19 March 2007

4-Day Weekend (4デイ・ウィークエンド, 1998)

I've been a fan of British indie band The Bluetones for many years now, but only recently discovered this video for their 1998 song "4-Day Weekend." The animation is done by Studio 4°C, a studio founded in the mid-1980s by Koji Morimoto (森本晃司), Eiko Tanaka (田中栄子), and Yoshiharu Sato (佐藤好春). They have done a wide range of cutting edge animation work from Mind Game (2006) to The Animatrix (2003).

I like this video directed by Koji Morimoto for many reasons. On the sentimental side, the bubble-blower the young female protagonist is using in the scene that bookends the video is commonplace in Japan and my kids love to use them. On the more techinical side, I love the contrast between monochrome and colour. Normally I much prefer traditional line drawing to computer animation, but the colour effects in this short piece make it visually quite striking and original.

The use of black and white also suits the good and evil theme of the dream sequence that takes up the central part of the video. It culminates in a wonderful sequence in which the black spirit of the girl (shades of Ghibli films past in parts of this sequence) plummets to the earth but the boy transforms into a streak of white light to rescue her. Colour is then restored to the world as the band sings "I'm alive, I'm alive..."

My only criticism of the video would be the lifeless CGI rendering of the band performing in a haze of blue. As it is they look awkward and not very visually interesting. It would have been better if Morimoto had used the same style as animiation that he used to render the couple in the storyline. On the whole though, I think this is a superb video. I like the humour of the final scene. It's always nice to end a short film on a light note.

Here is link to the video.

Genius Party / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2007

11 March 2007

Perspektivenbox (遠近法の箱, 1990)


Perspektivenbox: The Researcher’s Search

This four minute animated film written and directed by Koji Yamamura (山村浩二) in 1990 is an early example of the layered technique that Yamamura also used in his Academy Award nominated film Mt. Head (頭山, 2002). The film explores a chaotic Tokyo-inspired cityscape through the eyes of a small researcher who is a cross between Poirot and a British colonial era birdwatcher complete with binoculars, a white safari hat, and a notepad.

The multi-planed image incorporates a wide variety of animation techniques including line drawings, three-dimensional objects, and still photographs as background. As with many of his films, Yamamura uses a multiplane stand to create the impression of depth. This layering is emphasised through the use of dramatic focus-pulls and fades as well as an active, tracking camera.

For example, the background is often a static image, usually a modified photograph. The layer on top of this is a building that is more colourful than the background. The next layer usually contains active figures like the birds or the researcher, and in the foreground one often sees the silhouettes of trees as the camera pans through the scene.

The cityscape in Perspektivenbox is cluttered with road signs and barcodes that cover the sides of buildings. Crow-like birds, fantastic blob-like creatures with skinny limbs meander in and out of our view. The researcher is like an explorer in a strange world where he is dwarfed not only by the buildings but also by the human inhabitants who are quite tall in contrast to this strange caricature of a man with his oversized nose and moustache.

There are strange, surreal moments such as the Dali-inspired businessman with a clock for a head who checks his digital watch. Both the clock on his head and his watch show that time is flying by at a furious pace. In yet another surreal image, a large woman tries in vain to recapture his groceries, which have floated out of her bags and are drifting away from her.

The clutter of the city is emphasized by the cacophony of the soundtrack. Composed by Koji Ueno (上野耕路) the soundtrack uses dissonant sounds produced by a synthesizer along with some interesting passages on piano and bass. There is no dialogue, but Yamamura also uses sound effects such as dogs barking, footsteps, rustling noises, and onomatopoeic human noises familiar to Japanese audiences.

The researcher is clearly labeled as an outsider to the city by his size, costume, and his treatment of the city as an object of study. The choice of British colonial costume suggests that the city is a kind of jungle or wild place: a kind of uncharted territory for the intrepid explorer to record. The confusion and clutter of the city combined with the surreal, dream-like aspects of the film turn the city into a fantastic place that is out of touch with reality. One could easily read the film as a critique of modern life and city-living.

The film ends with a close-up of the binoculars on the ground, but with the images of the film still passing through them as if the binoculars were watching the film on their own. This suggests a certain level of self-reflection on Yamamura’s part. As the animator, he is the one holding the Perspektivenbox. The eye of the camera functions as his binoculars and the finished film reveals the results of his observations of the world around him in both its fantasticness and mundanity.

Atamayama - Koji yamamura Sakuhinshu / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2007

02 March 2007

Repas en famille (家族の食事, 1897)

The National Film Center (NFC) has a number of fascinating film clips available for viewing on flatscreens throughout the exhibit, many with stools available for comfortable viewing. The most fascinating of these for me are the Lumière shorts just inside the exhibition gallery entrance.

The Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, are of course famous film pioneers who invented the cinématographe, a camera that acted as both a recorder, printer, and projector of images. Not only did their early short films, or actualités travel all over the world, but they also sent their cameramen far and wide to capture exotic images of far away places such as Russia, Mexico, Australia, and Japan.

Repas en famille (Louis Lumière, 1897) is the first of more than two dozen Lumière films screening at NFC. Ostensibly, the Lumière actualités were meant to capture documentary footage of real life but there is a staginess about many of the films set shot in Japan. For example, the family in Repas en famille has clearly been positioned around their ‘meal’ (repas) in a photogenic manner, without anyone’s back to the camera, apart from the father who often turns to look at the camera.

The film might have more aptly been called ‘A family has tea’, because I doubt that a Japanese family would eat their food off the ground. It would be more likely that they would eat from a low table. From the assembly of accessories I would imagine that they are actually watching the grandmother make green tea for them, not their family meal.

The mother fusses with her two children while the grandmother fusses with the kettle. The father’s glances at the camera tell of an awkwardness of situation. He is clearly aware of the camera’s presence and gives me the impression that he is wondering how long they must keep up this charade. However, there is an authenticity to this kind of behaviour. If they were ignoring the camera’s presence altogether it would turn the film into a complete fiction. The ‘realism’ or documentary nature of this actualité can be found not only in the clothes the family are wearing and in the custom that they are performing for the camera, but also the awkwardness of the subjects relationship with this new technology that is recording their actions for posterity.

Although most on-line sources for this film credit Louis Lumière with direction, the NFC credits コンsタン・ジレル as the cameraman. Constine Gilles? I will update when I discover the proper Roman script for his name.

Les Film Lumiere   / Documentary

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2007


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