoring the status quo.  Such stories are comforting to us as children, and one of the challenges of growing up is coming to terms with the reality that the world and superheroes are not as straightforward as in fiction.   

 A boy who wanted to be a super hero (2004) is an animated short by Hiromitsu Murakami that charts an imaginative young boy’s disenchantment with his dream of becoming a superhero.  Instead of focusing on a more realistic goal; however, this young boy, for reasons he himself cannot even discern, instead dreams of becoming a panda.  The imagined panda becomes the voice inside of the boy that tries to dissuade him from thoughts of depression and suicide, and seeks to restore the dream of being a superhero who can save the world.  Kafkaesque flying fish signal a journey to the past in the seaside town where the boy spent his early childhood.  Donning the guise of the panda himself, the boy witnesses his past self and must come to terms with the deep-rooted feelings of loneliness and inadequacy.  Perhaps the world that needs saving is not an external act, but an internal one. 



Many Japanese independent animators look outside of Japan, particularly to Europe and North America, for role their animation role models.  Hiromitsu Murakami pursued his animation studies in England and the influence of both his native culture and British aesthetics are apparent in his work.  The set design is inspired by real places around Finsbury Park, London and Folkestone, on the English Channel.  Although the sets are English in character, the central protagonist is distinctly Japanese, with a wide-eyed anime look.  The toys that he becomes disenchanted with in the first scene are also inspired by Japanese characters – in one hand he has a kaiju (a monster like Godzilla) and in the other an Ultraman-like superhero. 

This duality between cultures is also reflected in the use of both 2D and 3D animation techniques.  As Murakami himself describes, “At first, I took photographs of people and landscapes and transformed images into an anime look. Then I attached images on flat board and formed along the images. It's a kind of 2.5D cut-out animation in a 3D space.”   It creates a feeling of dislocation in the spectator that reflects the psychological reality of this boy trying to make sense of an often senseless world. 


Hiromitsu Murakami (村上 寛光, b. 1975) has a BA in Imaging Art from Tokyo Polytechnic University (1998) and an MA in animation from the Royal College of Art (2004).  He has been an assistant professor at Tokyo University of the Arts since the inception of its animation programme in 2008.   Follow him on twitter @kaetama.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

Geidai Animation: 1st Animation Works 2010 (DVD)


Geidai Animation: 1st Animation Works 2010
東京藝術大学大学院映像研究科アニメーション専攻
第一期生修了作品集2010

The Graduate School of Film and New Media at Tokyo University of the Arts (aka Geidai) began its 2-Year Animation MA Programme in 2008.  Their first graduating class of eleven students was in 2010 and in this year they inaugurated what has now become a tradition of holding a screening event at the end of the school year (March) and releasing a DVD showcasing their student works.  The students share the copyright of their films with the university.  In return, the university promotes their student works at festivals around the world.  

The class of 2010 was taught by Professors Yuichi Ito (Model Animation), Mitsuko Okamoto (Production), Takehito Deguchi (Screenwriting), and Koji Yamamura (2D animation).  Assistant Professors were animators Hiromitsu Murakami, Sayaka Omodaka and Arisa Wakami and lecturers Ilan Nguyen, Yuichi Kishino, and Eiji Otsuka

With this first graduating class, Geidai set the bar high for itself accepting only the cream of the crop of applicants to their programme.  Following in the footsteps of their mentors, many of the graduating animators of 2010 have gone on to win top prizes at both domestic and international festivals.   The biggest success story so far has been Atsushi Wada whose graduate film In a Pig's Eye (2010) was nominated at Zagreb, Annecy, Hiroshima, and Ottawa, and won the Best Film at Fantoche, and the Grand Prix at the London International Animation Film Festival.   He then went on to win the prestigious Silver Bear at the Berlinale with The Great Rabbit (2012).  Other top animators to win the Silver Bear include Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart in 1956 for Rhythmetic, Paul Driessen in 1981 for On Land, at Sea and in the Air, and Ishu Patel in 1985 for Paradise.

The female animators of this inaugural graduating year are also outstanding.  In the tradition of Caroline Leaf and Aleksandr Petrov, Saori Shiroki has been making a name for herself with her monochrome paint-on-glass animation.  Aico Kitamura's Getting Dressed is an excellent film and I am impatient to see more work from this budding artist.

