30 September 2010

Post-Kawamoto: Puppet Animation in Japan

The passing of Kihachirō Kawamoto (川本喜八郎, 1925-2010) marked the end of an era in puppet animation in Japan. Along with his mentor Tadahito Mochinaga (持永只仁, 1919-1999) and his close friend and collaborator Tadanari Okamoto (岡本忠成, 1932-1990), Kawamoto belonged to the first generation of puppet animation pioneers. However, thanks to the inspiring work and mentorship of these three great artists, many more animators are continuing the tradition of puppet animation in Japan.

I should point out that by “puppet animation,” I am referring to stop motion animation done with anthropomorphic figures. This should not be confused with “puppet films” which is the filmed performance of puppets. There are also some remarkable achievements in this area in Japan such as Kon Ichikawa’s recently rediscovered Dojoji Musume (1946), or Kawamoto’s Bunraku style NHK television spectaculars. Another classic early example of this genre is the long running NHK program Chirorin Village and the Walnut Tree (チロリン村とくるみの木/ Chirorin Mura to Kurumi no Ki, 1956-1964). While these puppet films are remarkable achievements, and they may occasionally incorporate animation techniques, they belong to a different genre of film.

So who are the big names in puppet animation in Japan today? The following are some of my favourites (there are many more!). Click on the artist’s names to check out their homepages and be sure to share your favourites in the comments section.

Tomoyasu Murata (村田朋泰, b.1974)

Long-time readers of this blog will know that Tomoyasu Murata is responsible for my interest in alternative Japanese animation. My discovery of his work at a small gallery near my former home in Nishikata is what began this whole journey for me. His creative output is enormous as I mentioned in my profile of him for Midnight Eye and is not limited to puppet animation.

For further reading:
Indigo Road
White Road
Scarlet Road
A Memory
Sky Colour Flower Colour
Lemon Road

Hideto Nakata (中田 秀人, b. 1972)

Not to be confused with Hideo Nakata (中田 秀夫) of horror film fame (ie Ring, Dark Water), Hideto Nakata is a stop motion animator who won the Excellence Prize at the 13th Japan Media Arts Festival as well as the prestigious Noburo Ofuji Award for his film Elemi (電信柱エレミの恋い/ Denshin-Bashira Elemi no Koi 2009). Together with three modelers – Kenji Matsuo, Hirokazu Hosoi, and Shigeaki Masuda – Nakata formed his own production studio Sovat Theatre in 1997. The team creates stop motion animation and installations. At 45 minutes, Elemi is their longest film to date. Elemi is screening this week at Fantoche in Switzerland.

Tsuneo Goda (合田経郎, b. 1974) and  Hirokazu Minegishi (峰岸裕和, b. 1955) of dwarf

Goda and Minegishi are the creative force behind the NHK mascot Domo and more recently the Komaneko puppet animations. Goda designs the puppets and directs the short films, while Hirokazu Minegishi does the stop motion animation. Minegishi began his career working as an assistant to Tadanari Okamoto at Echo-sha working on such films as Praise be to small ills (1973) and the Are wa dare? shorts (1976). He has also worked as an assistant on several Kawamoto films including Dojoji Temple (1976), House of Flames (1978), and Rennyo and his Mother (1981).

Yusuke Sakamoto (坂元 友介, b. 1985)

I was totally wowed by Sakamoto’s film The Dandelion Sister (蒲公英の姉/Tampopo no Ane, 2007) at Nippon Connection in 2008. This surreal tale is a beautiful rendering of a younger sister’s struggles with an older sister who is ill – and strangely in the form of a dandelion. Sakamoto started making claymation films in high school and went on to study animation at Tokyo Zokei University where he is currently doing graduate studies. In his short career as an animator he has already won great acclaim. His non-puppet animation The Telegraph Pole Mother (電信柱のお母さん, 2005) is also outstanding.

Honorable Mentions:

 Koji Yamamura's Kipling, Jr.

