26 October 2010

VCinema Satoshi Kon/Kihachiro Kawamoto Memorial Episode

At Shinsedai in July, I had the pleasure of meeting Coffin Jon of VCinema.  As I have been doing research into the career of Kichachiro Kawamoto, he invited me to join the conversation for  Podcast 15: a memorial episode to Kawamoto and Satoshi Kon.  In addition to our conversation, the podcast includes insightful interviews with Mark Schilling of The Japan Times, Jasper Sharp of Midnight Eye (where I am also an occasional contributor), and Jason Gray of Screen International.  Make sure you have a listen.

As both Kon and Kawamoto had quite extensive careers, the VCinema guys made the wise decision to focus on just two films: The Book of the Dead (2006) and Paprika (2006).  We had a great time recording the podcast and I particularly enjoyed hearing their interpretations of the Buddhist aspects of The Book of the Dead. It is not an easy film to understand.  It took Kawamoto himself 30 years to make the film, so it is not surprising that it is a film that requires multiple viewings in order to take in all the fine details.

Kawamoto's journey to make The Book of the Dead began during the production of  Dojoji Temple (1976), when he was given the complete works of Shinobu Orikuchi (折口信夫, 1887-1953) by Teizo Matsumura  (松村禎三, 1929-2007), the composer for the film.  Orikuchi's The Book of the Dead made a strong impression on Kawamoto, creating very clear images in his head as he read it.  Every time he re-read the story, he understood more aspects of it.  It wasn't until 1989 that he completed a storyboard for the film, and it took even longer to arrange for funding.  Fortunately the Sakura Eiga-sha producer Junko Fukuma (福間順子) stepped in to support and organize the project.

The more I read about Kawamoto, the more I realize what a complex, sophisticated artist he was.  His entire lifetime was dedicated to the betterment of his craft and the broadening of his knowledge through the study of the arts, literature, and religion.  In addition to being a unique puppet and animation artist, Kawamoto was also a great collaborator reaching out to animators and artists the world over in order to both learn from them and to share his own knowledge.  Although I have acquired a great deal of information about Kawamoto in the past few years, I feel that my journey of understanding his works has only just begun.  I am grateful to this great puppet master to opening up new pathways to understanding through the legacy of his animated films.

Paprika is an equally challenging film as The Book of the Dead.  I don't know if anyone has done it yet, but it seems to me that there is a lot of symbolism (especially in the parade sequences) and film references to unpack in the film (we talk about this a bit in the podcast).  Like The Book of the Dead, it is a film that I notice new things in each time I re-watch it.  I have a greater sense of sadness when I think about Satoshi Kon.  Whereas Kawamoto was in the twilight of his career having achieved his ambitions in seeing his greatest life's work made, Satoshi Kon was in the middle phase of his career and leaves behind an unfinished work The Dream Machine (夢みる機械/Yume Miru Kikai).  He has gone too soon, but left us with a treasure trove of films to remember his genius by.

My thanks to Coffin Jon, Rufus, and Josh for having me as their guest.

Historical Information Source: Animation Meister, Vol 5

Recommended viewing:

Shisha no Sho  Region Two: with English subtitles on the film (not on the extras though)
Region One: