28 October 2014

L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume 2 (DVD/Blu-Ray release, FR/EN, 2014)

When French indie label Les Films du Paradoxe and independent production/distribution company CaRTe bLaNChe  released the combination DVD/Blu-Ray L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume 1 in 2013, it created a lot of excitement among alternative animation fans.  This was not only because rare films like Dreams (2011), pop art legend Keiichi Tanaami’s final collaboration with the late Nobuhiro Aihara, were being made available for purchase with English and French subs, but also because “Volume 1” indicated that there was a possibility of future releases!

Volume 2 was indeed launched at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival this past spring.  It features 8 films by 6 directors.  The DVD/Bluray finally makes Keita Kurosaka’s 2010 cult favourite Midori-ko available to a wider audience.  Fans of Kurosaka, the master of the grotesque in animation, can also delight in his even rarer 2005 short My Face

The discs also feature recent works by established animators Atsushi Wada and Mirai Mizue, as well as experimental filmmaker Isamu Hirabayashi.  Rounding off this impressive list of artists are two up-and-coming women directors Yoriko Mizushiri, who has been a real festival favourite since the release of her film Futon (布団) in 2012, and Yoko Kuno, whose music video Airy Me for Cuushe, has won acclaim including the New Face Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival last year. 

Here is the complete list of films with links to further information:


Midori-ko (2010) and My Face (ワタシノカオ, 2005) by Keita Kurosaka


In a Pig's Eye (2010) by Atsushi Wada


WONDER (2014) and AND AND (2011) by Mirai Mizue


Snow Hut (2013) by Yoriko Mizushiri


NINJA & SOLDIER (2012) by Isamu Hirabayashi


Airy Me (2013) by Yoko Kuno

L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume 2 is packed in a card paper sleeve that contains both a DVD and a Bluray.  Both discs have English and French menus as well as subtitles when needed.  It can be purchased via Amazon France

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2014

26 October 2014

Sumo Lake (相撲の湖, 2011)




Sumo Lake (相撲の湖, 2011) is a humorous, hand-drawn animated short by Canadian-Australian artist Greg Holfeld (グレッグ ホルフェルド, b. 1965).  The official Japanese name that appears in the film is an attempt at a katakana rendering of the English title: スーモー・ルエク.  Unfortunately, as Holfeld told me himself at Hiroshima 2014 (he was on this year’s selection committee), he found out too late that this was inaccurate.  To begin with, “sumo” does not have a long “u”, and “ルエク” is not commonly used for “Lake” in Japanese.  So, I have amended the title to more authentically capture the English title of the film, which is a play on Swan Lake (白鳥の湖), the nineteenth century ballet composed by Tchaikovsky.


Holfeld’s interest in sumo wrestling dates back to 1990, when he lived in Tokyo.  His attention was captured by the sight of the Hawaiian wrestler Konishiki, the heaviest rikishi ever in sumo with a peak weight of 287kg.   Around this time David Benjamin asked him to illustrate The Joy of Sumo: A Fan’s Notes (1992), which is currently in print in its revised form: Sumo: A Thinking Man’s Guide to the National Sport (2010).  The initial inspiration for this film; however, was a pitch painting by Eddie White and Ari Gibson, co-directors of the animated short The Cat Piano (2009), about a sumo wrestler who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer.  Learn more here.



As with all great comedy, Holfeld takes a simple conceit, the notion of a large, ungainly sumo wrestler doing ballet, and executes it brilliantly for the screen.  The story begins with a wind-up sumo doll performing shiko (四股), the side-to-side stomping that sumo wrestlers ritually perform at the beginning out each bout in order to drive away any demons.  A wider shot shows the tiny doll is facing a large sumo wrestler, who also performs shiko, causing the wind-up doll to fall over, face down.  The wrestler picks up the doll and tries again, but his time the doll clatters away and disappears as if falling into water.  A moment later, the figure re-emerges from the water like “The Lady of the Lake” of Arthurian legend, but the wind-up doll has transformed into a lifelike sumo wrestler on his toes like a ballet dancer. 



