14 December 2010

Kihachiro Kawamoto: Animation & Puppet Master (1994)

I recently tracked down a copy of Kihachiro Kawamoto: Animation & Puppet Master (1994) from Kadokawa Shoten’s New Type Illustrated Collection. Heibonsha’s more recent publication Kawamoto Kihachirō: Ningyō – kono inochi aru mono gives a pretty extensive overview of Kawamoto’s career, but this older book has some real gems of information and beautiful photographs that I had not seen before. The Kadokawa Shoten book begins with a preface by Kawamoto himself in which he thanks Tadasu Iizawa (1909-1994) for giving him the hope that he might have a future in making puppets during the low period in his life after he was let go from Toho. He also has high words of praise for his mentor Jiri Trnka (1912-1969), who was crucial in opening up Kawamoto’s eyes to the possibilities of finding artistic inspiration in Japanese theatre traditions such as Noh and Bunraku.

Whereas the Heibonsha book gives top billing to Book of the Dead (2005), the Kadokawa Shoten book highlights the puppets from the NHK production Historical Doll Spectacular: The Tale of Heike (1993-1994). This incredible 48 episode puppet drama was not directed by Kawamoto, but he designed and headed up the team that created the hundreds of puppets needed to bring the ancient legend to life. Rather than presenting stills from the TV series, the puppets have been photographed in actual historical locations like Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima, Goji Hermitage in Sagano, and Kinone-Michi (Tree Root Pass) at Mt. Kurama. It is remarkable how lifelike their expressions and gestures look even when the puppets are not in motion. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1982-1984), a 68 episode Chinese-Japanese co-production, also gets a colour photo spread, but these photos are more stylized and shot in a studio.

Kawamoto’s animated shorts each get their own chapter. There is some introductory text for each film as well as rows of small stills from the films. These stills are lined up like a storyboard with explanatory text accompanying each image. This section is of particular interest because it gives a detailed description with more than a dozen stills of Rennyo and His Mother (Rennyo to sono haha /aka Rennyo, A Priest, and his Mother, 1981), which was Kawamoto’s first feature film but sadly not available on DVD. It must also be rarely screened because few reviews exist of it online.

The next section of the book provides extensive biographical information including many photographs that do not appear in the 2007 book as well as a timeline of key events in Kawamoto’s career. Photographs that I had not seen before include behind-the-scenes snaps from the Asahi ad campaigns and images of the puppets Kawamoto made for NHK children’s television in the 1960s and 1970s. There are some meticulously created dolls and sets from the story of Cinderella that Kawamoto made for a Toppan publication in 1967 as well as a photo of the staff staging the shots for these doll books. In addition to the famous  1963 photograph of a young smiling Kawamoto with a more stern looking Jiri Trnka, there is a photograph of Kawamoto attending a festival in Romania in 1967, as well as the team of puppet artists who have worked with Kawamoto over the years. The biographical section of the book also explains the background to the Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Shows that were held between 1972 and 1980 and gives complete the complete programmes for the screenings and performances.

This is followed by a section where we learn more about Kawamoto’s collaborators (both longtime staff and guest collaborators) over the years. Tetsuko Kuroyanagi and Kawamoto chat together about their collaboration – she did the narration for Hana-Ori (1968) and did voice work in Rennyo and and his Mother (1981). She would also later lend her voice to the old storyteller in Book of the Dead (2005). Other highlights of this section are contributions by Canadian animator Frédéric Back, renowned film critic and historian Nagaharu Yodogawa, Yoshiro Muraki (Akira Kurosawa’s art director and Kawamoto’s longtime close personal friend), the Noh actor and Living National Treasure Tetsunojo Kanze who did the narration for Kataku (1979), and Bunraku composer and Living National Treasure Seiji Tsurusawa (Oni, 1972), Kyoko Kishida (wrote Briar Rose and would later do narration for Winter Days and Book of the Dead), Minoru Hanabusa (television producer – worked on Heike with Kawamoto), Takashi Komae and Hirokazu Minegishi (who have worked behind the scenes on numerous Kawamoto and Tadanari Okamoto puppet animations), and long-time Kawamoto cinematographer Minoru Tamura (Oni, Briar Rose, Book of the Dead).

The next section takes us step-by-step through the elaborate process of making a stop motion animation. It begins with the creation of the moulds that Kawamoto used to form the body parts and the assembling of the armature and along the way shows the work that goes into the sewing of the costumes and the assembly of the sets. This section also looks at the work that goes into the post-production of the film such as the creation of the score and the master edit. The book concludes with colour photo gallery of puppet protagonists from both the films and the television series.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010

Kihachiro Kawamoto Sakuhin shu / Animation