31 December 2010

Getting Dressed (服を着るまで, 2010)

Some days, the hardest thing to do is to get dressed.

Aico Kitamura’s graduation film Getting Dressed (Fuku wo kirumade, 2010) charts the course of woman’s self imposed solitary confinement in her apartment over several days. Her room is bare but for the basic necessities, a growing collection of empty milk bottles, and a caged bird. The chubby, naked woman’s days fall into a rhythm of monotony. She sleeps, eats cornflakes, feeds her caged yellow bird, stares out the window at the busy street below, and sleeps again.

The naked woman’s days are punctuated only by the sound of traffic, the bird tweeting and her own sighs. Her mood is effectively captured by the plaintive sound of the contrabass (performed by Seiya Yoshida), part of an emotive soundtrack scored for the film by Miyako Matsuko. Fellow animator Saori Shiroki narrates the film, providing us with the woman’s interior monologue. The poetic narration reinforces the woman’s sense of entrapment in her one-room apartment.

I am used to repeating the course of life
Nothing is new now
I am an observer
And the outside world is neither illusion nor reality

The importance of sound is emphasized in a beautiful sequence in which the woman stands at the window listening and observing the traffic of humans and cars down below. The framing then moves to a close up on her ear sticking out of her hair. Her ear then metamorphosizes into the shape of the woman, still naked,   standing in the traffic of people and cars. This dream sequence elaborates upon the woman’s social anxiety as some of the people turn to stare at her.

Visually, Aico Kitamura’s film is densely textured like the films of her mentor Koji Yamamura. Her use of depth of screen and scribbles to add texture are reminiscent of his films Mt. Head (Atama Yama, 2002) and Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor (Kafuka Inaka Isha, 2007). Thematically, Kitamura’s film reminded me of other animated films about the hardships of ordinary daily life like Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis’s When the Day Breaks (Canada, 2000) and Bruno Buzotto’s Life in a Tin Can (Una Vita in Scatola, Italy, 1967).

Getting Dressed is particularly fascinating for its use of the female body to express internal pain. This is emphasized in two sequences in which the sleeping figure of the woman begins to expand so that her body first collapses the bed, then envelops the entire room (see image at top). In the second sequence, her body continues expanding until it consumes the entire apartment building and even begins to take over neighbouring buildings.

Women’s bodies have been idealized and demonized as the subject of art since time immemorial. It is only in the past couple of centuries, however, that we have begun to get a sense of the multiplicity of ways in which women see their own bodies – and how that vision of the body and the self is impacted by the sufferings that the woman has experienced in her life. From Frida Kahlo’s startling self portraits to Akino Kondoh’s depiction of her alter ego Eiko, the way in which women use the female body to express psychological states can be very provoking. 

In Getting Dressed, a pant leg or shirt sleeve hangs out of the closet throughout – silently beckoning the woman to dress her corpulent, naked body and re-enter society. However, even when she runs out of cornflakes, the woman’s body still refuses to allow itself to be confined by clothing. She struggles through it only to be reborn, still naked on the other side.  The turn only comes when her nightmares cross paths with reality and her bird escapes its cage resulting in tragedy. The empty bottles and the bird seeds transform into multiple versions of the naked woman in a fetal position – multiple versions of herself which she needs to somehow stuff into her clothing so that she can face the world again.

I kept thinking of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings while watching Getting Dressed. As in Angelou's memoir, the caged bird acts as a metaphor for the woman’s own situation in life. This motif is emphasized by the shots taken from the POV of the bird, which make it look as if the chubby naked woman herself is the one who is encaged. It is rare for a short film to capture so eloquently the daily struggles of a person suffering from acute depression and social anxiety.

Aico Kitamura's Getting Dressed demonstrates a level of maturity that is rare in a graduate film.  Her use of the female body to express inner turmoil is very sensitively done.  It is a thoughtful, moving and poetic film that leaves use with the promise of more exciting work to come in this young artist's future career as an animator.

