20 August 2023

90s Animation at “Into Animation 8”

90s Animation 
I first discovered independent Japanese animation while living in Tokyo in the mid-2000s, and through my research have learnt a lot about current and early independent animation, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to thoroughly research the animation practices of the 1980s and the 1990s in Japan.  So, I was thrilled to discover that JAA members decided to hold a special screening of works form the 1990s at Into Animation 8 earlier this month. 

The selection was presented mostly chronologically, with pauses after every few films to introduce the JAA members responsible for the animation. Each animator featured in this program has their own unique individual animation style.  Highlights for me included Katsushi BOWDA’s renowned rhythmic stop motion work Pulsar, Yūko ASANO’s brilliant stop motion The Life of Ants, IKIF’s experiment with pixilation, Stop Motion with the ZC1000, Yukio HIRUMA’s mixed media self-reflexive work Magical Product and, of course, the beautiful calligraphy style of Azuru ISSHIKI with her 1992 work Wind. It was such a thrill to meet many animators whose work I had admired for years at Into Animation 8, such as Isshiki and Hal FUKUSHIMA, whose work Manabu’s World screened.  

Something very particular to the 80s and 90s were the examples of VIBE IDs: short short animations for station identification that would appear on MTV or other channels after commercial breaks. In effect, they are animated logos for the TV stations.  The 3 examples by Keita KUROSAKA are in his signature body horror / gore horror style and must have made a memorable impact on audiences at the time.  Kōji YAMAMURA’s were also in a visual style unlike any other animators working in Japan at that time. Tatsuyoshi NOMURA’s well known short shorts from the time were also shown. 

The screening closed with the youngest of the filmmakers Saku SAKAMOTO, whose work I first encountered at Nippon Connection in 2008 as part of the Open Art Animation selection.  His film The Fisherman (2002) had made an impression on me and it was nice to see another early work by him.

After the screenings, we moved to the workshop room where Tokumine KIFUNE (IKIF), Yukio HIRUMA (Bunka Gakuen University), Tatsuyoshi NOMURA (Robot, Tama Art University), and Katsushi BOWDA (BOWDAS) held a roundtable discussion about animation in the 1990s.  This included an overview of the technology that they had at their disposal for making animation, the rapid changes in technology, etc.  There was also a discussion about how the JAA played a role in creating events for their works to be screened.  The first of the INTO ANIMATION events was held in the 1990s and began to be held every couple of years up until the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the cycle.  The event was moderated by Jun MIYAMORI (宮森潤), who had put together a terrific Excel timeline that he shared with us on screen.  

Screened works: 

パルサー / Parusā / 3’10” 
dir. Katsuyoshi BOWDA / 保田克史 

 風 / Kaze / 3’40” 
dir. Azuru ISSHIKI / 一色 あづる 

Stray Sheep Series
(3 short shorts) 
ストレイシープシリーズ (3本 ) 
  • Stray Sheep: Submarine (1994) 
  • Stray Sheep: Bath (1995) 
  • Stray Sheep: Merry-go-round (1995) 
Midnight Restaurant (1994) 
dir. Tatsuyoshi NOMURA / 野村 辰寿 

Manabu’s World (1991) 
マナブ君の世界 / Manabu-kun no Seikai / 2’03” 
dir. Hal FUKUSHIMA / 福島 治 

Magical Product
マジックロール・プロダクト  / 6’12” 
dir. Yukio HIRUMA / 昼間 行雄 

Kipling, Jr. (1995) 
キップリングJr. / Kippulingu Jr. / 14’00” 
dir. Kōji YAMAMURA / 山村 浩二 

ATAMA (MTV Japan, 1994) 
Flying Daddy (MTV Japan, 1997) / パパが飛んだ朝 / Papa ga Tonda Asa 
DRAGON (Vibe pics, 1999) 
 dir. Keita KUROSAKA 黒坂 圭太 

VIBE-ID (1999) 
dir. Kōji YAMAMURA / 山村 浩二 

浅野優子『蟻の生活』(1994)【excerpt】 from KRAUT FILM on Vimeo.

