25 February 2015

Makoto Wada’s Movie Inspired Art 2: Hollywood Classics



Makoto Wada (和田誠, b. 1936) is best known as an illustrator whose work has adorned the pages of writers as diverse as Shinichi Hoshi, Haruki Murakami, and Agatha Christie.  In addition to illustration, he has also dabbled in film directing and animation – winning the Noburo Ofuji Award for 1964 for his comic animated short Murder (殺人).  In Murder, he spoofs a wide variety of famous film and literary icons including Poirot, Sam Spade, Dracula and James Bond.  He has also done a range of paintings inspired by film stars and classic movies.  This is my second in a series of posts looking at his art and his cinematic muses.  See: Part 1: Early Hollywood.

You can support this artist by ordering collections of his work such as:



This image of Marilyn Monroe is not from a movie, but it is one of the iconic images of the more personal side of Marilyn that the press rarely saw in the 1950s.  Instead of looking all glammed up, Marilyn is dressed in a modest bathing suit and is reading from her copy of James Joyce's modernist novel Ulysses (1922).  The photo was taken by Eve Arden in 1954 on Long Island where Monroe was visiting her friend the poet Norman Rosten.   I find it interesting that Wada has chosen to partially obscure Marilyn's face, yet she is still instantly recognizable by her trademark hair and mole.  The boldly coloured bathing suit doubtless appealed to Wada's eye for colour, and the blue background matches her beautiful blue eyes.  


Audrey Hepburn embodied Hollywood glamour in the adaptation of Truman Capote's novel Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).  Hepburn shines like a ray of light in a black space in Wada's portrait of her.   


In the neo-noir film L.A. confidential Kim Basinger embodied Hollywood elegance of the Golden Era.  I love how Mada makes the black and white of her cloak pop by giving her such a dramatic colour for the background.  

Although this image has all the key elements (costume, chair) to make Liza Minnelli in Bob Fosse's Caberet (1972) recognizable, I think this is one of Wada's less successful homages.   He makes the character of Sally Bowles more kawaii than erotic.  It's a lovely image but it misses the mark for me.  

Bernardo Bertolucci may be a European director, but his epic The Last Emperor was a large scale Hollywood production with an international cast.  Winning 9 Oscars at the 60th Academy Awards, it was certainly the film of 1987.  I like how Wada pares the iconic film poster down to its key elements: the boy emperor Puyi and his castle.  If you haven't seen the film, you should, if only for the amazing Ryuichi Sakamoto / David Byrne / Cong Su soundrack:





Next: Makoto Wada's Movie Inspired Art 3: European Classics

2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

24 February 2015

Makoto Wada’s Movie Inspired Art 1: Early Hollywood


Makoto Wada (和田誠, b. 1936) is best known as an illustrator whose work has adorned the book covers and pages of writers as diverse as Shinichi Hoshi, Haruki Murakami, and Agatha Christie.  In addition to illustration, he has also dabbled in film directing and animation – winning the Noburo Ofuji Award for 1964 for his comic animated short Murder (殺人).  In Murder, he spoofs a wide variety of famous film and literary icons including Poirot, Sam Spade, Dracula and James Bond.  He has also done a range of paintings inspired by film stars and classic movies.  This is my first in a series of posts looking at his art and his muses.  You can support this artist by ordering collections of his work such as:





Charlie Chaplin is a popular subject in Wada's work.  This is the classic scene in The Gold Rush (1925) where the Tramp boils and eats his shoes, imagining that the shoelaces are spaghetti.  As is typical of Wada's style, he simplifies the background in order to put the emphasis on the central character and themes of the scene.   Makoto Wada is known for his love of colour, and I like his choice of green for the Tramp's vest.


This is the final scene in Chaplin's City Lights (1933) when the Tramp finds the Flower Girl again and discovers that she has regained her sight.  She does not recognize him at first and offers him a flower and a coin.  When he grabs her hand, she suddenly realizes that he is no stranger.  It's a moving scene that leaves audiences wiping a tear from their eyes every time.  The colour palette  of Wada's interpretation emphasizes the whiteness of the flower, and the blondness of Virginia Cherrill's hair - the latter of which we only get a notion of in the black and white film.



Wada captures Greta Garbo's austere regalness in her iconic role as Queen Christina of Sweden in Rouben Mamoulian's critical and financial hit for MGM studios.  He's got the Garbo Look just right by capturing the arc of her eyebrows.