The two wrestlers face-off and begin to wrestle one another, but midway through their fight transforms into a graceful pas de deux.  One wrestler sinks into the water yet again, then re-emerges for another showdown.  However, this battle gets interrupted by the stomping foot of a Godzilla-esque kaiju.  Thus commences the climax of the film, which is a hilarious combination of epic battle and dance off.  The icing on the cake is the glorious soundtrack composed by Benjamin Speed in a style similar to that of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.  It is a beautifully drawn film, as you can see from some of materials Holfeld has shared on his website.  The three-minute film consists of 1,300 drawings – a total of 6.24 kg of paper.  The simplicity of the pencil sketch on paper style is delightful, particularly when paired with the complexity of character movement. 

Sumo Lake can be viewed on Vimeo.  You can support Greg Holfeld by buying his books and comics.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014


24 October 2014

Ninja & Soldier (2012)



Children have been playing war games for as long as adult have been engaging in war, as the touring V&A Museum of Childhood touring exhibition War Games demonstrates.  From “cowboys & Indians” and “cops & robbers” to re-enacting actual battles with toys, children use these games to role play being a hero.  Award-winning experimental filmmaker Isamu Hirabayashi (A Story Constructed of 17 Pieces of Space and 1 Maggot, 663114, Soliton) explores the relationship between war games and actually engaging in violence in his animated short Ninja & Soldier (2012). 


Against a backdrop that looks like a traditional Japanese scroll, two crayon-drawn figures of children introduce themselves.  Ken is a ninja from Japan, while Nito is a soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  At first the two 8-year-old boys try to one-up each other, in the way that children often do in such games.  Ninja and soldiers are very strong, they proclaim.  Ken brags that he can kill an enemy with his throwing star (shuriken), while Nito explains that he can kill an enemy with his rifle. 



As the kids continue to describe their exploits, it becomes clear that Ken has only played at being a ninja in the park, while Nito has actually killed people.  The soundtrack becomes distorted when Nito reveals that he killed his own mother.  Ken accuses Nito of lying, but Nito explains how he was forced to become a child soldier in the Congo by men who threatened to kill him if he did not execute his own mother. 

Nito’s horrific story is told against a collage of photographs by Ani Watanabe.   It soon becomes clear that what is just play to one child is a terrifying reality to another.  By comparing and contrasting the children’s stories, Hirabayashi reveals that all children are susceptible to acts of violence, but whether or not they commit it themselves is a product of the circumstances in which they live.  In order to highlight the universality of this story, Hirabayashi has the actors use a made-up language which is only made comprehensible through childlike scrawls of text “translating” it. 

Ninja & Soldier has shown at international festivals including the Berlinale 2013 and Image Forum Fesitval 2013.  It appears on the CaRTe bLaNChe / Les Films du Paradoxe DVD: L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume 2 (DVD/Blu-Ray release, FR/EN, 2014).

Director:
Isamu Hirabayashi

Producer:
Yasuo Fukuro

Drawing & Animation:
Isamu Hirabayashi

Photographer:

Graphic Artist:
Katsuya Terada

Art Director:
Ken Murakami

Animation Assistant:
Mina Yonezawa

Voice Actors:
Reigo Mizoguchi
Shion Noda

Composer:
Takashi Watanabe

Assistant Composer:
Kina Kuriwaki

Clarinet Ensemble:
Hidenao Aoyama
Shizuka Omata
Toshiyuki Muranishi
Terumichi Aoyama

Sound Design:
Keitaro Iijima

Foley Artists:
Yu Arisawa
Momoko Iijima

Sound Studio:
Kobe Institute of Computing-College of Computing

Distributor:
Tamaki Okamoto (CaRTe bLaNChe)


Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

07 October 2014

A Visit to Tochka’s Studio in Kyoto



After Hiroshima 2014, I jumped on the Shinkansen to Kyoto to meet up with my family and some of the researchers headed to the Satoyama Concept gathering with us in Fukui Prefecture.  Of course, I could not stop in Kyoto without paying a visit to one of my favourite animation teams: TOCHKA.  I have been following their projects for many years (see: Tochka Works 2001-2010) and had the chance of participating in one of their PiKA PiKA Workshops at Nippon Connection 2011.