Note: you need to be logged into Vimeo to see the above excerpt.

The Life of Ants (1994) 
蟻の生活 / Ari no Seikatsu 14’09” 
dir. Yūko ASANO /  浅野優子 

Stop Motion with the ZC1000
(short version) (1993) 
ZC1000で コマ撮りした (短縮版) / ZC1000 de komadorishita (Tanshukuban) / 10’00” 
dir. IKIF (animation duo Tokumine KIFUNE 木船徳光 and Sonoko ISHIDA 石田園子) http://www.ikifplus.co.jp/ikif/ 

Kai dōryoku REAL (1998)
快動力 REAL / 6’00” 
 dir. Katsuyoshi BOWDA  保田克史 

Maka fushigi (2000) 
摩訶不思議 / 10’26” 
 dir. Saku SAKAMOTO 坂本サク

©2023 Cathy Munroe Hotes

16 August 2023

Katsuo Takahashi Featured Event: Exploring 3D Animated Films

Katsuo Takahashi Featured Event: Exploring 3D Animated Films 

 As part of this year’s Into Animation 8 event at The National Art Center in Roppongi, JAA member Kariko TAKAHASHI (高橋佳里子) put together a retrospective in honour of her late father, the stop motion animator Katsuo TAKAHASHI (高橋克雄, 1935-2015). The event was hosted by celebrated stop motion animator, Masaaki MORI (森 まさあき, b. 1955). 

Born in Nagasaki, Katsuo Takahashi is considered a pioneer of stop motion animation and early children’s television programming in Japan. He founded his own studio called Tokyo Central Puppet Theatre (東京中央人形劇場) which later became Tokyo Central Productions (東京中央プロダクション). His work ranges from shorts for the NHK (Japan’s public broadcaster) to films commissioned by the Japanese government to promote Japanese culture and interests abroad. 

The program gave an overview of Takahashi’s career, interspersed with discussions between his daughter and Mori. Mori recalled seeing some of Takahashi’s children’s television shows broadcast when he was a child. Kariko Takahashi shared behind the scenes details about the making of the programs and Mori shared his observations of the work from the perspective of a professional stop motion animator. 

Some of the highlights included a photograph of Takahashi with Norman McLaren and others at the NFB in Montreal taken during the 1967 Expo, photographs of audiences viewing his work internationally, and a cameo of Tadahito MOCHINAGA’s Pinocchio stop motion character from Rankin/Bass’ The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1961) in one of Prince Shisukon’s adventures. 

Screened Works: 

 Fairy Tale Series (1979 – 1985) “Little Red Riding Hood” and others 
 Those others included “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Hanasaka Jiisan,” and “The Wizard of Oz.” 

 Wan Way Street (1957) , Ep. 3 “Battle of Potato Island” 
わんウェイ通り 第3話「ポテト島の海戦の巻」 

 Prince Shisukon (1963) Opening Credits 

 Land of Dreams: Zipangu (Yumi no Kuni: Zipangu) and Kaikoku zen kisaki 

 Mrs. 21st Century (Misesu 21 Seiki, 1971) 

 Princess Kaguya (Kaguya Hime, 1972) 

 To learn more about Takahashi’s work, check out his daughter's official YouTube channel and the Tokyo Central Production 高橋克雄著作権事務所 Facebook page. 

 © 2023 Cathy Munroe Hotes

31 August 2022

Hiroshima Animation Season 2022: Day 1

The first day of Hiroshima Animation Season 2022 was the easiest for me to negotiate because there were fewer scheduling conflicts than on other days. While on one hand it is wonderful for an animation festival to be jam-packed with excellent films and events, on the other hand it forces hardcore animation devotees like myself to make difficult screening choices. 