About the artist:

A native of Kyoto, Aico Kitamura (北村愛子, b. 1985) discovered alternative animation as a graphic arts student at Kyoto Seika University. She went on to study animation at Tokyo University of Arts under Koji Yamamura and Ilan Nguyen. According to her website, she has been influenced by a wide range of film directors (Wenders, Tarkovsky, Ozu, Kitano, Kubrick, Chaplin, Buñuel), animators (Pärn, Patel, Leaf, Yamamura, Toccafondo) and artists (Cezanne, Magritte, Klimt, Bosch, Ogata, Arimoto). In addition to animation, Kitamura works as an illustrator and a graphic designer. She helped out fledgling indie label CALF by designing their website for them. She is currently storyboarding her next animated film which she hopes to complete by November.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010
Related Posts:

Mami Kosemura’s Comb (Kushi, 2006)
Art of the Absurd: An Interview with Atsushi Wada
Koji Yamamura’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor (Kafuka Inaka Isha, 2007)
Taku Furukawa’s Phenakistiscope (Odorokiban, 1975)
Yokohama Art Navi

My Aunt's Cameo in Tokyo Olympiad (Kon Ichikawa, 1965)

My Aunt Marian was on the Canadian team at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.  Unfortunately, she had a bad fall during the early heats for the hurdles and literally knocked herself out of the competition.  I remember my grandmother had a scrapbook of the Olympics and the photograph of my aunt face done in the track appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines around the world.

When Criterion released Kon Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad (東京オリンピック, 1965) on DVD back in 2002, I noticed a young woman wearing the maple leaf covered in mud being taken off the track in a stretcher during the Spectators and Spectacle sequence.  I called my Dad, who immediately ordered himself a copy of the DVD as well and called to confirm that it was indeed his sister. It turns out that my aunt did not know about the film, so it was a trip down memory lane for the whole family. The old family clippings were all in black and white, so this was the first time that I saw a colour image of my aunt at the Olympics.

It may seem like an unfortunate event, but my Aunt Marian once told me that the disappointment was counterbalanced by the generosity of her Japanese hosts.  Apparently her hospital room was overflowing with gifts from Japanese people who felt sorry for the Canadian girl who took a tumble.

You can see my aunt's profile in the Richmond Hill Sports Hall of Fame and some reminiscences from family friend Orville on this message board.  Here she is featured in a Japanese magazine that I discovered in a museum in Kabutonuma, Hokkaido in July 2006 (click to enlarge):

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010
Tokyo Olympiad is available on DVD in Japan:
Tokyo Olympic / Documentary

The Criterion edition of Tokyo Olympiad is currently out-of-print:

25 December 2010

Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials: Made in Japan

Christmas is upon us, which means endless outings of Christmas classics like White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954), It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1964), and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (Chuck Jones/Ben Washam, 1966). As a child, my favourite TV special by far was the Rankin/Bass classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Larry Roemer/Kizo Nagashima, 1964). I loved the songs – mainly because they were sung by Burl Ives whose children’s album Burl Ives sings Little White Duck was one of the most played on my blue plastic record player. 

In addition to the rich, rolling voice of Burl Ives, I found the puppet animation simply magical. The character expression and movement is so exquisitely done. It was only in recent years that I discovered that although the projects were conceived and written by Americans, the puppet animation was done by Japanese animators at Tadahito Mochinaga’s MOM Productions studio. Their partnership with Rankin/Bass had begun in 1960 with the TV series The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1960-61)

In Rick Goldschmidt’s The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass, Arthur Rankin, Jr. talks of the dedication of the Japanese animators, who would stay up late into the night in order to finish an individual scene. The “Animagic” animators often ending up sleeping next to their puppets. In addition to “Tad” Mochinaga, other Japanese who worked on these films included Kizo Nagashima, Hiroshi Tabata, Ichiro Komuro, Sataoshi Fujino, Senchi Akaki, Akikazu Kono, and the producer Masaki Iizuka.