Tochka (トーチカ) is a collaborative art team led by Takeshi Nagata (ナガタタケシ, b. 1978) and Kazue Monno (モンノカヅエ, b. 1978).  The couple met as art students at Kyoto College of Art where they were mentored by the late experimental animator Nobuhiro Aihara (相原信洋, 1944-2011).  Tochka are renowned stop motion animators who have won acclaim at international festivals including Ottawa (Honorable Mention, 2006), the Japan Media Arts Festival (Excellence Award, 2006), and Clermont-Ferrand (Grand Prix, 2008).  Nagata also works in the Moving Image Lab at the Osaka Electro-Communication University.  They are best known for their innovative PiKA PiKA (Lightning Doodle) animation technique. 

Tochka has recently moved to new studios in a former elementary school which the local government has converted into studio spaces for artists.  With its high ceilings, oversized windows and beautiful hardwood floors, it is the perfect location for artists to work.  There are a number of other artists working in the building including sculptors and painters. 

Takeshi Nagata showed me some of their recent work including a stop motion using objects they had around their studio for a collaborative work for the Korean Indie-Anifest and the trailer for the Nara Arts Festival (奈良県大芸術祭, Sept 1 – November 30), which has been playing on video screens throughout Nara Prefecture’s transportation system since August.  The trailer features three dimensional PiKA PiKA animation dancing around some of Nara’s most famous historical and cultural sites starting with a beautiful pixillation sequence of the sun setting on the legendary Ishibutai Tomb (石舞台古墳), one of the ancient stone monuments in Asuka.    The sun appears to light a flame inside the tomb, which gives birth to a PiKA PiKA animation of the Chinese character (big), which features in the title of the festival (the literal translation of the festival name is Nara Prefecture Big Arts Festival).  This character has a lot of significance in Nara because it is home to the oldest Daibutsu (大仏/ “Big Buddha”) statue at Asuka-dera and the most famous Daibutsu at Tōdai-ji.

There a glorious pixilation sequence of the Daibutsu at Tōdai-ji in which PiKA PiKA Lightning Doodles appear to dance around the Buddha as the camera sweeps in a 180° rotation around the pedestal and wood beams housing the statue.  Colourful PiKA PiKA characters also swirl around the spiral in Muro Sanjo Park Art Forest.  No advertisement for a festival in Nara would be complete without an appearance of the mascot Sento-kun (せんとくん ), designed by Nara City Office to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the completion of Nara Heijō-kyō (the ancient capital of Japan) in 2010.  The character looks like an infant Buddha with antler representing the deer for which Nara is famous. 



Tochka were a great choice for this trailer, because the collaborative nature of PiKA PiKA animation – as demonstrated in the sequences showing participants of all ages – really captures the kind of inclusive atmosphere one expects at a festival.  It certainly made me wish I was in Nara to enjoy the sights and festival events.

At Tochka’s studios we also saw footage from a recent installation project they did near their Kyoto Studios which allowed children to experience a Mission Impossible style space.  Using movement sensitive lights, they rigged up a room with “laser beams” that the children had to try to navigate without toughing the beams of light.  It looked like a lot of fun for the participants.

Nagata-san gave me a copy of his feature film Okappa-chan Travels Abroad (おかっぱちゃん旅に出る/ Okappa-chan Tabi ni Deru, 2011).  This a feature film adaptation of the autobiographical illustrated book of the same name by the writer/artist Boojil (ブージル, b. 1984).  Boojil stars as her quirky self as she recreates her journey of self-discovery in Thailand and Laos.  The film is in Thai, Japanese, and English and the Japanese DVD release comes with subtitles in all three languages plus Korean and Chinese.   The DVD includes a postcard featuring art by Boojil, Boojil stickers, and a detailed booklet.  You can order a copy through cdjapan.