I was amused by how fat Orson Welles' head is in Wada's interpretation of this iconic image from Citizen Kane, because I didn't recall Welles looking so fat-headed in this scene.  But then I discovered that some stills of this scene do make his head extraordinarily large.... and of course Charles Foster Kane was indeed getting progressively big-headed throughout the film in the figurative sense. 


The Puerto Rican singer and actor José Ferrer is not as well-known today as many of his contemporaries (Bogart, Peck, Wayne, Tracy, Stewart), but he was a superstar in his time, winning the Tony in 1947 for playing Cyrano on Broadway before going on to win an Oscar and a Golden Globe for this screen portrayal.  Ferrer was the first Hispanic to win an Oscar.  To hear him in action, his best Cyrano speeches are available on iTunes.  He is arguably the top English Cyrano of the 20th century.  


For more by Wada: 

2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

20 February 2015

The Old Man and the Sea (老人と海, 1999)


The Old Man and the Sea (老人と海/Rōjin to Umi, 1999) was the first of two times that the Noburō Ōfuji Award for innovation in animation has been won by a non-Japanese director.  This Russian-Canadian-Japanese co-production qualified for the award because it was co-produced by Japanese companies.  One key figure among the Japanese producers is the animator Tatsuo Shimamura, president of his own studio Shirogumi, and professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design.  Shimamura had won the Noburō Ōfuji Award one year previously for the Shirogumi animated shorts Water Spirit (水の精/Mizu no sei, 1998) and Kappa Hyakuzu (河童百図, 1998).  Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, most independent animators in Russia have had to look to international co-productions in order to finance their work.  In addition to support from Japan, the creative team at Montréal’s  Pascal Blais Studio (Pascal Blais and Bernard Lajoie) were at the heart of this production, and went on to collaborate with Petrov on many commercial projects. 

At the time of the production of this film, the Russian director Aleksandr Petrov (アレクサンドル・ペトロフ, b.1957), had long been admired by fellow animators and animation fans around the world for his superior paint-on-glass animation films.  This involves the painting of a picture and photographing it, then erasing/altering the picture to make the next frame.  This under the camera animation technique requires a great level of skill and planning, because once a scene is started it cannot be corrected.  There have been few practitioners of paint-on-glass, with Petrov being top of the list alongside Vladimir Samsonov (Russia), Caroline Leaf (USA), Georges Schwizgebel (Switzerland) and Witold Giersz (Poland).

Petrov’s Adaptation

Petrov began his adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s popular novel The Old Man and the Sea with a detailed storyboard.  According to a short documentary Petrov made about his techniques as an animator, he had his father (Nikolai Sergeievich) dress up in the role of the “Old Man”, Santiago, and re-enact the movements Santiago would make in the boat.  His son Dima filmed the re-enactment and this footage was used as a reference in the studio.   



On the whole it is a faithful adaptation of Hemingway’s tale.  As a short film, obviously the story information has been streamlined, but the key elements are all there.  Petrov’s artistic style, which critics often call romantic realist suits the subject matter perfectly.  It is realistic in the sense that the character movements and events are depicted in a realistic manner, but romantic in terms of the painting style.  For me, Petrov’s style is like an Impressionist painting in motion.   In the live action adaptations of The Old Man and the Sea, there is a heavy reliance on voice-over narration to express the spiritual aspects of the old man’s relationship to his environment.   With animation Petrov is able to capture this visually in such sequences as the dreamy flashbacks to the African animals of Santiago’s youth, the dramatic arm wrestling flashback, and the dream sequence of Santiago as a youth swimming with the marlin.  




Awards and Honours


In addition to the Noburō Ōfuji Award, The Old Man and the Sea won the Oscar for Best Animated Short for 1999, the Grand Prix and Audience Award at Annecy, the Jutra Award for Best Animated Film (top film prize in Québec), and a Special Prize at Hiroshima (2000).  The film additionally won top prizes at the Montréal World Festival, the San Diego International Film Fesitival, Krok, Zagreb, to name but a selection of honours.

Availability on DVD:



Geneon Universal’s 2002 DVD is only available second hand in Japan. It features Erik Canuel’s Genie Award winning 20-minute documentary Hemingway: A Portrait (Canada, 1999). Both films are dubbed in Japanese.

 In the States, the 2005 DVD of The Old Man and the Sea is currently out of print, but some second-hand copies are available.


 In France, there is a 2004 release that features French and English dubs. Order from Heeza or amazon:




 An Italian release is available with English and Italian dubs and subtitles.
 