As with the original Hiroshima International Animation Festival, the central venue was JMS Aster Plaza with its two large concert halls and community spaces. The new festival opened up screening venues to include local businesses and institutions such as the Hiroshima City Cinematographic and Audio-Visual Library, Yokogawa Cinema, and Salon Cinema. I had hoped to be able to squeeze in seeing some of the anime classics on the big screen such as The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon (わんぱく王子の大蛇退治, 1963) and The White Snake Enchantress (白蛇伝, 1958), but it was simply impossible. Even though I was unable to partake in these offsite screenings, I feel that it was a good idea to include local businesses. These screenings were more likely than the central venue to draw in local crowds and engaging with the local community is an important part of any festival. From what I understand, many of these events were well-attended, which bodes well for future collaborations with local establishments. 

The first thing I noticed on Day 1 was that instead of stalls run by animators and artists from elsewhere in Japan, all of the vendors were local businesses selling their crafts and other wares. One really big problem for the festival is that the JMS Aster is not close to many restaurants and the one in-house restaurant takes its Obon summer holiday during the festival. It was great to see stalls selling coffee, baked goods, and even fresh hamburgers, so that we could grab a quick bite between screenings. 

I began the festival with one of the Hiroshima Animation Season Classics screenings: Karel ZEMAN’s Inspirace (水玉の幻想, 1949) and Invention for Destruction (CZ: Vynález zkázy / JP: 悪魔の発明, 1958). Inspirace had no dialogue and needed no subtitles and Invention for Destruction was shown with Japanese subtitles only. There were several screenings without English subtitles that offered a “whispering” where one could sit in a section of the theatre where an interpreter would live “whisper” the proceedings in English to those who could not understand the Japanese. As someone with sensitive hearing, I found this really obnoxious. Even though I sat far from the whispering section, I could still hear the whispering and it felt like someone was rudely talking during the screenings and events where it was happening. I don’t understand Czech and I can’t read Japanese quickly enough for the subs, but as I was familiar with the film, and I just focussed on enjoying the animation on the big screen. Zeman’s films may be more than 60 years old now but they have not lost their ability to inspire wonder at their technical brilliance. 

After briefly considering hopping on a streetcar to the Cinematography Library to see The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon, I decided to listen to my stomach instead and headed to the legendary local restaurant Otis! with its delicious Tex-Mex and vegetarian dishes. The walls are filled with the signatures and drawings of animation guests past as the venue opened in 1987 and is an easy walk from the JMS Aster. I was delighted to find the interior and the hosts unchanged from my last visit in 2014, and I found fellow animation researchers Jason Cody Douglass (Yale) and Chris Taylor (John Hopkins) at a table inside. We discussed our viewing plans for the festival and just as I was about to pay my tab, I heard my name spoken behind me by the stop motion animator Masaaki MORI (森まさあき). 

I first discovered Mori’s work when he participated in the Kihachirō KAWAMOTO omnibus work Winter Days (冬の日, 2003) with his delightful clay pig figures. Mori retired from Tokyo Zokei University last year and I went to see his retirement exhibition on the Zokei campus (see the above instagram post). Since joining JAA late last year, I have encountered Mori often and we seem well on our way to becoming fast friends. In Otis!, Mori introduced me to Yoshimi KAKURAI (加倉井芳美) and Masaaki OIKAWA (及川雅昭) , the PR rep and producer for TECARAT studios. Unfortunately, director and stop motion animator Takeshi YASHIRO (八代健志) could not come to Hiroshima due to the production of Hidari – you can follow the exciting progression of this new stop motion animation on Tecarat’s Instagram

I had not yet met Yashiro, but my Nippon Connection selection for this year featured his Noburō Ōfuji Award-winning short animation Pukkulapottas and Hours in the Forest (プックラポッタと森の時間, 2021) and I had been fascinated by his adaptation of Nakashi NIIMI’s Gon, the Little Fox, which I saw at a stop-motion animation in Kichijoji shortly after I moved back to Japan in 2019. 

Even though Yashiro was not at the festival – I was able to meet Gon the fox! Such a beautifully crafted puppet: 

 After getting to know more about Tecarat Studios, we headed to the Opening Ceremony and Golden Carpstar Award Ceremony, which I will discuss in my next post. 

Coming Soon: Hiroshima Animation Season: Day 1 Opening Ceremony

2022 Cathy Munroe Hotes