After our studio tour, Tochka took us to the Kyoto International Manga Museum where we could browse their extensive collection of manga, learn about the history of manga, and explore the fascinating exhibit of 43 Years, 18,000 Pages – The Complete Works of Tsuchida Seiki (土田世紀全原画展――43年、18,000).  Seiki (土田世紀, 1969-2012) was a highly respected manga-ka who won the Excellent Prize at the Media Arts Festival in 1999 for Under the Same Moon (同じ月を見ている) which was adapted into a film of the same name by Kenta Fukusaku in 2005.  Seiki was due to contribute to Shueisha’s new Grand Jump Premium magazine in 2012 when he died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of only 43 (Source: ANN).  The Manga Museum’s exhibit demonstrated the astounding output of this artist who was cut short at the height of his powers.  The most moving sections for me were the room with a glass floor where you could walk over scattered pages of his work, and Seiki’s plain, empty desk covered in scratch marks and ink spills. 


By this time, our tummies were growling, so Tochka took us out to Kyoto’s unofficial "Ramen Street" – the approximately 30+ ramen restaurants on and around Hagishi Oji Dori.  The reason for the congregation of reasonably priced Chinese noodles is the proximity to Kyoto’s university campuses.  As the more popular spots had giant line ups, we went for a simple family run place that really hit the spot.  


After lunch, we popped around the corner to Keibunsha Ichijoji (恵文社一乗寺店) Bookstore, Gift Shop, and Art Gallery.  We could have easily dropped a fortune on lovely things at this amazing shop.  They even had unusual works like Kōji Yamamura’s Muybridge’s Strings Flip Books (a tie in to his NFB co-production) and pins of Uncle Torys  (トリスおじさん) – the animated character designed by indie animation pioneer Ryōhei Yanagihara to advertise Suntory’s Torys Whisky.  I got a pin, while the kids bought books about Kaiju. 


We concluded our day with Tochka with Nagata-san taking us to the Sagano Romantic Train (嵯峨野観光鉄道).  Particularly popular in autumn, the train took us along the Hozu River with views of the gorge and a glimpse of Satoyama at the end before we headed back.  It was a wonderful day and Tochka’s hospitality is hard to beat.  I hope we can return the favour by having them as our guests in Germany in the near future.  

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2014

Pecora’ped (ペコラペッド)


Pecora’ped (ペコラペッド)
I was quite taken by the enthusiasm of two young animation entrepreneurs, Miyako Nishio (西尾都) and Ikue Sugidono (杉殿育恵) at Hiroshima 2014.  Working as an animation team since 2006, Nishio and Sugidono use the name Pecora’ped (ペコラペッド / Pekorapeddo). 



I should point out that the apostrophe in their official name has been inserted by me to aid English speakers with pronunciation of their unusual name.  As is often the case with Japanese artists, their use of English can sometimes lead to unfortunate choices in names and titles.  As it seemed unlikely that these two bright-eyed women with such a kawaii aesthetic intended to use a violent word like “raped” in their name, I dug a little deeper and found that the name Pecora’ped is the result of bringing together the words “Pecora” and “moped”.  “Pecora” is from the Latin (and modern Italian) for sheep (in English it is also used by scientists for the infraorder of mammals to which sheep belong).   Apparently, Nishio and Sugidono wanted their name to bring together the fluffiness of sheep and the rapid movements they associate with mopeds.  I am not sure how effective the name is in Japanese, but if they want to market themselves abroad with their cheerful and fluffy image, they may want to consider re-branding their romaji name. 

Nishio and Sugidono met as students at Hiroshima City University’s Department of Design and Applied Arts.  Since graduating in 2006, Nishio worked as a designer for five years for Nintendo, while Sugidono has worked as a freelance animator and artist.  Sugidono’s indie work Madly in Love (メロメロ, 2013) has screened widely at international festivals from ASK? Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prize, to Tricky Women, Image Forum Festival, and most recently Fantoche.  



According to their official website, Pecora’ped aim to provide their viewers with “ukki-uki and wakku-waku experiences” (うっきうき!わっくわく).  I am not exactly sure why they have altered the spelling slightly, but uki-uki (うきうき) and waku-waku (わくわく) are common onomatopoeia in Japanese meaning “cheerful / lighthearted” and “exciting / thrilling”.