 2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

Ari-chan (アリチャン, 1941)



The anime pioneer Mitsuyo Seo (瀬尾 光世, 1911-2010) is best known in the English speaking world for his wartime propaganda films Momotarō’s Sea Eagles (1942) and Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors (1945), but these films are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Seo’s contributions to early animation history.   Ari-chan (アリチャン, 1941) tends to get only a passing reference in English guides to anime history as the first Japanese animation to use a multiplane camera for the entirety of the film, but little has been written in English about the style and content of this film.

Multiplane Animation

The film was made by the studio Geijutsu Eigasha (芸術映画社), or GES for short, and was financed by the Ministry of Education’s film department Monbushō Eiga (文部省映画).   The animator assigned to assist Seo on Ari-chan was GES’s new employee Tadahito Mochinaga (持永 只仁, 1919-1999), fresh out of art school.  Mochinaga had fallen in love with Disney animation as a child, citing the Technicolor film Water Babies (Wilfred Jackson, 1935) from the Silly Symphony series as having inspired him to become an animator himself.  He dedicated his free time to the study of animation, making a short film How to Make Animated Films (1939) as his graduation project from his three year degree at Nippon Art College (today’s Nichibi).  (see: Kosei Ono article)

For Ari-chan, Mochinaga put his research into practice for the first time by designing, building, and using a four level multiplane camera.   The project was funded by the Ministry of Education, who wanted a short film for children.   The original scenario for Ari-chan was conceived by Mitsuyo Seo.  According to Mochinaga’s posthumously published autobiography, he was interested in working on the film because of Seo’s description of the final scene: a field of cosmos flowers set against the moon in the background.  These flowers had a personal meaning for Mochinaga because he had fond memories of playing in fields of cosmos when he was a child in Manchuria.  Mochinaga felt that the best way to achieve this scene was by using a multiplane camera.  Seo was won over by the idea, but he had some push back from the studio.  In the end, Seo invested his own money in the venture so that Mochinaga would have creative control.  The production did not run smoothly however, because part way through the shoot GES merged with Asahi Kinema and they had to take the multiplane camera apart and move it to a new studio and reassemble it.  Mochinaga also nearly ran out of the paper he was using for the watercolour backgrounds (see: Mochinaga). 

Influence of Disney’s Silly Symphonies



It is likely that Seo and Mochinaga were influenced by the Walt Disney Silly Symphony series for both the style and format of Ari-chan.  Disney’s first use of the multiplane camera was in their Oscar award winning short The Old Mill (1937) – a film that many Japanese animators have cited as influential on them creatively.  Just like the Silly Symphonies, Ari-chan pairs music and animation, is aimed at children, and uses anthropomorphic insects.  In fact, I was struck during the opening sequence of the obvious similarities between Ari-chan and Disney’s The Grasshopper and the Ants (Wilfred Jackson, 1934).  


This Silly Symphony is based on the famous Aesop fable The Ant and the Grasshopper (note: for some strange reason this story is called The Ant and the Katydid アリとキリギリス in Japanese) about a lazy grasshopper who spends the summer months at play while the ants use the time to work hard to prepare for winter.  As in The Grasshopper and the Ants, Ari-chan opens with a shot of the base of an enormous tree where ants are busy at work.  The film also features grasshoppers that play fiddles, and the usual pratfall humour of animated shorts, but that is where the story similarities end.

The Story

Instead of being lazy, the grasshoppers in Ari-chan are depicted as dedicated musicians.  The story focusses on the title character Ari-chan, or “Little Ant”, a child ant not yet old enough to help the colony with their work.  Ari-chan rolls up on his tricycle and tries to help the grown-ups, but when his efforts fail he goes off into the field of flowers to play.  He blows the seeds off a dandelion and chases the parachuting seeds until he discovers a little garden with a sandbox of toys.  A fiddle lying on the ground catches his eye and he decides to take it.



Ari-chan runs through the flowers, playing the fiddle as he goes.  Meanwhile, through a crosscut we see the owner of the fiddle discovering the theft and appearing distressed.  Ari-chan is oblivious to the pain he has left in his wake and continues on his merry way until he discovers his friends at play.  They also want to play with the fiddle, but Ari-chan shakes his head “no”.  The butterfly offers him the sweet nectar of a flower, and this is all it takes to convince Ari-chan to share his treasure.  The butterfly (chō) plays the fiddle beautifully, strumming it as if it were a harp.  Next up are the mantis (kamakiri) and the ladybug (tentō-mushi), who play a more country style melody, with the mantis jumping on the strings and the ladybug playing on the fret.  Finally, the rhinoceros beetle (kabuto-mushi) gives it a go, but his long horn comically gets in the way.  He struggles to disengage himself, causing the fiddle to go flying and breaking its strings.  Ari-chan tries desperately to repair the fiddle.