Naoyuki Tsuji's Sameru (1992)
Village of Marchen (Keita Funamoto and Masahide Kobayashi)

Recommended DVDs:

Tomoyasu Murata Sakuhinshu - Ore no Michi / Animation
Tomoyasu Murata's My Road Collection

Suiren no Hito / Animation
Tomoyasu Murata's Nostalgia

Atamayama - Koji yamamura Sakuhinshu / Animation
Koji Yamamura's Animation Works

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

Tsuki no Waltz (月のワルツ, 2004)

The NHK’s long-running program Minna no Uta has been a great showcase for musical talent and talented animators and directors since the early 1960s. Some of the most prolific contributors to Minna no Uta include some of the brightest stars of the animation world including Koji Nanke, Tadahiko Horiguchi, Keizo Kira, Sadao Tsukioka, Keiko Tanaka, Taku Furukawa, Yoji Kuri, Fumio Ooi, and Seiichi Hayashi .

My favourite Minna no Uta music video of the past decade is Atsuko Ishizuka’s Tsuki no Waltz (月のワルツ/Waltz of the Moon). Ishizuka (いしづか あつこ, b. 1981) was still a student when her animated shorts CREMONA (2003) and Gravitation (引力/ Inryoku, 2003) caught the attention of the NHK. Gravitation was featured as part of the Digista Best Selection for 2003. By 2004, Ishizuka had already been snatched up by Madhouse as an assistant director, but the NHK was able to negotiate for Ishizuka to direct Tsuki no Waltz.

The haunting song was composed and sung by the talented young artist Mio Isayama (諌山実生, b. 1980) with lyrics by Reiko Yukawa (湯川れいこ, b. 1939). The song is about the strange things that can happen on a moonlit night. A young girl encounters an elderly man sitting in a moonlit alleyway and becomes transfixed by an Alice in Wonderland themed mechanical clock. Looking into the blue eyes of the man she is transported into the surreal realm of the imagination.

Ishizuka picks up on the song’s Alice in Wonderland theme and depicts a young girl being transported down a rabbit hole where she encounters a giant version of the White Rabbit sipping red wine. The girl runs through a labyrinth of surreal imagery until she comes to a sliver of a moon – which resembles the one Ishizuka used in the title of her film Gravitation (see the first image of my review of Gravitation). The old man appears and reaches out his hand to the girl and she gets transported away on the crescent moon up to the clouds. In the clouds, the old man and the girl ride the crescent moon like a ship as the White Rabbit  grows bigger and metamorphosizes into a cathedral-like structure. The moon ship sails the pair into the White Rabbit and through to the galaxy on the other side where the girl stands on the centre of  a now giant clock and faces the elderly man who stands on the hand of the clock as it spins backwards. The old man transforms into a young prince and the girl runs to him to embrace. She slips, but the young man catches her by the hand in a romantic gesture.

The romanticism of the moment is emphasized by the grey clouds transforming into a wonderland of mystical flowers. The film ends by returning to the clock, then showing the couple floating off together. The final images are of the empty alleyway (the old man and girl are no longer there) and the city, suggesting that there is no end to this dream and the girl is really flying away from the metropolis into the heavens with her young prince.
 The crescent moon, which was also referenced in Gravitation
'Alice' gets whisked into wonderland through 
the old man's blue eyes in this wonderful transition sequence.

While there are some similarities to her earlier film Gravitation, this is a much more elaborate and visually sumptuous film. Perhaps most impressive are the beautiful, seamless transitions such as the girl being transported into Wonderland through the blue eyes of the elderly man (see image above) and the red wine transforming into a labyrinth entrapping the girl (see top image). The logic of the film is entirely ruled by dreams and metamorphosis. The matching of animation movement to the rhythms of the song makes the film particularly engaging. The opening and closing music sound like a wind-up music box and is matched to sequences with the mechanical clock. The sections of the song where the music swells are also paired with dramatic movements onscreen, such as the White Rabbit growing and metamorphosizing and the climax of the dramatic action of the film occuring during the musical bridge.