The cover art for the DVD is illustrated by Yoshiko Misumi and Aico Kitamura.  The opening trailer is directed by   Hiromitsu Murakami.  The DVD comes with a booklet of film descriptions and animator bios.  The DVD itself includes the 11 graduating works in Japanese and English.  Unless otherwise noted, the film descriptions below are from the booklet.  I have included links to the full reviews that I have written for some of the films.  The bios have been updated with the most current information I could find.  Links to official websites and social media have also been included.    



Yotsuya Alpha Beta
四ッ谷いろは / Yotsuya Iroha / 2010 / 6'32"

“The Yotsuya Alphabet story tells of a girl caught in a surreal world with the use of Japanese characters.  The story is about the girl who lives in the town called Yotsuya and wanders around the surreal world.  Eventually she melts down and becomes a part of the Yotsuya town.  Is the town real or only her imagination?”

Nana Anzai (安西奈々, b. 1985) is from Hiroshima.  She did her BA at Tama Art University (2008) and graduated from Geidai in 2010.  Follow her on Twitter @nananna7 or YouTube.




The Gift of the Magi
賢者の贈り物/ Kenja no Okurimono / 2010/ 12'48"

“This is a story about Jim, an apprentice magician, and Della, his wife, on Christmas Day.  Della has her beautiful and long hair cut off and sells it in order to buy him a present that is a chain made for his gold watch.  In the evening, Jim reaches home, but is stunned to see her look so different.”

Toshikazu Ishii (石井寿和, b. 1984) is from Chiba.  He did his BA at Waseda University and graduated from Geidai in 2010.  Ishii teaches how to make stop motion figures using armature at Otomeru alongside Keita Funamoto and Masahide Kobayashi.  See him teaching armature on Otomoru’s website.  Learn more about Keita Funamoto in Stop Motion Magazine (February 2011, Issue #10). 


Gathering
収集家の散歩/ Shūshūka no Sambo  / 2010 /  6'13"

“A day and a collector’s stroll.  He goes out from his apartment for a stroll in the park.  He walks and sees things in the park unintentionally and these are gathered in his mind one after another.  How do we memorize things in an ordinary life?  Our mind is like a scrapbook, gathered and stuffed with mess.”

Akiko Omi (大見明子, b. 1977) is from Nara.  She has a BA (Hons) in Theatre, Set Design for Stage and Screen from Wimbledon College of Art (UAL, 2004).  After working as a modeller at an animation studio, Omi pursued her MA at Geidai (2010).  She won the Yōji Kuri Award at the ASK? Film Festival in 2010 and has shown her work at international festivals and galleries.  Check out her official website for samples of her work or follow her on Twitter @AkikoOmi.


Getting Dressed
服を着るまで/ Fuku wo kirumade / 2010 / 9'17"

“This woman has detached herself from the outside world.  For her, it is daily work to feed her bird and to look at the town from her window.  Because she doesn’t go out, she does not even put on clothes.  However, this daily life has ended.  She has run out of the cornflakes that she eats every day. As we get up in the morning and put on clothes, we are alive in a social system.  Nobody understands whether it is the correct world.  However, even if you escape from the system, the day you have to return will come.”

Aico Kitamura (北村愛子, b. 1985) was born in Kyoto.  While a student at Kyoto Seika University she discovered the world of independent animation and graduated with a degree in Graphic Arts.  She completed her MA at Geidai in 2010.   Check out her official website and follow her on Twitter. @Aico_kitamura.


Woman who stole fingers
指を盗んだ女 / Yubi wo nusunda onna / 2010 / 4'15"

“One day, a boy who separated from his mother’s hand is deprived of his fingers.  His fingers become a larva and part from his hand.  The house. .  .  conceal[s] a relationship between the two from anyone.  How does the boy who is deprived of his finger[s] grow up?”

Saori Shiroki (銀木沙織, b. 1984) was born in Saitama.  She did her BA in Oil Painting at Tama Art University (2007) followed by an MA in Animation at Geidai (2010).  She is a member of CALF Studio and has made a name for herself at international festivals as a paint-on-glass animator.  Follow her on vimeo.