The moon comes out, and the grasshopper orchestra begins to play its magical melody on a variety of string instruments (violins, violas, cellos).  Inspired by this, Ari-chan plucks a blade of grass to try to play the fiddle in the same way.  Just then, an ominous black shadow of a hand interrupts the proceedings.  It is the hand of a small child trying to capture an insect for his bug cage.  The insects run for their lives in a dramatic sequence.  After a close call, Ari-chan climbs on the back of the grasshopper conductor and they escape together.  The grasshopper conductor pats Ari-chan’s head then goes back to conducting.   Ari-chan once again tries to join in, but suddenly realizes the value of the fiddle.  In another dramatic sequence, he rushes back to the home where he found it and discovers the fiddle owner in tears.  Without drawing attention to himself, he quietly slips the fiddle into the house and returns happily to playing with the dandelion seeds.  The final sequence is a multilayered image of the orchestra playing superimposed with cosmos flowers and the moon.  The young female grasshopper reunited with her instrument joins in.  The film concludes with Ari-chan running home to his mother’s embrace. 

Music

The score for Ari-chan was composed by Tadashi Hattori (服部正, 1908-2008).  Hattori composed the scores for many films in the 1940s and 1950s including several by Akira Kurosawa (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, Those Who Make Tomorrow, No Regrets for Our Youth, and One Wonderful Sunday), as well as animated shorts by Seo’s mentor, Kenzō Masaoka (Tora-chan, the Abandoned Kitten, and Tora-chan and the Bride).  Hattori stands out among other composers for his love of the mandolin, composing many pieces for mandolin orchestras (watch the Amedeo Mandolin Orchestra perform Hattori’s Italian Fantasy here).  As a lover of string instruments, he was the ideal candidate to collaborate on the music.  The music matches the screen action perfectly.  There was by 1941 already a tradition in Japan of pairing music with animation, dating back to the record talkies of the late 1920s / early 1930s, but this is the earliest animation that I have seen from Japan where the music has so perfectly been composed for the animation with music as a central theme to the plot.  They have clearly made an effort to emulate the Disney style, and have done a brilliant job of it considering their technical limitations: no colour film stock, limited celluloid, and a very small crew. 

Mixed Media

Like the early Disney films (Silly Symphonies, Snow White) Mochinaga did the backgrounds using watercolour on paper.  Although Snow White (1937) predates Ari-chan, it is unlikely that Mochinaga and Seo would have seen it.  Due to the war, Snow White was not distributed in Japan until 1950.  It is certainly possible that they had read about the film and the techniques that it used. 



One obvious difference between the Disney style and this film is the use of cutouts for certain effects.  To my knowledge, Disney did not use cutouts on the multiplane camera, just celluloid painted with acrylic and a watercolour background.  One of the most obvious uses of cutouts in Ari-chan is in the simulated “iris” transition done between Ari-chan discovering the fiddle and Ari-chan running through the flowers.  In some of the garden scenes, the plants and flowers look too textured to have been merely drawn on cel.  He also gives the image more depth in the final musical sequence by using superimposition.  It seems likely given Mochinaga’s limited resources that he took whatever measures necessary to give each scene the look that he wanted.  The result is an engaging short that would be absolutely stunning if digitally restored. 

Opening and Closing Titles

The credits look as though they were written on a chalkboard then superimposed onto the film.  The opening and closing titles are mostly in katakana written left to right, with kanji used for the name of the director and the film’s sponsor (Monbushō Eiga).  Reading horizontally from right to left has become rare in Japan, although you still see it on some signs like ramen restaurants and police car doors.  Japanese these days is more commonly read/written vertically (top to bottom / right to left), or Western-style horizontally (right to left / top to bottom).  The choice of katakana for the title indicates that the film was intended for children.  Children’s literature today is usually written in hiragana, but in the 1930s they preferred katakana.  The title also uses archaic katakana forms such as (ye), (wo), and (ha) for “wa”.  At the end of a Japanese animation it is common to see “Owari” (The End) written in various ways: おわり (hiragana), オワリ (katakana), or 終わり/ (kanji).  In Ari-chan they use an archaic form ヲハリ written right to left リハヲ



It took some time for my friend and colleague, Keiko Sasaki, and I to figure out that the first title card モンブシャウ ヱイグワ reads Monbushō Eiga (文部省映画).  The modern reader would pronounce it “Monbushau   Yeiguwa”.  The only place one sees “ye” regularly these days is the archaic form of Ebisu used by Yebisu Beer (ヱビスビール).   The use of to indicate a long vowel sound in katakana has been replaced by in modern Japanese.   I don’t know why they use シャウ (shau) instead of シヨウ (shō) and グワ (guwa) instead of (ga), but it is certainly fascinating how much Japanese has changed since the war. 