 The mechanical clock

Tsuki no Waltz and Ishizuka’s early shorts give us a taste of the unique, surreal vision of Ishizuka as an artist. At Madhouse, she has worked on a number of successful commercial anime TV series including a guilty pleasure of mine – the Nana anime series (2006-2007). Her work on episodes 11 and 12 of the Aoi Bungaku Series (青い文学シリーズ , 2009) is brilliant – especially in the use of colour. I am quite excited about seeing Madhouse’s co-production with Warner Bros. Supernatural: the Animation (see trailer) in the New Year which Ishizuka is co-directing with Shigeyuki Miya. While I enjoy the projects she has been involved with at Madhouse so far, I have a feeling that the best is yet to come. Once she has put in her time and is finally given the chance to helm a feature film of her own inception, I wouldn’t be surprised if she is capable of producing works on par with the creative genius of Kon Satoshi’s Paprika (2006).

Related Posts:

Tsuki no Waltz can be found  on:
Other DVDs related to Atsuko Ishizuka:

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

29 September 2010

Gravitation (引力, 2003)

During her days as a student at Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music, Atsuko Ishizuka (いしづか あつこaka 石塚敦子, b. 1981) made some animated shorts that caught the eye of both the NHK and Madhouse (her employer since graduation). Gravitation (引力 /Inryoku, 2003) was one of them and it was featured that same year by the NHK on their Digista program. 

 An example of her uses of extremely high and low angles.

Gravitation is a dream-like film in which a young woman rises out of bed on a dark night and finds her hair being pulled strangely upwards as if the moon had some kind of gravitational pull. The girl steps outside and rides a glass elevator up the side of a skyscraper. From the perspective of the top of the building, she looks down at a cityscape reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and witnesses an old-fashioned car crashing on the side of the expressway. The shards of glass float up as if being pulled by the same moon gravity as the girl’s hair. Soon, the girl’s dog and the car are all being pulled upwards as well. The girl falls from the building only to have the force from the moon suddenly pull her in the other direction. As she jets towards the moon, she is able to rescue her dog and holds him in her arms. The film ends with a spinning close up of the girl holding her dog and as a mass of flowers swirl past her and gather around the moon, nestling it like a ball that has fallen into a rich garden of flowers.

The only hints of colour are the streetlights of this Metropolis-esque setting 
(notice how her hair is being pulled by the moon's force)

I find this film visually captivating. The main reason for this is Ishizuka’s striking, yet minimatlistic use of white on black with only a hint of yellows and reds for the streetlights. In some scenes, such as when the girl’s hair begins to be pulled by the gravitational force of the moon, the sketched white lines are finely filigreed as if made from the silk of a spider’s web. Ishikawa plays with unusual and interesting camera angles and distances. It’s a fascinating mixture of the cute (the girl and her puppy dog), the eclectic (a pre-WWII car), the futuristic (the setting), and the surreal (the gravitational pull of the moon, a sky full of flowers). 

 An extreme close up as the girl soaring through the air - notice the moon in the background.

The mood of the piece is enhanced by the compelling musical score composed for the film by Yoshiyuki Yamada (山田善之 – at least I’m guessing it’s Yoshiyuki – I can’t find him on the web to confirm the reading of his given name). There are a number of stylistic elements and motifs in Gravitation that get repeated in her NHK short Tsuki no Waltz (月のワルツ, 2004). The female protagonists look very similar in the face and hair and character movements. The moon is repeated as a main motif in both films, and she also repeats the image of flowers filling the starlit sky.  There are so many similarities that I wonder if the NHK suggested that she repeat these elements in her first Minna no Uta project.
 The moon in a nest of flowers - the flower motif gets repeated in Tsuki no Waltz.

A beautiful film full of the promise of good things to come for Ishizuka’s future as an animator at Madhouse. More on that tomorrow when I review Tsuki no Waltz.