Their DVD The Films of Pecoraped 2007-2014.7 starts off with their earliest film together, Straying Little Red Riding Hood (迷走赤ずきん, 2007), an amusing over-the-top retelling of the classic fairy-tale done in a cutout-style with simple animation movements. SPONCHOI Pispochoi (2010) is a colourful little film featuring cheerful humanoid insect-like creatures who giggle and chat.  When they start growing moles on their faces they start to sing about this, determined to remain cheerful about this potential flaw in their otherwise perfect lives.  More and more disturbing things happen to these poor creatures but they remain resolute in their determination to remain cheerful.


In conclusion, the DVD features four short-shorts completed by Pecorap’ed this year: Baking Mochito (ぷぅっと もち彦, 2014), an animated haiku dedicated to the New Year’s tradition of roasting mochi (rice cakes), Evolutionary Tree (進化の樹2014), a cutout celebration of the natural world, Human Gene Pool (人間の遺伝子プール, 2014) an unusual take on humanity with some very unexpected twists, and Model Organisms Collection (モデルの生物コレクション,2014) a fashion show featuring various organisms, real and imaginary, with Darwin himself taking the stage as if he were the designer.

The DVD is not a complete works.  For a taste of their work so far, check out their Show Reel and other films on Vimeo.  You can also check out their contribution to the award-winning NHK omnibus Shinichi Hoshi Short-Shorts (星新一ショートショート調査, 2008) by ordering the DVD.

What really impressed me at Hiroshima was Nishio and Sugidono's entrepreneurial spirit.  In addition to the DVD, they had made beautiful jewelry, stationery, and other lovely gift ideas using characters from their animations.  They also make picture books and illustrations and are enthusiastic about collaborating with other artists and running animation / art workshops.  The tree-shaped brooch that I bought made a lovely souvenir of the animation festival and tied in well to the Satoyama Concept workshop that I attended in Fukui Prefecture after the festival.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014 





03 October 2014

The Last Air Raid Kumagaya (最後の空襲くまがや, 1993)


In 1978, Renzō and Sayoko Kinoshita, made the powerful ground-breaking film Pica-Don (ピカドン, 1978) which depicts the bombing of Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945 from the perspective of the victims of the atrocity.  An early example of an animated documentary, the Pica-Don was based on the testimonies and drawings of the survivors.  This use of animation to depict the unimaginable was done with the intent of educating people around the world about the horrors of war in effort to bring about world peace.  It is this same desire for “love and peace” that led the Kinoshitas to become involved in the founding of the Hiroshima International Animation Festival in 1985 (Source: hiroanim.org)

With The Last Air Raid Kumagaya (最後の空襲くまがや / Saigo no Kūshū Kumagaya, 1993), Renzō and Sayoko Kinoshita continue to drive home the message about the futility of war.  As they did with Pica-Don, they based this 29-minute long animated film on historical records, interviews with witnesses/survivors, and the documents belonging to survivors. 



The first part of the film is critical of domestic propaganda.  A female narrator says that the common people of Japan were ignorant of the “evils of war”, such as the atrocities’ committed by their military in the South Pacific and Okinawa.   The film suggests that people believed the propaganda, which hid from them the fact that the Japanese were fighting a losing battle.  The narrator says that in the closing days of the war, the general populace believed the myths of their country’s victories abroad and were oblivious that their emperor was on the verge of surrender. 

It is in this context that the story of the last American air raid on Japan unfolds.  The central character is a 7 year old girl called Sachiko.  She has just lost her immediate family in the firebombing of Tokyo and takes the train to her uncle’s family in Kumagaya in Saitama Prefecture.  She is not out of danger yet, for the train gets shot at by a plane along the journey.  Her uncle meets her at the station and he and his whole family welcome her with open arms.  With her cousins, Sachiko explores the beauty of the natural landscape around Kumagaya. 


Sadly, these beautiful days of late summer are not to last.  The final movement of the film depicts the final air raid of the war.  The city descends into fear and chaos and Sachiko gets separated from her family with tragic results.  This film has no happy ending, for war brings no happy endings except in schmaltzy Hollywood features.  Just when you think the film has served up more sadness than you can bear, the shock ending is a real kick in the gut.  Along with Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓, 1988), this film not only has a strong anti-war message, but it also the highlights the suffering of children in times of war.   

