22 April 2010

Dome Animation (動夢 アニメーション)

Image Forum Poster for 2008 event
Nippon Connection came to a close on Sunday night and over the coming days and weeks, I will try to write up as many reviews of the films that I saw there as possible. I saw many, many films this year, and I am feeling quite overwhelmed by the sheer number of images racing through my mind. On the whole, the quality of films at Nippon Connection was quite good this year. . . either that or I got extremely lucky with my screening selections.

My final screening was Dome Animation, a touring selection of animation films made by former students of Image Forum in Tokyo. The films ranged in length between 2 and 5 minutes and were all experimental. The students themselves undertook to put together the selection of films, which first showed in Tokyo, and many of the films have also toured to Osaka and Hong Kong. We were lucky to have two of the animators, Nasuka Saitō and Mana Fujii (aka Fujiy), in attendance to answer our questions after the screening.

At first, I did not understand the title of this collection of films, until I found the Image Forum programme from the first screening event in 2008. The ‘dō’ in ‘Dome’ is taken from the kanji 動 as in 動画(dōga) as in ‘moving images’ or ‘motion pictures’. The ‘me’ is actually ‘mu’, the Chinese reading of 夢 (yume) which means ‘dream(s)’. So the title of the screening, should really have been called something like ‘Dreams in Motion’, ‘Moving Dreams’, ‘Motion Dreams’, or even ‘Dream Movies’. The title ‘dome’ is derived from the homonym in katakana (ドーム). This type of wordplay is quite common in Japanese, but very difficult to translate, especially if the translator isn’t ‘in the know’ about the creation of the original word. 動夢 (dōmu) is not a word found in dictionaries, but a title creatively assembled for this screening event.

The films, in the order in which they were screened were:

  • Geographic Score /地形譜 (Hou NAKAO / 中尾峰, 3分, 2008)
  • Pattern / もようさらさら (Miyuki OKUYAMA /奥山美由紀, 3分, 2008)
  • Vermilion (Yusuke MORISHITA / 森下裕介, 4分, 2007)
  • Sketchbook vol. 1 (Yurio/ユリヲ, 3分, 2008)
  • The Promise of the Man at the Window and the Woman on a Prairie / 窓の男と草原の女の約束 (Miku KOGAWA /古川 実来, 3分, 2009)
  • John / ジョン (Mitsuo TOYAMA / 外山光男, 5分,2008)
  • Doroningen / ドロニンゲン (Masahiro OHSUKA / 大須賀政裕, 4分, 2007)
  • Scenery of Loneliness / 寂しさの風景 (Kuniko SHIMONO /下野久仁子, 5分, 2008)
  • I Am Here (Kanadu / カナヅ, 5分, 2008)
  • Tale of a Letter / 文字の霊の話 (Ryo ORIKASA / 折笠良, 5分, 2008)
  • The Source of Myself / 私の素 (Nanae HASHIMOTO/橋本七重, 3分, 2008)
  • A Labyrinth of Residence / 居住迷宮 (Nasuka SAITŌ / 齊藤ナスカ, 5分, 2008)
  • Tokyo Minced Meat / 東京ミンチ (Yuichiro ARAMAKI / アラマキ, 5分, 2008)
  • Adom Kadamon / アドムカダモン (Masahiro OHSUKA /大須賀政裕/ビデオ, 3分, 2006)
  • The Last Train / 最終列車の夜 (Mana FUJII/藤衣真菜, 3分, 2009)
Scenery of Loneliness
These animated shorts used a wide variety of techniques. Experimental composer Hou Nakao created a fascinating animated terrain as a visual expression of his music. One of the more visually stunning films was Doroningen, by Masahiro Ohsuka, who animates shapes drawn in the sand and water altering the shape of sand. Yusuke Morishita’s Vermilion used computer animation to match a percussive soundtrack to images of a genki elderly woman with a cane dancing. Kanadu had taken videoed images of her shadow and altered them using computer animation techniques. Many of the films used electric guitar and amp feedback for their soundtracks in order to create a feeling of discord. In contrast to this, Kuniko Shimono’s beautifully animated watercolour sketches featured more lyrical music that was a welcome respite from the more intense films. Some films, like Adom Kadamon by Masahiro Ohsuka, where philosophical in their use of symbolism, while others, like Aramaki’s Tokyo Minced Meat, went for images that would evoke a gut reaction (comparing people moving through the city to meat going through a grinder). Nanae Hashimoto’s The Source of Myself used such powerful imagery of self-harming that it was actually difficult to watch.

Fujii's The Last Train
The two guests, Fujii and Saitō, had two of the strongest films of the bunch. Fujii’s The Last Train (Saishū Ressha no Yoru), begins with a fuzzy image with intermittent lights flashing by, like the darkened window of a train at night. The soundtrack features the sounds of the train including the announcer’s voice. After a while, an angel animated in light against the dark background appears accompanied by the strains of a guitar. Soon more angels appear and images dance across the scene. The concept was beautiful in its simplicity and I interpreted it as the kind of dream one has when one falls asleep on the train after a long day at work. Backing up this interpretation was the addition of what sounded like the sound of deep, steady breathing on the soundtrack.

During the question and answer period, Fujii said that she used a Pen Tablet to draw her animation over images that she had recorded with her video camera. Fujii spoke in the Q&A of her love of drawing. The choice of animation as a medium came naturally to her as she described how she was always drawing pictures in her mind.
 A Labyrinth of Residence

Saitō’s A Labyrinth of Residence (Kyojū Meikyū) is an impressive film for a student filmmaker. The film’s subject is the architecture of a typical ‘mansion’ (concrete high rise apartment building). Saitō manages to transform a normally boring urban setting into a dynamic exploration of form, texture, and pattern. Saitō took approximately 8000 individual black and white photographs of the mansion in which she lived during the space of 1 month. She then used 5000 photos, which she edited on the computer. Ordinary objects like doorknobs, locks, hinges, and elevator buttons become objects of beauty.

My immediate thought upon seeing Saitō's film was that they must be students of Takashi Itō, because A Labyrinth of Residence seemed to be drawing its inspiration from films like Spacy (1981) and Drill (1983). During the Q&A, I discovered that my hunch had been correct. Saitō said that it was not something that she was conscious of at the time, but she had seen his films, and he was one of their instructors, so she believes she must have been subconsciously influenced by Itō’s work. Saitō explained that she had always been fascinated with ‘boring things’ and wanted to move them to make them more interesting. She found the transition from a traditional Japanese wooden house, to this cold, artificial space very difficult and for her, the making of A Labyrinth of Residence was a way to find something of interest with her new surroundings.

Image Forum is without question one of the most important supporters of experimental and independent film production, screening, and distribution in not just Tokyo, but all of Japan. Fujii and Saitō stressed the importance of Image Forum’s screenings and workshops to young artists such of themselves and told us Image Forum is unique because they don’t just teach theory and methods, they impart motivation. The ethos at Image Forum is that anyone can make an experimental film, and the Dome Animation selection demonstrates that many newcomers can make very good experimental films indeed.

Takashi Ito's collected works is available on DVD in Japan:
Takashi Ito Eiga Sakuhin Shu / Japanese Movie
Japanese Movie

Also from Image Forum:

Thinking and Drawing / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010