Related Posts:
Tsuki no Waltz
Anime Alice in Wonderland
Madhouse Projects that Atsuko Ishizuka has worked on:

Nana / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

17 September 2010

Tochka Works 2001-2010

The collaborative art team Tochka (トーチカ) has had a distinctive online presence for many years now.  Their creative method of animating with light has inspired many artists around the world to make their own lightning doodles from Lichtfaktor here in Germany to the artists behind the 2007 Sprint commercial. Tochka’s short videos have been shared extensively on the internet, but CALF’s second volume in their DVD series Japanese Independent Animators gives fans a sense of the history of the PiKA PiKA Lightning Doodle movement.  Like Maya Yonesho's Daumenreise and Rinpa Eishidan's videos, Tochka's PiKA PiKA  films belong to the tradition of collaborative art.

Takeshi Nagata and Kazue Monno, the creative duo that make up Tochka – came up with their lightning doodle animation method in 2005 and christened it PiKA PiKA. The Japanese language is replete with evocative onomatopoeias – words whose sound suggests their meaning  – like "buzz buzz" or "drip drop" in English.  “Pika pika” (ピカピカ), as any fan of Pikachu from Pokemon can tell you, is associated with lightning or flashes of light.

The seemingly magical images of people drawing with coloured lights is actually fairly easy for the amateur animator to achieve. In fact, Tochka came up with the method as a way of teaching the principles of stop motion animation to a workshop that ranged in ages from 3 to 60. As the accompanying booklet explains, one only needs a camera with long exposure capabilities, a flashlight, and a nice black background. While the shutter is open, the “animators” draw shapes repetitively in the air with their flashlights. When the images are played back consecutively at normal speed, the light animation comes to life.

The use of drawing with light in photography is believed to have originated with the avant-garde artist Man Ray in 1935 when he used his pen light to create the self portrait Space Writings (check out the interactive material accessing this work at The Smithsonian). Another famous practitioner of light animation in photography was Pablo Picasso, as you can see in his collaborative photographs with Gjon Mili (examples here and here).

Tochka has taken the artistic concept of photographing points of light at a low shutter speed and married it to contemporary technologies and to their political beliefs in the democratization of art and the use of art to bring people of all walks of life together in a harmonious activity. Their films are not only animations, but also a documentation of their travels around the world where they collaborate with school children, artists at festivals, and even just people they meet while walking the streets of neighbourhoods from Indonesia to Canada. They also use music by local artists on the soundtracks which adds to each film’s flavour as a document of a particular place and time.  This interactivity between filmmakers, musicians, participants, and viewers is truly unique.

Their marriage of their light doodles with music reminded me of Norman McLaren’s imaginative film Boogie-Doodle (1941). A further reminder of McLaren came while I was viewing the “Jumping” section of their PiKA PiKA in Yamagata (2008) video. McLaren’s Oscar-winning film Neighbours (1952) used an animation technique which Grant Munro coined pixilation where people are essentially transformed into stop motion puppets. The Jumping sequence in PiKA PiKA in Yamagata takes the Jumping sequence from Neighbours and multiplies it by more than a dozen as you can see in these screencaps:
McLaren's Neighbours (1952)

PiKA PiKA in Yamagata (2008)

Tochka’s PiKA PiKA films are fun to watch and look as though they were fun to make by the participants. It’s like an animated form of mural-painting or graffiti art.  This was suggested to me by their compilation film PiKA PiKA (2007) which has scenes where both graffiti and lightning doodles are being created simultaneously.

The behind-the-scenes footage of their shoots in the Osaka neighbourhood of Naniwa-ku earlier this year demonstrates how PiKA PiKA can be used in a positive way to document the people and places of a neighbourhood. While in their early films the faces of the “animators” with the lights were obscured, in this footage they light the faces of the local people they encounter during the night shoots while they frame them with lightning doodles. This documentary footage is particularly magical for the way that it shows the transformation of the participants from portrait subjects to active participants. The delight on their faces to see the results of the animation process played back to them from a laptop is truly a joy to behold.