Here is a listing of the Rankin/Bass Animagic Christmas Specials along with the Japanese staff who worked on the animation side of the production:
 The Original Christmas Classics (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town/Frosty the Snowman/Frosty Returns/Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol/Little Drummer Boy/Cricket on the Hearth)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 
(Larry Roemer/ Kizo Nagashima, 1964)
• Tad Mochinaga (Animation Supervisor)
• Kizo Nagashima (Associate Director)
The Little Drummer Boy
The Little Drummer Boy 
(Rankin/Bass, 1968)
• Takeo Nakamura (Animation Director)

Santa Claus is Coming to Town 
(Rankin/Bass, 1970)
• Kizo Nagashima (Animation Director)

The Year Without a Santa Claus / Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey / Rudolph's Shiny New Year
The Year Without A Santa Claus 
(Rankin/Bass, 1974)
• Akikazu Kono and Ichiro Komuro (Production Supervisors)

The First Christmas 
(Ranking Bass, 1975)
• Akikazu Kono and Ichiro Komuro (Production Supervisors)

Rudolph’s Shiny New Year
(Rankin/Bass. 1976)
• Akikazu Kono and Ichiro Komuro (Animagic Production Supervisors)

The Little Drummer Boy, Book II
(Rankin/Bass, 1976)
• Akikazu Kono and Satoshi Fujino (Animagic Production)

Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey
(Ranking/Bass, 1977)
• Akikazu Kono and Satoshi Fujino (Animagic Production Supervisors)
• Masaki Iizuka (Asssistant Producer)
Jack Frost
Jack Frost 
(Rankin/Bass, 1979)
• Masaki Iizuka (Associate Producer)
• Akikazu Kono, Ichiro Komuro, Hiroshi Iabata, Senchi Akaki (Animagic Production Supervision)
Rudolph & Frosty's Christmas in July
Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July
(Rankin/Bass, 1979)
• Iwao Kondo (Production Manager)
• Shinichi Noro (Set Designer)
• Ichiro Komuro (Character Model Sculptor)
• Takeo Ando (Camera Operator)
• Mitsuhara Hirata (Lighting Technician)
• Hiroshi Otokozawa (Camera Operator)
• Seiichi Araki (Animator)
• Shigeru Ohmachi (Animator)
• Hiroshi Tabata (Animator)

Pinocchio’s Christmas 
(Rankin/Bass, 1980)
• Masaki Iizuka (Associate Producer)
• Akikazu Kono, Ichiro Komuro, Hiroshi Tabata, Seiichi Araki, Fuminori Minahi,
Ryoji Takamori, Muchara Hirata, Totetu Mirakawa (Animagic Supervisors)

The Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold 
(Rankin/Bass, 1981)
• Masaki Iizuka (Associate Producer)
• Akikazu Kono, Ichiro Komuro, Hiroshi Tabata, Seiichi Araki,
Fuminori Minahi, Mitsuhara Hirata and Shinichi Noro (Animagic Supervisors)

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 
(Rankin/Bass, 1985)
• the last Animagic holiday special produced by Rankin/Bass for network television
• Masaki Iizuka (Production Manager for Pacific Animation Corporation)
• Akikazu Kono, Hiroshi Tabata, Seiichi Araki, Ichiro Komuro, Minoru Tamura, Koji Hirata, Shinichi Noro, Yukio Fukushima (Animagic Staff)

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

20 December 2010

The Noburo Ofuji Award (大藤信郎賞)

The Noburō Ōfuji Award (大藤信郎賞) honours excellence and innovation in Japanese animation. It is awarded at the Mainichi Film Concours (毎日映画コンクール) – the Mainichi Shinbun’s annual film awards. The award was established following the death of animation pioneer Noburō Ōfuji (大藤 信郎) in 1961. Ōfuji was known for his innovations in silhouette and cutout animation, (ie  The Village Festival / 村祭, 1930) often using traditional Japanese materials that gave his work a unique look compared to his international contemporaries.