Availability
The film is in the archives of the NFC and appears on Disc 3 of the Japanese Art Animation Film Collection

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2015


References:

Hu, Tze-Yue G.  Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building.  Hong Kong: Hong Kong UP, 2010. 

Mochinaga, Tadahito.  Animēshon Nitchū kōryūki: Mochinaga Tadahito jiden. Tokyo: Tōhō Shoten, 2006.  


Ono, Kosei.  “Tadahito Mochinaga: The Animator Who Lived in Two Worlds.”  AWN. 4.9 (December 1999).

09 February 2015

Osamu Tezuka: The Secret of Creation (NHK特集 手塚治虫・創作の秘密, 1986)


To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the birth of Osamu Tezuka in 2008, the NHK released two documentaries on DVD:  Osamu Tezuka: The Secret of Creation (NHK特集 手塚治虫・創作の秘密 / NHK Tokushu Tezuka Osamu: Sosaku no Himitsu, 1986) and Dream Sparkles in the Sky – Osamu Tezuka’s Summer Vacation (天空に夢輝き 手塚治虫の夏休み, 1995).  A year later, the publisher Ilex Press added Osamu Tezuka: The Secret of Creation as a bonus DVD to the publication of anime expert Helen McCarthy’s comprehensive account of Osamu Tezuka’s life and career: The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga.

Shot in 1985 and narrated by the familiar voice of NHK broadcaster Isamu Akashi, this documentary was the first to give people a behind-the-scenes look at how Tezuka worked.  After a brief glimpse of the public face of Tezuka, being honoured by Mari Shimizu (the voice of Astro Boy), in celebration of his 40 years as a manga-ka, Tezuka leads the documentary team into his secret workspace: a non-descript mansion (in Japanese this is a type of apartment) somewhere in the concrete sprawl of Tokyo.  Neither his manager, nor his magazine editors are allowed into his creative space further than the genkan (entranceway where you remove your shoes).  The only person allowed any access at all is his wife.  He spends a minimum of five days a week in this space with only one or two days spent at home. 


The mansion apartment is sparsely furnished with threadbare curtains.  The space around his desk is so narrow that the camera team has to install an angled mirror on the wall in order to get more than one camera angle of the great man at work.  So as to disturb Tezuka as little as possible, the camera is controlled via a robots while the crew sits in the neighbouring room.  Tezuka blasts classical music on a record player while he works, or has a small red television playing in the background.  The cameras record him for a 24-hour period and we see that instead of going to bed, Tezuka falls asleep at his desk. 

His wife, Etsuko Tezuka, allows the camera crew into the family home, where they estimate he only spends about 60 days a year, and on the third floor they discover a museum of character toys and other keepsakes from his life.  The most fascinating is a childhood manga into which Tezuka’s mother drew a flip book on the corners of pages.  In studying Japanese animators, I have seen many childhood school books with hand drawn corner flip books, but usually by the animators.   It is certainly unique for it to have been done by Tezuka’s mother.  Tezuka calls the flip book “anime’s point of origin”. 



Tezuka is shown to be both a workaholic, putting off boarding a plan to France to the last minute so that he can finish drawings, and someone who misses deadlines.  His editors apparently gave him the nickname was apparently “Tezuka Osomuchi” (Tezuka slowpoke) and “Disappearing Saizou”.   The documentary presents this as the pressures of competition and the industry, but I had to wonder how much of this Tezuka brought on himself.  Many animators who followed Tezuka, most famously Hayao Miyazaki, blamed him for setting the bar low when it came to production standards (read more).

The highlight of Osamu Tezuka: The Secret of Creation, for me is his trip to the first Hiroshima International Animation Festival.  There is wonderful footage of Tezuka interacting with the legendary French animation pioneer Paul Grimault, who was the International Honorary President.  Tezuka would go on to win the top prize at the festival (learn more).  Last year, at the 30th anniversary of the festival, his son Macoto Tezka honoured his memory by presenting his completion of Part 2 of Tezuka’s unfinished work Legend of the Forest (learn more).
Order Documentary from Japan

As a fan of Tezuka, this documentary can at times be heartbreaking to watch knowing that the death of this endlessly creative man looms but four years into the future.  During a moment of critical self-reflection about how he has changed as an artist over the years, Tezuka talks about the fact that he has so many creative ideas he has yet to put to paper than he could sell them at bargain prices.  Such a tragedy that he did not have another 40 years to do just that. 