Another element of Tochka’s work that I enjoy is their foregrounding of the process of animation and the tools they use to achieve it. This seems to belong to their desire to share art, rather than simply being privileged practitioners of it. The opening sequences of their films often document the people and the process they used to make the film. For example, The Lovely Memories (2009) is a documentary of an artistic workshop, an animation, and a loving tribute to Lomography cameras (famed for their colourful, soft focus images) all rolled into one (read an interview with Tochka about shooting with the Diana F+ and Instant Back).

This DVD is by no means a complete works of Tochka who have done a wide range of stop motion films over the years for both commercial and artistic purposes. The DVD’s main focus is the PiKA PiKA output since 2005. However, in the special features section of the DVD they do include one of their early stop motion animations Build (2001) which screened on a massive wall in Kobe to commemorate the earthquake – it is a disturbing and fascinating film which playfully references early computer games like Pong and Tetris. 

Other extras include a slideshow of 100 PiKA PiKA stills and a behind-the-scenes featurette of a PiKA PiKA workshop at Suito Osaka (2009,. There is also a short snippet shot for Design Tide (2007), a long edit of PiKA PiKA in Indonesia (2008), and the trailer for PiKA PiKA in Kanazawa (2008). 

Tochka Works 2001-2010 can be purchased online at CALF. The shop is currently Japanese only but an English version is in the works. Alternatively, try contacting them via e-mail or Facebook. The DVD is bilingual Japanese – English.  To learn more about Tochka, visit their homepage.

UPDATE 13 October 2010: CALF's English language webshop is now up and running!

DVD now available in France from HEEZA

Related Posts:
Maya Yonesho Profile
Rinpa Eshidan

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

15 September 2010

Mirai Mizue Works 2003-2010

Last month CALF, a new indie DVD label representing Japanese independent animators, held its official launch at the International Hiroshima Animation Festival. The first two DVDS to be released by CALF feature representative works by abstract animator Mirai Mizue (水江未来) and PIKA PIKA animators Tochka (トーチカ). In October, CALF plans to release DVDs of work by Atsushi Wada (和田淳), whose film In a Pig’s Eye (わからないブタ/Wakaranai Buta, 2010) won the top prize at Fatoche on the weekend, and by Kei Oyama (大山慶) whose film Hand Soap won a prize at Oberhausen earlier this year.

Mirai Mizue’s debut animation Fantastic Cell (2003), which he made during his student years at Tama Art University, was extremely well-received by the animation community. In this film Mizue debuted his distinctive “cell” animation (not to be confused with cel animation) style in which he uses an organic cell as the base shape of his abstract figures. The cells join together or split apart forming a wide array of creatures from the smallest amoeba to jellyfish and finally into a humanoid creature. The original film used the distinctive sounds of Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker Suite. Unfortunately, CALF was unable to afford the rights to the music for the DVD, but one can enjoy the full experience by playing the video from Mirai’s website simultaneously with the DVD video.

Mirai’s pairing of animation with music is reminiscent of the ground-breaking films of Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren. Mizue himself had actually not yet seen the work of these two artists when he made Fantastic Cell, and he points to early Disney films like Fantasia (1940), The Old Mill (1937), and Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953) as having influenced his interest in the relationship between animation and music. The Fantasia influence is certainly apparent in his choice of music as it also features Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers”.

When I first encountered Mirai Mizue’s work on the internet I mistook it for CG animation. His illustration style is so detailed and precise, that one can hardly believe that he has hand drawn every single frame. Furthermore, the digital artifacts produced by low resolution uploads blurred the detail that mark the work as being hand drawn. The high-resolution of the CALF DVD allows the viewer to see every detail of the image as the artist intended it and the result is spectacular. Check out the trailer:

In the Special Bonus Interview feature on the DVD, there is a wonderful timelapse sequence showing Mizue’s process for his “cell” animations. He begins by outlining the images with a pencil then fills them in with aqueous pens (black and colour). The images are then scanned and edited into an animation on the computer. He never uses the computer for paint work – even though his geometric animation such as Modern (2010) and Metropolis (2009) are actually well-suited to computer animation. 

In addition to geometric animation and “cell” animation, Mizue has also been dabbling in what he calls water-surface animation. He first attempted this in 2003 in a film called Minamo in which he set up a camera over a water tray with an illuminated white background (presumably an animation table) and experimented with the flow of aqueous ink over the surface of the water. He manipulated the ink by blowing with straws or stirring with toothpicks and used stop motion animation techniques to shoot the resulting effects. Not satisfied with this first attempt, he tried again in 2009 with the film Blend. This time, he used oil ink in order to see if he could control the stream of ink better. He modestly claims in the DVD booklet that he is still not satisfied and will continue refining his techniques, but these were among my favourite films on the DVD. While the kaleidoscope-like effects are fascinating, I particularly enjoyed the close up shots of the swirling ink. In combination with the experimental score, the effect is mesmerizing. 

The DVD also includes a very different type of experimental film Adamski (2008) which he shot along the Tama River. Citing Jan Svankmejer as a key influence on him as an animator, I believe that the film’s title is a reference to George Adamski, the man who claimed to have taken photographs of UFOs. This supposition is bolstered by Mirai’s statement that he wanted to shoot a film from the POV of a UFO. Like a Takashi Ito film, Adamski is made up entirely of a series of photographs which he shot all on one day. Mirai draws connections between the various graphic patterns made by fences, hydro lines, and buildings in the area. In this animation he also demonstrates a fascination for various textures: leaves in a gutter, pebbles, flowers in a garden, rope – it is a truly poetic film visually. 

The real centerpiece of the DVD for me is his film Jam (2009) which takes the “cell” animation techniques that he uses in Fantastic Cell (2003), Lost Utopia (2007), and Devour Dinner (2008) and ramps it up a couple of notches. In the liner notes he explains that he had been disappointed in the quality of his animation for Devour Dinner, which had been made to deadline. With Jam he challenged himself to make a film that made movement the centerpiece of the film.

Watching Jam on a big screen can be an overwhelming experience because, as the title suggests, the “cell” creatures are literally jammed onto the screen. Every inch of the screen is filled with creatures big and small who wriggle and slide in time with the music. The concept behind the film is that the more increasingly varied the soundtrack becomes, the greater number of creatures and movement should be on screen. It begins with a limited pallette of black, white, and red, and increases the colours as well as the movement endings in a symphony of shapes, sounds, and movements. This is a film that requires repeat viewing in order to fully take in the complexity of the illustrations.

One of his latest films Playground (2010) demonstrates how keen Mizue is to hold onto his signature visual style of “cell” animation, while at the same time challenging himself to keep evolving as an artist. Playground has a much softer look than his earlier cell films because he used a paint brush with India ink in addition to his aqueous pens. He speaks in the liner notes of having been influenced by the paintings of Joan Miro that he saw in Barcelona. To be sure, the influence of Miro is there in not only his commitment to abstract image and movement, but also in his choice of colour palette. The varied selection of animation Mirai has produced in his early years as an artist makes for very inspired viewing and bodes well for the future of art animation in Japan.

Mirai Mizue’s DVD can be purchased for the very reasonable price of ¥2,800 (in comparison: Ghibli DVDs cost almost ¥5,000 apiece) at CALF’s ONLINE SHOP – which is currently only available in Japanese but will be made available in English in the near future. The DVD itself is fully Japanese-English bilingual and region-free. 

You can also contact CALF by e-mail or via their Facebook Profile.

UPDATE 13 October 2010:  CALF's English-language webshop is now open for business!

DVD now available in France via HEEZA

Related links:
Mirai Mizue’s official homepage
Follow Mirai Mizue on twitter

Related posts:
Atsushi Wada’s Day of Nose
Kei Oyama’s Hand Soap

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

07 September 2010

Nagi Noda (野田 凪, 1973-2008)

Today marks the second anniversary of the death of Nagi Noda (野田 凪, 1973-2008), the brilliant pop artist and fashion icon. Not only did she make weird and wonderful videos (short films, music videos, and commercials), but she also had her own line of stuffed animals called HanPanda, designed unusual hair art called Hair Hats, and designed her own fashion line called Broken Label in collaboration with Mark Ryden. She won many awards for her work including the prestigious Bronze Lion at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in 2006 for her Coca-Cola commercial “What Goes Around Comes Around”. Although her life was tragically cut short by injuries she sustained after a traffic accident, her vibrant creative vision lives on to inspire younger artists.