Osamu Tezuka was the first recipient of the award for his experimental animation Story of a Certain Street Corner. During the first two decades of its existence, the award was primarily used to honour independent short animation by the likes of Tadanari Okamoto, Kihachiro Kawamoto, Yoji Kuri, Makoto Wada, and Taku Furukawa. Ground-breaking feature films like The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon and The Castle of Cagliostro were also honoured during the early years.

In the 1980s, the rise of Studio Ghibli and other innovative animation studios meant that big budget feature films began to dominate the award and move it away from the kind of independent spirit the award was intended to honour. In response to this shift, the Mainichi Film Concours established the Animation Film Award (アニメーション映画賞) in 1989 to award the big budget films separately. Although feature films do still win the Noburō Ōfuji Award, they are usually low budget films, independent films, or films that the jury consider highly innovative. The wide range of animation styles considered in this category is apparent by just looking at recent winners: Koji Yamamura’s hand drawn A Country Doctor won for 2007, Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo for 2008, and in February 2010 Hideto Nakata’s puppet animation Elemi got the prize for 2009. 

Non-Japanese directors have also been honoured when the animation has either been made in Japan (Michael Arias with Tekkon Kinkreet) or co-produced by Japanese partners (Aleksandr Petrov’s The Old Man and the Sea, Kihachiro Kawamoto et al.’s Winter Days).

With 2010 drawing to a close, I have been giving some thought to which films I think might win the Noburō Ōfuji Award at the Mainichi Film Concours in February 2011. It seems likely that Studio Ghibli’s The Borrower Arrietty (借りぐらしのアリエッティ/Karigurashi no Arietti, Hiromasa Yonebayashi) has a good chance of winning an award. I am hoping that the Mainichi Film Concours considers it for the Animation Film Award, thus freeing up the Noburō Ōfuji for an independent animator of note – like Atsushi Wada for In a Pig’s Eye, Saori Shiroiki for Woman Who Stole Fingers, or Mirai Mizue for Playground. It would seem to me that Keita Kurosaka is overdue to get some recognition, and although I haven’t seen it myself yet, judging from his past work and from what critics have been writing about Midori-ko, this might be the year that Kurosaka wins. Let me know in the comments who you think should win for 2010.

Here is the list of past winners:
1962  Osamu Tezuka
 Story of a Certain Street Corner
ある街角の物語 / Aru machikado no Monogatari
1963  Toei Doga
 The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon
わんぱく王子の大蛇退治 / Wanpaku Ōji no Daija taiji

1964  Makoto Wada
 Satsujin – Murder
殺人 Murder
Read Review

1965  Yoji Kuri
 Clap Vocalism (人間動物園/Ningen Dōbutsuen) Read Review
Love (愛/Ai) Read Review
The Chair (椅子/Isu) Read Review
AOS (アオス)
tied with
1965  Tadanari Okamoto
A Wonderful Medicine
(ふしぎなくすり/ Fushigi na kusuri)