Shortly before the end of the film, Tezuka is shown at work on one of his unfinished projects: an adaptation of the bible for broadcast on Italian television (RAI).  He’s having trouble keeping the project on schedule and stares at the clock on the wall.  The camera crew asks him if he is scared of the clock, and he says, “Not exactly scared, I just want more time.”  Unfortunately, he ran out of time, but Osamu Dezaki eventually finished the series for Tezuka Productions.  It aired first on TV in Italy in 1992 under the title In principio: Storie dalla Bibbia, and then five years later on Japanese TV under the title In the Beginning: The Bible Stories (手塚治虫の旧約聖書物語 / Tezuka Osamu no Kyūyaku Seisho Monogatari, 1997). 

45 minutes
Documentary Crew  <スタッフ>:
:小原
:高野英二
:宮川正夫
:酒井弘文/堀口弘幸
:松本哲夫
:萩野勝男
:福島祥行/小河原正己


2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

08 February 2015

Hiroshima ’85 / ヒロシマ’85


Hiroshima ’85 / ヒロシマ85

Dates: August 18-23, 1985
Venue: Hiroshima City Auditorium / 広島市公会堂
Poster Design: Yōji Kuri  / ポスターデザイン 久里洋二

The first Hiroshima International Animation Festival was held in 1985 under the motto “Love and Peace”.  The festival’s founders, Renzō Kinoshita (木下蓮三, 1936-1997) and Sayoko Kinoshita (木下小夜子, b.1945), had long believed in the ability of animation to be a kind of international language that could bring understanding between people from different cultural backgrounds.  During the Cold War, the need for such a form of communication was imperative.  Last year, the festival celebrated its 30th anniversary as the oldest ongoing animation festival in Japan.  The need for “Love and Peace” in our troubled world means that the festival’s aims are just as relevant today as they were in 1985.

How the Festival Began

The idea for the animation festival dates back to 1972, when the Kinoshitas made their independent animation short Made in Japan (1972).  It won the Grand Prix at the inaugural New York Animation Festival.  The international recognition of their animation talent led them to believe that they could make a success of their small production company Studio Lotus.  They quickly realised that their brand of non-mainstream animation was not commercially viable in Japan.  This led them to come up with the idea to establish an international animation festival as a way of bringing attention to independent animation while at the same time providing a networking forum for artists.  They worked on this idea for 6 years to no avail.


At the same time, Studio Lotus was making Pica-Don (1978), an animated short that depicts the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima (learn more).   Although they had carefully researched their project and based it upon testimony and art by victims of the atrocity, such a film had never been made before and the Kinoshitas were uncertain of how the film would be received.  They were delighted to discover that the people of Hiroshima valued the film, and many citizens there encouraged them to continue with their idea for an animation festival. 

By the early 80s, the Kinoshitas were on the verge of giving up and moving to New York City when the city of Hiroshima called them to officially ask them to run the festival.  The couple ran the festival together up until Renzō's untimely death in the winter of 1997.  Since then, Sayoko has been at the helm.  ASIFA-JAPAN, which Sayoko Kinoshita has been president of since 1981, gave its patronage to the festival.  The festival has a loyal brigade of volunteers, including long-time Studio Lotus assistant and ASIFA-JAPAN general secretary, Makiko Oura

The Mascot: Lappy

The festival’s mascot Lappy, was designed by Renzō Kinoshita in 1985.  A contest to find a name for the character was held with 4,762 entries from all corners of Japan.  The winning name, “Lappy”, brings together the “L” from the motto “Love and Peace” and “appy” from “Happy”.  In my series about the festival, I will be using an image of Lappy as a stand in when no images for a winning film can be found. 

The Inaugural Festival

Animators representing 39 countries took part in the first festival.  Paul Grimault, the pioneering French animator, was the first International Honorary President.  Japan’s legendary puppet animator Kihachirō Kawamoto, fresh off the success of the NHK puppet spectacular Sangokushi, chaired the International Selection Committee, while Belgian animator Raoul Servais chaired the International Jury. 

