26 January 2011

Mirai Mizue's Timbre A to Z, A Short-Short Animation Series (2011)

1日1アニメーション計画 『Timbre A to Z』
[Timbre A-Z] A Short-short animation series

Last year, it seemed that the abstract animator Mirai Mizue was moving in the direction of more and more complexity in his animation. His film Jam (2009), in his distinctive cell animation style literally jam-packed the screen with his little cell creatures. The number of cells and the complexity of movement increased along with the increased as the music crescendoed and increased in tempo.

Likewise, Mizue’s geometric animations Modern (2010) and Metropolis (2010) are highly complex pieces of work. Modern was made using isometric drawings, with Mizue limiting himself to only using transformations of rectangular parallelepipeds. 

This month sees Mizue moving in the opposite direction towards minimalism. In his new Timbre A-Z short animation series, he is focussing on matching his animation to the timbre and rhythms of a variety of sounds. Timbre is sometimes referred to as “the colour of music.” In fact, like the German Klangfarbe, the Japanese for timbre is oniro (aka onshoku or neiro 音色) which literally means “the colour of music”.

Mizue’s experiments with music and animation recall, of course, the experiments of Norman McLaren and Oskar Fischinger in this direction. It also reminds me of a recording I once heard of Norman McLaren being interviewed by the pianist Glenn Gould on CBC Radio in which they discussed the way in which they both “see” music. Unfortunately, it does not yet seem to have made it up onto the CBC Digital Archives. One can; however, find Norman McLaren and René Jodoin’s Spheres (1969), which is an animated interpretation of Glenn Gould playing Bach.

Mizue has challenged himself to post one 30 second animation a day for 26 days – one animation for each letter of the Roman alphabet. The splashes of colour against a white background are beautiful in their simplicity. You can follow his progress on Vimeo or Youtube.

To learn more about Mirai Mizue, read my review of his Collected Works DVD.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011

24 January 2011

Panda! Go, Panda! Rainy Day Circus (パンダ・コパンダ 雨降りサー スの巻, 1973)

The sequel to Panda! Go, Panda! (1972), Isao Takahata’s Panda! Go, Panda! Rainy Day Circus (パンダ・コパンダ 雨降りサー スの巻, 1973) opens with the young heroine Mimiko still living harmoniously with her adopted Panda family in her large house in a bamboo forest. A circus ringmaster and his assistant come to pry around the house in search of a baby Tiger who has escaped their circus wagons. They boldly enter the house only to be scared away by the Pandas and Mimiko.

The story then begins to unfold in a similar manner to that of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. All of the furniture and items in the house are sized biggest to smallest for Papanda (the Papa panda), Mimiko, and Pan-chan (the baby panda). Pan-chan discovers that someone has eaten all of his curry. Mimiko laughs and refills his bowl for him, not quite taking him seriously. After supper, Pan-chan discovers that someone has dirtied his towel and broken his trumpet. He then follows the trail of dirty paw prints to discover a baby tiger ‘Tora-chan’ curled up in his bed. The two of them are equally frightened of each other and chase each other in circles around Papanda and Mimiko. It does not take long for them to discover that they have nothing to fear and Tora-chan is quickly adopted into the surrogate family.

The next day, Tora-chan leads Pan-chan to the circus to show him where he comes from, and Mimiko separately goes to the circus with some school friends. This film follows a similar pattern to the first Panda! Go, Panda! film, with Pan-chan creating chaos in an unfamiliar setting (this time the circus). After an amusing sequence in which Pan-chan wreaks hovoc doing acrobatics on a ball, Tora-chan gets reunited with his mother and Pan-chan is reunited with Mimiko.

