22 February 2010

Fantasy (Kunio Kato, 2003)

While watching this short animation, which Kunio Katō (加藤久仁生) released on the web in 2003 I realized just how romantic Katō is as an artist. I don’t mean romantic in the Jdorama sense of the word, rather in the sense of sentimental and idealistic. While there may be some dark themes running through his films (the strange events of The Apple Incident, or the melancholy of Tsumiki no ie), on the whole his vision is optimistic and open to flights of fancy. He uses soft hues (though darker than pastel), soft, rounded edges, beautifully shaped faces, and heavy use of dissolves and fades.

The ‘fantasy’ in this film is the storybook variety. The film consists of five brief vignettes, which the title cards refer to as stories. Each vignette does not really tell a story so much as suggest one, leaving the audience to fill in the rest of the story themselves. There are several motifs that give direction to these suggestions: a storybook, butterflies, a young girl, and red shoes.

Each title card resembles a page in a storybook, with the animated stories even visually retaining the storybook frame throughout. The first story, ‘ちいさな魂/The Little Spirit’ (Chiisana Tamashii) – the only story with Japanese in its title – opens with a young girl sitting on what appears to be an oversized stool, with oversized floorboards in the background, reading an oversized storybook. Not only does the book indicate the theme of storytelling and fantasy, but the oversized mise-en-scène harkens back to Alice in Wonderland. Adding to this is the fact that the girl is the typical age of a heroine like Alice: the Studio Ghilbi heroines are all usually 12 or 13 years old, and this storybook girl’s red shoes reference Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

The next key motif for reading this short film are the small yellow butterflies that emerge from the pages of the book and flitter up into the sky. The butterfly is a common motif in Japanese literature and film because of its transformative nature. In the fantasy world of storybooks, things are not always what they seem however much they may resemble the world of reality. Sure enough, as the camera follows the butterflies up into the sky, Katō reveals that the girl is not in an oversized room but sitting on the roof of a tall building with his trademark slender buildings in the background.

This element of surprise and movement between fantasy and reality repeats in each of the vignettes. In ‘Story 2: Gypsy’, the girl has her face lifted into an autumn wind as leaves appear to transform from green into autumn colours as they float past her to the ground. In ‘Story 3: Fantasy’ the scene moves from the realm of fantasy (sleeping in a beautiful woodland scene) to reality (sleeping in one’s own bedroom), with an element of fantasy in the shape of a flower makes the leap from one realm to the other. In ‘Story 4: Melody’, we are led to believe that the pattern is repeating itself with the girl now in a dark underwater world with a goldfish, but the scene shifts to reveal that she is looking through a giant aquarium window shaped like a moon.

In the final vignette, the girl is sheltering from heavy rain under the overhang of a tall, slender building. A close up of her ruby red shoes suggests that she does not want to get them wet. However, when the rain clears, the girl forgets the puddles and skips and dances cheerfully through the landscape, her arms outstretched to greet the sunlight.

With Fantasy, Katō captures a feeling of whimsy in his exploration of the fantasy life of his young female protagonist. While on one hand, I like how he keeps it simple and encourages the audience to fill in the ‘story’, on the other hand I was left wanting more. I would enjoy seeing these ‘stories’ expanded. After the carefully crafted narrative of La maison en petits cubes, it would be wonderful to see Katō really indulge himself in his next film with another fantastic vision from the world of his sepia, sea green and teal-hued imagination. According to Gaugins, he is currently working on several animation projects for websites and TV, though there have been no recent status updates on his official website.

Related Posts:
La maison en petits cubes
The Diary of Tortov Roddle
The Apple Incident

Support this independent artist by buying his work on DVD, or viewing it on CrunchyrollLa maison en petits cubes is also available as an itunes download c/o shorts international.

pieces of love / Animation

Aru Tabibito no Nikki / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010