The terrible irony of what happened in Kumagaya on August 15, 1945, was that as the people were reeling in shock in the ashes of the attack, Emperor Hirohito’s speech announcing Japan’s defeat came on the radio.  It is hard to imagine how the people of Kumagaya, and other cities bombed that final day (Osaka, Tokoyama, Isesaki) felt about the futility of their suffering at that moment.

This short film, animated beautifully with handmade cutouts, can be screened at the Peace Museum of Saitama (埼玉県平和資料館).  It is a useful educational film, but I would not recommend it for children under the age of 14.  It has deeply distressing imagery and raises some important political debates that require careful guidance by educators.  Although we do glimpse the American planes responsible for the air raids, I would argue that the film actually points the blame for the suffering of the Japanese people during the war on the Japanese government itself.  It is not easy material, but certainly useful when taught in the greater context of propaganda and war.


Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

02 October 2014

International Animation Day in Japan


International Animation Day in Japan

October 28th, 1892 marks the occasion when Émile Reynaud (1844 - 1918) presented the first public animation screening at the Musée Grévin in Paris.  Since 2002, ASIFA (Association Internationale du Film d'Animation / the  International Animated Film Association) has celebrated this historic occasion as International Animation Day (IAD) with the goal of promoting and developing animation art all over the world simultaneously.  Too date, the event has been celebrated in over 40 countries. 

Each year, ASIFA asks a famous director to create the poster design for the IAD.  Poster design artists have included Daniela Bak, Iouri Tcherenkov, Eric Ledune, Paul Driessen, Noureddin Zarrinkelk, Abi Feijo, Michel Ocelot, Nina Paley, Raoul Servais, Ihab Shaker and Gianluigi Toccafondo.  This year’s poster has been designed by Oscar-nominated animator Kōji Yamamura (Mt. Head, Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor, Muybridge’s Strings).    

IAD 2014 in Japan will be held throughout October and November in three cities – Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka (details and links below). The screenings will showcase inspiring animation films from Japan and overseas.  ASIFA JAPAN also makes available 3 DVDs of innovative Japanese animation shorts for ASIFA screenings abroad.

IAD 2014 in Kyoto (info)
October 31st, at 17:00-19:30
Eizo Hall in the Art and Culture Information Centre
Kyoto University of Art and Design.

IAD 2014 in Osaka (info)
November 6th
Osaka Designer’s College

IAD 2014 in Hiroshima (info)
October – November
Hiroshima City Cinematographic and Audio-Visual Library (Eizo Bunka Library)
+ eight public facilities in each of the eight wards in Hiroshima.


琉球王国 Made in Okinawa (2004)



When Renzō Kinoshita (木下蓮三, 1936 - 1997) passed away in 1997 at the early age of 60, he left behind an unfinished project called Ryūkyū Ōkoku – Made in Okinawa (琉球王国 – Made in Okinawa, 2004) dedicated to the history and people of the Ryūkyū Islands of Okinawa Prefecture.  The storyboard for the animated short was completed in 1996, and after his death his wife Sayoko Kinoshita (木下小夜子, b. 1945) completed the film. (Source: ASIFA JAPAN).  This animated 'documentary' short, which was shot on 35mm, played widely at international film and animation festivals from 2005-2007, and since then has shown at ASIFA screenings (Source: ASIFA JAPAN) at events such as International Animation Day

In a prologue to the title screen, the film presents a beautiful cutout sequence of the sea – the defining element of Okinawan island culture – along with other significant symbols of Okinawan culture.  A red-cheeked god, nanachi-bushi (the Big Dipper / Ursa Major), a traditional fan, the rising of the red sun out of the sea: these images all culminate with the face of the Ryūkyū god of nature in white dress.  He looks directly into the camera, as if to challenge the spectator to think carefully about the culture and history of these islands. He places his hands on a palm tree and its leaves flourish.  The sequence ends with a sequence of fish in their plenitude.