In her memory, I have assembled as complete a videography as I could find. For more information, videos, and slideshows, visit her official homepage. For an extra special treat, check out the making of Nagi Noda's video for Scissor Sisters:


2000 Short Film  “46 Wrinkles”

2002 Short Film  “Small Square Stories”

2002 Commercial  Laforet “Butterfly Ribbons”

2002 Commercial  Laforet “Autumn of appetite” / “Preparation is troublesome”

2002 Commercial  Laforet “It is Christmas Soon” / “Make-up is troublesome”

2003 Short Film  “Wedding Dress, Mourning Dress, Party Dress”

2003 Short Film  “Small Love Stories”

2003 Music Video  Yuki “Sentimental Journey”

2003 Short Film  "A Small Love Story About Alex and Juliet"

2003 Commercial  Laforet “I get married smooooothly”

2003 Commercial  Laforet “Imaginary pregnancy”

2003 Commercial  Laforet “They become large in a hurry for Christmas (grow up)”

2003 Commercial  Laforet “They become large in a hurry for Christmas (kiss)”

2003 Commercial  GEKKEIKAN “GEKKEIKAN”

2003 Commercial  Suntory “Latte Latte”

2003 Commercial  Suntory “Hot Latte Latte”

2003 Commercial  Suntory “Oolong Cha”

2004 Short Film  “Mariko Takahashi’s Fitness Video for Being Appraised as an ‘Ex-Fat Girl’”
  • A surreal parody of Susan Powter’s first work out video.

2004 Commericial  Laforet “Cat Walk with Shadows”

2004 Commercial  Laforet “Animal Girl”

2005 Animation – Opening Credits  "Honey and Clover"

2005 Music Video  OGIYAHAGI “Must Be”

2005 Music Video  OGIYAHAGI “I love your face”

2006 Commercial  Coca Cola “What Goes Around Comes Around”
  • Music by Jack White

2006 Commercial  MONOPRIX “Vegetables”

Monoprix Vegetables (Nagi Noda) from Cosmo Sapiens on Vimeo.

2006 Commercial  MONOPRIX “Mascara”

Monoprix Mascara (by Nagi Noda) from Cosmo Sapiens on Vimeo.

2006 Commercial  MONOPRIX “Jungle”

Monoprix Jungle (Nagi Noda) from Cosmo Sapiens on Vimeo.

2006 TV Ecocolo

2006 Music Video  TIGA “Far From Home”

2007 Commercial  “b+ab spring summer 2008”

2007 Music Video  Scissor Sisters “She’s My Man”

Scissor Sisters - She's My Man
Hochgeladen von G4briHell. - Entdecke weitere Musik Videos. 

2008  Commercial LG Stream Power

06 September 2010

About Her Brother (おとうと, 2010)

On my return flight to Europe this summer I lucked out in finding a Yōji Yamada (山田洋次, b. 1931) film on KLM’s in-flight entertainment system. With a filmography of over a hundred films (as either writer or director) and a Shochiku career spanning over half a century, a Yamada film rarely disappoints. From the hilarity of the Tora-san films (男はつらいよ/Otoko wa Tsurai yo) to the intense period drama Twilight Samurai (たそがれ清兵衛/Tasogare Seibei, 2002), Yamada’s oeuvre has a depth and range that is arguably unparalleled by any other living director.