Bring Me Up
つままれるコマ / Tsumamareru Koma / 2010 / 6'40"

“Almost everyone in a contemporary society is picked up and moved by someone or something like a ‘Sugoroku’.  The first one which picks up is ‘Parents’.  A hero grows up along a ‘Sugoroku’.  This work describes.  .  .  the process of his growth [as] he depends on his parents.  .  .  One day he decides to cut off his relationship with his family.” 

Bring Me Up received a special mention at Animafest Zagreb 2010.

Miki Tanaka (田中美妃, b. 1982) is from Tokyo.  She has a BA in Design from Geidai (2004) in addition to her MA in Animation (2010).  Tanaka is a partner of CALF Studio and works as an independent animator.  Check out her official website to see samples of her recent work.


anti-chaos
強迫的な秩序についてのカエル / Kyōhakuteki na Chitsujo ni Tsuite no Kaeru / 2010 / 4'05"

“It’s a story about a frog who is eager to make his companions stand [in] a line.  He is the only one who wears an armlet, and has a [slightly] different skin colour from the other frogs.  This work focuses on the relationship between the ‘rulers’ and ‘ruled ones’, and describes the consequences of some unexpected events.”

Shino Nagasako (永迫志乃, b.1983) was born in Hiroshima.  He has a BA in Graphic Design from Tama Art University (2007) and an MA in Animation from Geidai (2010).  His graduate film from Tamabi, The Kitty and the Pony (ネコの人とウマの人, 2007) won an Excellence Prize at the 2nd Annual Charanime-kobo Movie Contest (2007).   Learn more about him on his official website and check out his work on vimeo.


CLIMBER
2010 / 5'49"

“Climbers are try to conquer an endless stone pillar.  Each one of them keeps on climbing They are the symbols of accumulation.” Source: Anima Mundi catalogue

Akifumi Nonaka (野中晶史, b. 1985) is from Shizuoka.  He has a BA in Design and Architecture from Nagoya City University and an MA in Animation from Geidai (2010).  He freelances as an independent animator.  Check out his official website and follow him on twitter @noakitw and Youtube.  His most recent indie short is called The Rush Hour Commuters (通勤ラッシャーズ, 2013).


PapA
2010 / 3'45"

“When there are light sources and objects, shadows can sure there.  .  .  There is an object blocking the light.  .  .  The shadow is proof [that the object is there].  If the shadow [disappears], you should think that the object ha[s] disappeared.  It is the only reality.”

Kumi Matsui (松井久美, b. 1985) was born in Tokyo.  She has a BA in Animation from Tokyo Polytechnic University (2008) and an MA in Animation from Geidai (2010).  Her film Wild Pear (やまなし, 2009) won the Grand Prize at the Media Contents Awards (2009).  Follow her on twitter @kumimaru.


Googuri Googuri
2010 / 8'22"

“Story of a girl’s imagination.  ‘Googuri Googuri’ is a made up word, a secret word shared by a girl and her grandfather.  For the granddaughter, her grandfather is at times like a mountain, at times like a tree, at other times like an ocean, and her thoughts take wing into her imagination endlessly.”  

Yoshiko Misumi (三角芳子, b. 1978) was born in Fukuoka.  She has a degree in Textiles from Geidai in addition to her MA in Animation (2010).  Her animated short for the NHK A Tale of a Carefree King (王さまものがたり, 2007) made the Jury Selection at the Japan Media Arts Festival (2007).  Googuri Googuri competed in international festivals and won the top prize at the ASK? Film Festival 2010.  Check out her official website.



In a Pig's Eye
わからないブタ / Wakaranai Buta / 2010 / 10'00"

“[A] surreal snapshot of the life of a family, and the giant pig blocking their front door.”MIFF catalogue


Atsushi Wada (和田淳, b. 1980) is from Hyogo Prefecture.  He started off as a self-taught animator in 2002 and did the Animation Workshop at Image Forum before doing his MA at Geidai (2010).  Wada is the most successful graduate of the first graduating class winning awards at many festivals including the top awards at Fantoche and the London International Animation Festival.  The Mechanism of Spring (2010) premiered at the Venice Film Festival and The Great Rabbit (2012) won the Silver Bear at the Berlinale.  Wada is a founding member of CALF.  Check out his official website and follow him on twitter @Atsushi_Wada.  In addition to working as an independent animator he currently teaches at Otemae University in Hyogo. 


Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

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