17 March 2010

Kihachiro Kawamoto & Absolut Vodka (1997)

 Li Po  ( 李白) celenrating hanami with a sip of vodka

In 1996, renowned puppet animator Kihachirō Kawamoto (川本喜八郎, b. 1925) was one of twenty-four international animators to contribute to a ground-breaking internet marketing campaign by Absolut Vodka. The campaign was called Absolut Panushka, after the curator Christine Panushka, and it launched on the internet in January 1997. Today, using short animated video clips to advertise on the internet is par for the course, but in 1997 this campaign was groundbreaking.  

Li Po finds himself inspired by the vodka.
Each contributing animator was asked to design a ten second animation that featured the signature Absolut bottle shape. The animation was put into historical context with written text by historian Dr. William Moritz (1941-2004), an expert in visual music and experimental animation. Although the website has been taken down, many of the fifty short articles that Moritz wrote for the site can be viewed at The iota Center.

A screencap of the website as it looked in 1997.
The chosen animators were already well established in their careers. Notable names included Pritt Parn, Jules Engel, Ruth Hayes, and of course, Christine Panushka herself. The styles were as varied as the nationalities represented ranging from the abstract to the comic. The creative director of the project was Debra Callabresi, current president of N-Tonic, on whose website many of the video clips can viewed (warning Pritt Parn’s contribution is funny, but NSFW).

Although Kawamoto is now associated with the high art style of his puppet animations, he actually got his start in much more commercial fare. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he partnered with Tadasu Iizawa and Shigeru Hijikata to form Shiba Productions. During their peak years making puppet animation for such companies as Asahi Beer and Mitsuwa Sekken, they were making up to 12 commercials a month with Kawamoto designing and animated the puppets.
"That's me. The laureate in a bottle."
With this background, it comes as no surprise that he was able to come up with an animation for Absolut Vodka that is both visually striking and humorous. A doll of the Chinese poet Li Po(aka Li Bai aka 李白/りはく) sits under a cherry blossom tree sipping vodka, the narrator and visuals suggest that Li Po finds his poetic inspiration in a bottle of vodka. The short fulfils the brief, while at the same time maintaining Kawamoto’s reputation for exquisitely designed animated puppets. Watch it here.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010