21 February 2010

Osamu Tezuka: Self Portrait (1988)

David Ehrlich’s Animated Self Portraits (1989), as I mentioned in the previous post, features 19 artists from 5 countries exploring their identities as artists through the medium of animation. With the entire film reportedly being only 8 minutes in length, one wonders how Ehrlich managed to fit all the artists in when Kihachirō Kawamoto’s contribution comes in at approximately a minute in length – even if you shave off the opening and closing credits. Osamu Tezuka makes space for other artists, in a 10 second film that gives just as strong an impression as Kawamoto’s.

Also in contrast to Kinoshita’s Self Portrait (セルフポートレート, 1988, 1’27”), Tezuka’s Self Portrait (自画像 / Jigazou, 1998, 12 seconds) gives a very different take on the creative process. He divides the screen into three strips. Each strip gives the section of a different section of a face. To the sound of a slot machine, the three strips appear to spin just like the gambling device itself. The fourth time is the charm (three is unlucky in Japanese culture), with three sections of Tezuka’s face lining up. In the caricature of his face he is wearing his trademark glasses and beret. His mouth is agape and gold coloured coins fall out of it.

The different faces used in this short animation strike me as either being famous faces or characters from Tezuka’s prolific career as a manga-ka and anime director. They look familiar, but I can’t quite put names to them all. Obviously, one of them is Frankenstein. One look likes a politician whose name I ought to know. Leave a comment if you recognize them from these screencaps. I particularly like the alien / swamp creature that makes an appearance in the right-hand column.

Now, there are a couple of ways to interpret this film. The first is that all these characters somehow inhabit the imagination of the artist. Or perhaps, they were influential in some way on Tezuka during his career. On the other hand, it may be about the creative process itself. Where Kawamoto depicted the creative process as a struggle, Tezuka suggests that success for him is all as a matter of chance. You pull the handle on the slot machine with your initial project idea and hope that with luck all the pieces will fall into place. Certainly, Tezuka’s career was a series of ups and downs, but when all the elements fell into place for him, the rewards were certainly very great. Something that both Kawamoto’s and Tezuka’s films have in common is their sense of humour. I may have to troll through some archives to get a hold of the original film in its entirety, because it would be interesting to compare how these very different artists (Jan Švankmajer and Tezuka on the same programme together!!) interpret the concept of ‘self portrait’.

Osamu Tezuka Jikken animation sakuhin shu / Animation

Kihachiro Kawamoto Sakuhin shu / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010