23 September 2020

Strawberry Candy (いちご飴, 2020)

Strawberry Candy (いちご飴 / Ichigo Chigo, 2020) was the film that made the biggest impact on me at the Geidai Animation 11 Neo screenings in February in Yokohama.  It is a powerful short film that tells sensitively tells the story of familial child abuse from the perspective of a young girl.

The film begins innocently enough with the central protagonist, a Chinese girl of about kindergartner age, talking about her likes and dislikes.  She likes playing hide-and-seek with a cardboard box used for storing pears, she doesn’t like the new telephone because her mom makes her call people; she likes her red marble that her father gave her on Children’s Day, but she doesn’t like the boys next store who took it from her; and so on.

As she continues telling us her likes and dislikes, the director, Nianze Li, masterfully builds a sense of unease.  This innocent child is dealing with a secret that she doesn’t fully understand.  She is able to express her distress at the situation her finds herself in and Li’s beautifully rendered animation shows how a child’s animation can be a coping mechanism.  The boundaries between dreams (or nightmares) and reality can blur together until it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.

It is a powerful film, that will no doubt be distressing to viewers with personal experience of domestic abuse, but it is a very important tale to tell.  It reminds us that we really need to listen to the stories children tell us and take seriously when they express that something is wrong.  The story is beautifully illustrated with colourful pencil drawings, in an elegant evocation of the most common medium of children’s art.

According to her “Making Of” blog, the story came out not of personal experience but of research Li had done into the subject of child abuse.   She studied films and books that gave her insight into the psychology of abuse, and wanted to give an empathetic portrayal from the point of view of the victim.  

The film is playing this weekend and next at the Image Forum Festival where I will be watching it again.  I am sure it will be picked up at other international film festivals around the world in the coming year.

Nianze Li (李 念澤, b. 1995) did her undergraduate education at the Sichuan Fine Art Institute New Media Art Department (2017) and completed her master’s at Tokyo University of the Arts Graduate School of Film and New Media earlier this year. You can follow her on twitter, Instagram, and Vimeo.

2020 Cathy Munroe Hotes

02 June 2020

Watch: White Road (白の路, 2003)

Tomoyasu Murata (村田朋泰) has made his early independent film White Road (白の路 / Shiro no michi, 2003) available on YouTube for the first time.  It is one of a series of short puppet animations with a pianist as the main protagonist. White Road brought Murata’s work to a wider audience in East Asia because it was re-edited and used as a music video for popular J-Pop band Mr. Children’s 2004 song Hero. Images from other animated films by Murata were projected onto screens during Mr. Children’s 2004 Shufuku no Oto tour.


Memories of a boy and a girl. Even now, as an adult, I can't forget the memories and wistful pain. Like running through a white landscape forever.

The film has an elegiac tone.  Instead of dialogue or narration, the story is told through character expression, puppet movement, sentimental music, foley effects (wind, the crunching of snow), silence and expressive use of colour.  The predominant colour of the film is indeed the white of the title, but it is complemented by the use of blue light, which adds to the melancholy atmosphere.

White Road shows the nameless pianist returning to his rural childhood home in the winter. He is haunted by the memories of a young girl who had been his playmate and the puppy that they loved but died, possibly due to their unwitting neglect. The pianist’s memories are evoked through flashbacks that sometimes involve him sharing the screen with his younger self. Particularly poignant is the scene in which he mourns the puppy and an adult ghost of the dog looks on as if forgiving him for his childhood mistake. We are also invited to share in the pianist’s grief for his lost childhood friend, who moved away with her family.

For more information about the director see: https://www.tomoyasu.net/
Follow Murata's production company on twitter: @TMC_STAFF

2020 Catherine Munroe Hotes

24 April 2020

The World of Ryōji Yamada / 山田遼志の世界

The World of Ryōji Yamada / 山田遼志の世界

In the “before times”, when we were still able to meet in small groups in Japan, I was able to attend one of the The World of Ryōji Yamada ( 山田遼志の世界) special screening events hosted by tampen.jp. The screening selection featured a mix of Yamada’s acclaimed animated shorts and his commissioned works (music videos).

Waiter (2014)
Popping, Mixing (2012)
LaLaLa Brothers (2011)
Keita SANO’s ‘Mad Love’ (music video, 2017)
King Gnu’s ‘Prayer X’ (music video, 2018)
Doodle Project II (2019)
Kicell’s ‘Hitotsu dake Kaeta’ / キセル「ひとつだけ変えた」(music video, 2018)
Natsu to Suisei’s ‘27th’ / 夏と彗星「27th」 (music video, 2020)
WONK’s ‘Cyberspace Love’ (music video, 2017)
Hunter (2017)
handshake (2018)
Firehead (2019)

Yamada has an MFA in Animation from Tama Art University, and in 2018-2019 he had the opportunity to live in Germany as a Trainee Japanese Council Affair of Culture. During this time was a guest student of Andreas Hykade at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, and he was able to join us at Nippon Connection for a screening of his film Hunter.

I went to the event to see the film Yamada made in Germany, Firehead. I am glad that I did because I had never sat down and watched a selection of Yamada’s films altogether before and it was interesting to see how his style has developed over the years. I was also impressed by Yamada’s ability to adjust his style to suit the needs of his clients in the commissioned music videos.

Music is an integral part of Yamada’s films and the music for his independent works are composed by his long time collaborator Makoto Takahashi. I purchased a CD of the music Takahashi composed for the films at the event and it came with a fold-out poster featuring Yamada’s art.

Apart from Firehead, all the other films from the screening can be found online and I have assembled them for you below (plus the trailer for Firehead). The discussions with the director from the screenings can be found on tanpen’s YouTube Channel (JP only)

Waiter from Ryoji Yamada on Vimeo.

Doodle Project II (2019) from Dante Zaballa on Vimeo.

HUNTER from Ryoji Yamada on Vimeo.

handshake from Ryoji Yamada on Vimeo.

FIREHEAD Trailer from Ryoji Yamada on Vimeo.

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2020