A Ryūkyū man dressed in a traditional bashōfu (芭蕉布 / banana plant cloth) kimono lies on the beach looking out to the sea.  As he lies there, we witness the passage of time on the islands.  At first there is peace and time seems to move slowly.  Only the music and the occasional movements of the man indicate the passage of time.  Finally a man carrying water passes by, followed by other people representative of times past: market vendors, peasants, the red-cheeked god dancing at a matsuri (festival).  But as the film progresses, the islands prove to be the meeting place of many cultures.

Okinawa has long been strategically important due to its central position in the East China Sea.  With Japan and Korea to the north, Taiwan and the Philippines to the south, and China to the west, the Ryūkyū were (and still are) significant for both for sea-going trade and political control in the region.  The Kinoshitas depict boats with various flags passing the islands, and present a montage of the cultural influences on Okinawan life.  This ranges from the benign (countries who want to trade with the people of the Ryūkyū Islands) to the threatening (countries who invaded/colonised the region).



The film is a great tool for teaching Okinawan history to secondary school children and university students, for there are visual references to many key historical events.  These include trade with the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the invasion of Ryūkyū Kingdom by the Satsuma Clan (1609) during the early days of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868), the Ryūkyūan missions to Edo (琉球江戸上り / Ryūkyū Edo Nobori) following the invasion, and the landing of American Commodore Matthew C. Perry at Naha Port on May 26, 1853.

The montage of events becomes more intense as the region enters the modern era beginning with the advent of the Meiji Period (1968-1912), which saw the abolition of the Ryūkyū Clan and establishment of Okinawa Prefecture (1879). The animated short also depicts the Crown Prince of Japan (Hirohito) visiting Okinawa briefly in 1921 at the outset of his famous extended tour of Europe.  The most dramatic sequences concern the terrible events experienced by Okinawans during the Second World War and the American Occupation of the islands.  Historical events are not presented in a strictly chronological order, but are often juxtaposed against past and future events in a complex way that provokes debate and critique. 

In conclusion, the film raises questions about the modernisation of Okinawa and leaves the audience much to consider regarding the region’s future.  As in their earlier films, particularly Pica-don (ピカドン, 1978) and The Last Air Raid Kumagaya (最後の空襲くまがや, 1993), the Kinoshitas do not shy away from presenting the harsh realities of the atrocities that have occurred in Okinawa.  The horrors of the Battle of Okinawa and the notorious forced mass suicides are difficult to watch, but clearly necessary to understanding the ongoing frictions between Okinawa and the Japanese government.  Although they are Japanese from Osaka and Tokyo respectively, Renzō and Sayoko Kinoshita clearly sympathize with the plight of the Okinawan people and the film expresses their desire for a peaceful future for the islands.   


Credits:

Directors:
Renzō Kinoshita
Sayoko Kinoshita

Producer:
Sayoko Kinoshita
Studio Lotus

Music:
Reijiro Koraku

Music Producer:
Yoshi Ando

Music Production:
Company Aza

Music Recording Studio:
Backpage Studio

Recording Engineer:
Mikio Obata

Sound Recording:
Kunio Ando

Sound Recording Studio:
Aoi Studio

Sound Production:
Magic Capsule

Sound Production Manager:
Rika Ishibashi

Okinawan Music:
Chibana Sanshin Club

Voices (Okinawan dialect):
Takashi Uehara
Masaru Taira

Camera:
Hisao Shirai
Teruo Tsuda

Editing:
Chikako Fukui
Yasuhito Fukui

Production Assistant:
Masahiro Hayashi

Production Manager:
Makiko Nagao

Laboratory:
Imagica


Selected Filmography

1972       Made in Japan   / Nippon Seizou                 
1977       Japonese                              
1978       Pica-don / ピカドン    
1986       Geba Geba Showtime / ゲバゲバショウタイム           
1989       Self Portrait, part of David Ehrlich’s collaborative work Animated Self Portraits
1993       The Last Air Raid Kumagaya / 最後の空襲くまがや 
1994       A Little Journey                 / ひろしくんは空がすき                         
2004       Ryūkyū Oukoku Made in Okinawa        琉球王国Made in Okinawa       

For a complete filmography and links to secondary sources on the Kinoshitas, visit the Japanese Animation Filmography Project

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2014



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