The brother-sister bond
About Her Brother (おとうと/Otōto, 2010) opens with a dedication to Kon Ichikawa’s award-winning film of the same name Her Brother (おとうと/Otōto, 1960). “Otōto” literally translates as “little brother” and as the official English titles indicate, the central relationship of both films is that of an older sister and her little brother. I have only seen excerpts from Ichikawa’s film in documentaries as it is a rare film outside of Japan (despite the fact that it won an award at Cannes!). From what I can gather, Yamada’s film is not a remake, nor is it an adaptation of the original novel by Aya Koda. Rather, it is thematically inspired by Ichikawa’s film. In both films, the younger brother is the black sheep of the family and his behaviour causes particular trouble to his older sister. I also know that Yamada reused the scene in which the two siblings sleep with their wrists tied together by a pink ribbon. The biggest difference seems to be generational: where the siblings in Ichikawa’s film look to be in their twenties or thirties, in Yamada’s film they are a generation older.

Yamada’s film begins with the titular brother already estranged from the family. His niece Koharu (Yū Aoi of One Million Yen Girl, Hula Girls) is celebrating her impending marriage with her mother Ginko (Sayuri Yoshinaga of Kabei: Our Mother, A Chaos of Flowers) and paternal grandmother Kinuo (Haruko Kato of Howl’s Moving Castle, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters). The women also serve a glass of wine for Koharu’s late father, placing the glass by his photograph on the family shrine. 

Indeed, everyone  is looking forward to Koharu’s wedding with great excitement, but they all share the same fear: has Tetsuro Tanno, the younger brother, been invited? Tetsuro (Tsurube Shōfukutei of Dear Doctor, Kabei: Our Mother) had been very close to the family, both before and after Koharu’s father’s death, but his relationship with them is strained due to his alcoholism. At the ceremony to celebrate the 13th anniversary of Koharu’s father’s death, Tetsuro went on a binge and caused such embarrassment that the family banished him.
Tetsuro demonstrates why he's the black sheep of the family
Tetsuro does indeed make an uproarious appearance at Koharu’s wedding, once again bringing disgrace to the family. This event leads not only to further the estrangement of Tetsuro, but it also triggers a series of events that affect everyone connected to the family in varying ways. The interconnected web of family and neighbours in About Her Brother are reminiscent of an Ozu family drama. So too is the delicate balance of comedy and tragedy.

While the ‘Ototo’ may be the catalyst for the plot, equally important are the three generations of women who bind the family together through thick and thin. The elderly Kinuo resents having her opinions ignored by her daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Ginko, the pharmacist, supports the family both financially and emotionally. And the young Koharu is still in the process of discovering what she really wants for her life.
The three generations of women at the heart of the drama

I cannot comment on the cinematography of the film as an in-flight movie screen drastically alters the cinematographer’s intentions; however, I can say that I really enjoyed the use of Tsutenkaku Tower as a symbol in the film. Tokyo Tower has become almost a cliché in recent films and TV dramas set in Tokyo, so it was nice to see a different architectural structure getting some time in the spotlight. When Tetsuro falls ill, he can see Tsutenkaku Tower from his hospice room. This is significant not only as a symbol of Osaka, but also because of the tower’s association with Billiken, the symbol of good luck and happiness. 

About Her Brother has an outstanding cast. Tsurube Shōfukutei as the younger brother had me alternately roaring with laughter and holding back the tears. Not only are the lead roles performed brilliantly, but the actors in smaller roles also shine. Standout performances include Ryō Kase (Letters from Iwo Jima, Pool, Megane) as Koharu’s friend and possible love interest, Nenji Kobayashi (Twilight Samurai, Love and Honor) as the older brother, and Takashi Sasano (one of my favourite character actors) as the neighbour Maruyama.

All in all, it is a stirring portrait of a complex family.  It is a bit of a mystery to me how the film has ended up as an in-flight movie without having received a wide release anywhere outside of Japan (except possibly Singapore).  Didn't anyone pick it up at the Berlinale in February when Yamada was there picking up his Berlinale Camera Award for lifetime achievement?  Odd. 

Related Posts:

Dear Doctor
One Million Yen Girl
Letters from Iwo Jima
Ten Things I Know About Takashi Sasano

Available DVDs:
Or for the hardcore fan:
Kon Ichikawa's classic is definitely on my wishlist:
Ototo / Movie

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...