1966 Osamu Tezuka
Pictures at an Exhibition
(展覧会の絵/Tenrankai no E)
Read Review

1967  Yoji Kuri
 The Room (部屋/Heya)
Two Grilled Fish (二匹のサンマ/Nihiki no Sanma)

1968  Gakushū Kenkyūsha (Gakken Co.)
 The Ugly Duckling
(みにくいあひるのこ/Minikui Ahiru no Ko)

1969  Takashi Yanase (Mushi Pro)
 The Kindly Lion (やさしいライオン/Yasashii Raion)

1970  Tadanari Okamoto
The Flower and the Mole (花ともぐら/Hana to Mogura)

1971  Video Tokyo (Akikazu Kawano and Takeo Nakamura)
 Tenma no Torayan (てんまのとらやん)

1972  Kihachiro Kawamoto
 The Demon (鬼/Oni)

1973  Tadanari Okamoto
 Praise Be to Small Ills
(南無一病息災/Nanmu Ichibyo Sokusai)

1974  Kihachiro Kawamoto
 A Poet’s Life (詩人の生涯/ Shijin no Shōgai)

1975  Tadanari Okamoto
The Water Seed (水のたね/Mizu no Tane)

1976  Kihachiro Kawamoto
Dojoji Temple (道成寺/ Dōjōji)

1977  Tadanari Okamoto (Dentsu Eigasha)
Towards the Rainbow (虹に向かって/Niji ni mukatte)

1978  ----- no award ----

1979  Hayao Miyazaki (Tokyo Movie Shinsha)
 Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro
(ルパン三世 カリオストロの城/ Rupan sansei: Kariosutoro no shiro)
Read Review

1980  Taku Furukawa
Speed (スピード)
1981  Isao Takahata (OH! Productions)
 Gauche the Cellist
(セロ弾きのゴーシュ/ Sero Hiki no Gōshu)
1982  Tadanari Okamoto
 The Magic Ballad
(おこんじょうるり/ Okonjōruri)
1983  Mori Masaki (Gen Productions and Madhouse)
 Barefoot Gen 
(はだしのゲン/Hadashi no Gen)

1984  Hayao Miyazaki
 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
(風の谷のナウシカ/ Kaze no Tani no Naushika)

1985  Gisaburō Sugii
  Night on the Galactic Railroad
(銀河鉄道の夜/ Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru)

1986  Hayao Miyazaki
 Laputa: Castle in the Sky
(天空の城ラピュタ/ Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta)

1987  Osamu Tezuka (Tezuka Pro)
 Legend of the Forest (森の伝説/Mori no Densetsu)
Read Review

1988  Hayao Miyazaki
 My Neighbour Totoro 
(となりのトトロ/Tonari no Totoro)
1989  ----- no award ----

1990  Kihachiro Kawamoto
 Briar Rose or the Sleeping Beauty
(いばら姫、またはねむり姫 / Ibara-hime, Mata ha Nemuri-hime)
Read Review

1991  Tadanari Okamoto/Kihachiro Kawamoto 
(Sakura Eiga-sha and Echo)
 The Restaurant of Many Orders 
(注文の多い料理店/Chūmon no Ōi Ryōriten)

1992  ----- no award ----

1993  Shigeru Tamura
 URSA minor BLUE
(銀河の魚/Ginga no Sakana)

1994  ----- no award ----

1995  Katsuhiro Otomo

1996  N&G Production
 Rusuban (るすばん)

1997  ----- no award ----

1998  Shirogumi (Tatsuo Shimamura)
 Water Spirit (水の精/Mizu no sei)
Kappa Hyakuzu (河童百図)

1999  Aleksandr Petrov and his technical staff
 The Old Man and the Sea (老人と海/Roujin to Umi)

2000  Hiroyuki Kitakubo

2001  Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli)
 The Whale Hunt (くじらとり/Kujira Tori)

2002  Satoshi Kon
 Millennium Actress (千年女優/ Sennen Joyū)

2003  Kihachiro Kawamoto et al.
 Winter Days (冬の日/Fuyu no hi)
2004  Masaaki Yuasa
2005  Shintaro Kishimoto

2006  Michael Arias (Studio 4°C)
 Tekkon Kinkreet (鉄コン筋クリート)

2007  Koji Yamamura
 Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor 
(カフカ 田舎医者/Kafuka Inaka Isha)
2008  Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli)
 Ponyo on a Cliff 
(崖の上のポニョ/Gake no Ue no Ponyo)

2009  Hideto Nakata (Sovat Theater) 
(電信柱エレミの恋い/ Denshin-Bashira Elemi no Koi)
Read Review

For updates on winners since 2010 see: Noburo Ofuji Award Winners

Available at CDJAPAN: 

Puppet Animation
Cello Hiki no Goshu (Gauche the Cellist) / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010


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