The first Grand Prize went to legendary manga-ka Osamu Tezuka for his innovative animated short Broken Down Film (おんぼろフィルム/Onporo Firumu, 1985) – a clever homage to early animation and silent cinema.  The Hiroshima Prize went to Canada’s Richard Condie for his hilarious, much-lauded short The Big Snit



The Debut Prize went to 17-year-old high school student Tsutomu Shinozuka for his silent short Wind a Minute and 40 Seconds (140).  The film features in a wonderful clip I found on YouTube from a television special about the Hiroshima festival with Kawamoto and Tezuka as guests: 




It turns out that young Shinozuka attended the same high school as Tezuka himself did.  Although the film has no sound, Kawamoto describes how you can feel the greatness of the wind in the way it has been animated.  They also discuss how it might have been influenced by the movies of Akira Kurosawa.  They agree that the film is unique and surprising for someone so young and express their hope that he will go on to make more films.  I have not been able to find any evidence that Shinozuka made any more animation after this one.   


The inaugural festival had more categories than today’s festival, with three different film length categories and special sections for children’s films and promotional films.  In addition to the competition programmes, a retrospective of the works of Ishu Patel was held with Patel himself in attendance.  This proved a life-changing moment for one of the audience members: a young Kōji Yamamura, who has cited this screening event in many interviews as having had a profound effect on him as an animator.  Yamamura’s Aquatic screened at the second festival in 1987 and he went on to win many honours at the festival over the years, culminating in the Grand Prize for Mt. Head in 2004.  In 2008, he became the second person after Frédéric Back to win the Grand Prize twice with Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor.  At last summer’s festival, Yamamura was on the International Jury. 

Special Programs

In addition to a retrospective of the work of Ishu Patel, retrospectives were held of the works of other members of the selection committee and jury including Kawamoto, Furukawa, Engel, Servais, Pojar, and honorary president Grimault.  There was also a retrospective of the works of John Halas, as well as special programs of World Animation (with a special focus on Asia, USA, and Europe). 


Other programs included: “Panorama”, “Best of the World”, Animation for Children”, “Animation for Peace”, “Computer Animation”.  Symposiums were held on “Computer Animation and Cell Animation” and “How to Teach, How to Learn”.  There was a seminar on “Animation and Peace” and on “The Fun of Shiritori ‘85” and there was a children’s workshop.  

International Honorary President
Paul Grimault (France)

International Jury (*chairperson)
Raoul Servais* (Belgium)
Wang Shu Chen (China)
Břetislav Pojar (Czechoslovakia)
Ishu Patel (India)
Robi Roncarelli (USA)
Shigeo Fukuda  福田繁雄 (Japan)
Yōji Kuri  久里洋二 (Japan)

International Selection Committee (*chairperson)
Antoinette Moses (UK)
Jules Engel (USA)
Ranko Munitic (Yugoslavia)
Taku Furukawa 古川タク(Japan)
Kihachirō Kawamoto 川本喜八郎* (Japan)

Winners

Grand Prize
Broken Down Film (おんぼろフィルム), Osamu Tezuka 手塚治虫 (Japan)

Hiroshima Prize
The Big Snit, Richard Condie (Canada)

Debut Prize
Wind a Minute and 40 Seconds / 140, Tsutomu Shinozuka 篠塚勉 (Japan)




Category A (< 5 minutes)
First Prize: Gravity (Gravitáció), Ferenc Rófusz (Hungary) 
Second Prize: Sigmund, Bruno Bozzetto (Italy)
Honorable Mention: The Adventures of Andre and Wally B., Alvy Ray Smith (USA)

Category B (5 to 15 minutes)
First Prize:  Anna and Bella, Børge Ring (The Netherlands)
Second Prize: Four Seasons of Japan/花鳥風月, Tatsuo Shimamura 島村達雄 (Japan)
                                                              
Category C (15 to 30 minutes)
First Prize:  The Fire Boy, Baiyong Wang (China)
Second Prize: Black and White Cinema (Чёрно-белое кино), Stanislav Sokolov (USSR)

Category D (Promotional)
First Prize: I.II.III. , Graeme Ross (Canada)
Second Prize: Listerine Clifford, Russell Hall (UK)

Category E (First work by student or independent filmmaker)
First Prize: Charade, Jon Minnis (Canada) 
Second Prize: Family Snapshots (Fotografii de familie), Radu Igaszag (Romania)

Category F (Works for Children)
First Prize: Virtuoso, Ilja Novak (Czechoslovakia)
Second Prize: Rupert and the Frog Song, Geoff Dunbar (UK)
Honorable Mention: Lady Poverty (Pani Bida), Vlasta Pospisilova (Czechoslovakia)
Honorable Mention: Doctor Desoto, Michael Sporn (USA)

References Used:  
Clements, Jonathan and Helen McCarthy.  The Anime Encyclopedia, Revised and Expanded Edition: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917.  Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2012.
Ehrlich, David. “Vignette: Memory of an Animated Couple: Renzo and Sayoko Kinoshita.”  Animation in Asia and the Pacific. John A Lent, ed.  London: John Liddy Publishing, 2001, pp. 51-54.


2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

02 February 2015

Crazy Little Thing (澱みの騒ぎ, 2014)


This year marks only the second time that a woman has won the prestigious Noburō Ōfuji Award for innovation in animation at the Mainichi Film Concours.  The first was the puppet animator Nozomi Nagasaki for N&G Production’s Home Alone (るすばん, 1996) nearly two decades ago.  Now, Japan’s oldest animation award has been won by recent Geidai graduate Hana Ono (小野ハナ, 1986), who goes by the pen name Onohana in English.  Onohana is from Iwate Prefecture and completed a degree in Art Culture at Iwate University (2009) before doing her MA in Animation at Geidai (2014).  

Order Geidai Animation 2014
Crazy Little Thing (澱みの騒ぎ / Yodomi no Sakagi, 2014) is Onohana’s graduate film from the Geidai programme, where she was supervised by the 2007 Noburō Ōfuji Award winner and Oscar nominee Kōji Yamamura  According to a short “Making of” Doc made by Geidai that I picked up at Hiroshima last year, Onohana began with an incomplete vision which she developed as she went along.  Once she got stuck in, she explains that the story seemed to take on a life of its own.  She storyboarded the 10-minute short and then made each frame by hand using pencil on paper.  The entire film is in a sombre black and white with very little dialogue. 



The film opens with a shocking scene of a girl, possibly in her early teens, sneaking up to a sleeping man on the sofa.  She slips a noose around his neck and strangles him.  All the action happens in the background, while in the foreground loom tall, dark liquor bottles.  We soon see the space from a ceiling shot as the girl moves to tidy up the room with the hanged man looming over her.  This shot allows us to see that in addition to bottles, the table is littered with beer cans.  She takes the bottles to the kitchen where the floor is teeming with bottles.  The girl’s sad face staring over a sea of bottles tells us all we need to know: this poor girl has been brought to such desperate circumstances by the alcoholism of her father. 



The girl puts on her coat and rushes out into the snow to check the mail.  She cuts a small, forlorn figure against the vast white garden.  The front gate and the house are distorted to loom over her, emphasizing her smallness.  When she steps back into the house, the phone is ringing.  She doesn’t answer immediately, and is shocked by the sound of her father’s voice snarling at her to answer the phone.  He has an open can of beer in his hand and is watching her closely.  The phone goes to the answering machine and we hear the voice of the grandmother.  The father tries to get to the phone, but is blocked by the girl and then the vision from the past disappears and we see that the father is still hanging from the noose. 

Thus the story begins to weave in and out of reality and the imagined, the concrete and the symbolic, as the girl deals with her fluctuating emotions.   At times she is in a rage at her father, at other times she seems to be calmly mourning his passing.  There is even a brief scene that looks like the man mourning a funereal photograph of his younger self.  The story comes to a head with a tree growing symbolically out of the father’s corpse.  The house floods with a black liquid and the girl must climb the branches of the ever growing tree to escape, hopefully to a better future that the horrors of the past. 


It is a deeply troubling film that examines the growing problem of individuals living in isolation in Japan since the collapse of traditional family structures.  Stylistically, Onohana uses a lot of shots from directly overhead that show the floorplan of the house.  When you go to the real estate agent in Japan, you don’t usually see photographs of the apartment but rather such floorplans since space is at such a premium.  Not only do these scenes add visual interest, but they emphasize how the girl feels trapped in that space, like a guinea pig in a cage.  It is a powerfully moving film that is not for the faint of heart.

Crazy Little Thing has screened at many festivals over the past year including Nippon Connection, Tokyo Anima!, SICAF, Fantoche, Anilogue, and Geneva. The film received an honourable mention for the Walt Disney Award for Best Graduation Film at Ottawa.  It appears on the DVD Geidai Animation: 5th Graduate Works 2014

Learn more about Onohana on her official website or follow her on twitter, tumblr, and vimeo.  Onohana also belongs to the animation group Onionskin along with fellow animators Toshikazu Tamura, Ai Sugaya, and Yewon Kim.  In addition to their indie work, they make music videos and commercials. 

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2015

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