That night, a storm descends upon the town. When Mimiko and her panda family awake, they discover that the ground floor of their house has flooded. They are amused by this new turn of events, until they discover a distress note from Tora-chan in a ball. They set off for the circus in order to rescue the animals from their flooded circus train.
A hint of Japan.  .  .
.  .  .  in an otherwise very European setting.
 In the opening scene of the first film, a sign on the train platform indicated that the town where Mimiko lives is called Kita-Akitsu – which is a real town in the same part of Saitama that Hayao Miyazaki (who did the story, scripts, and layout) used for the setting of My Neighbour Totoro. However, the buildings in the town look more like small town Europe than Japan. As I mentioned in my review of the first film, Mimiko is based largely on the concept Miyazaki had for the failed Pippi Longstocking film he had planned with Takahata and Yoichi Kotabe. It has been said that their visit to Visby, Sweden had a strong influence on the setting for Miyazaki’s 1989 film Kiki’s Delivery Service. It seems likely that this trip to Europe may have influenced the setting for the Panda! Go, Panda! films. Apart from the bamboo forest, the fact that they eat curry instead of soup in the Goldilocks sequence, and the brief appearance of a torii (a red gate found at the entrance to Shinto shrines), there are few indicators that the setting is Japanese.
A very Totoro-like Papanda
The way in which Papanda dances and jumps about as he rescues the circus animals will also once again remind Ghibli fans of Big Totoro. The opening credits for the film features a line of dancing pandas in a style that was also repeated during the opening credits for My Neighbour Totoro. I am sure that there are many more little “Ghiblisms” that I didn’t catch on first viewing – although the intended audience for this film was children, it’s fun for Ghilbi fans to watch because of all the stylistic similarities to later Ghibli projects. 
Compare this Panda! Go, Panda! still to...

the opening credits to My Neighbour Totoro
As with the first film, Panda! Go, Panda! Rainy Day Circus is half the length of a typical feature film, making it perfect for the attention span of pre-schoolers. It is jam-packed with sight gags and an exciting rescue sequence that will have young children begging to watch it again and again.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011
More Ghibli-Related Posts:
Panda! Go, Panda (1972)

Japanese release:

17 January 2011

Panda! Go, Panda! (パンダ・コパンダ, 1972)

If your children love My Neighbour Totoro (Tonari no Totoro, 1988), then they will be equally enchanted by the short film Panda! Go, Panda! (パンダ・コパンダ, 1972) and it’s 1973 sequel Panda! Go, Panda! Rainy Day Circus (パンダ・コパンダ 雨降りサー スの巻). The films were written and conceived by Totoro director Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his later Studio Ghibli partner Isao Takahata (Graveyard of the Fireflies, My Neighbours the Yamadas).

The films were made in order to cash in on the panda craze sweeping the nation after two pandas were brought to Ueno Zoo from China in October 1972. The main character is a vivacious young orphaned girl named Mimiko. The film begins with Mimiko escorting her elderly grandmother to the train station. It’s unclear why the grandmother has to leave the elementary school girl to her own devices, but Mimiko reassures her that she will be able to manage in her absence. Mimiko then returns to her large home in a bamboo forest, cheerfully greeting the townsfolk she encounters along the way. At home, she discovers a baby Panda bear called ‘Pan-chan’, whom she welcomes into her home. They are soon joined by the Pan-chan’s father, whom they call ‘Papanda’. Won over by the panda bears’ friendliness, Mimiko quickly forms a surrogate family with them, filling in the role of Pan-chan’s mother.

Mimiko cooks for the pandas and directs Papanda in how a Papa should behave: wearing a hat, reading the newspaper, smoking a pipe, and going to work every day. Papanda is a bit flummoxed by the idea of work, but he plays along with her. When Mimiko leaves for school, Pan-chan tags along despite Mimiko’s pleas for him to stay at home. This, of course, leads to disaster. Throughout all of their adventures, Mimiko writes to her grandmother faithfully to keep her updated as to the unusual goings on in their home.

Watching the film, Studio Ghibli fans will immediately recognize familiar themes, settings, and characters from later TV anime series and films directed by Takahata and Miyazaki. The careful observer can spot at the very beginning that the train station is called Kita-Akitsu. This town is located in Tokorozawa – the same part of Saitama that Miyazaki used for the setting of My Neighbour Totoro and where he also lives. However, the setting in Panda! Go, Panda! lacks the realism of the houses and landscape of My Neighbour Totoro. It’s a much more idealized, Western-style setting with occasional Japanese touches like the bamboo forest. The Totoro connection is made even stronger for contemporary viewers by the fact that Papanda resembles Big Totoro in terms of body shape and movement.

With her round smiling face and penchant for wearing a short dress that reveals her panties, Mimiko has much in common with Mei-chan from Totoro and Heidi, from Takahata’s Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974).  Her unruly red braided hair is instantly recognizable as that of Pippi Longstocking. Mimiko's appearance and character was heavily influenced by Takahata, Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe’s failed attempt to make an adaptation of Pippi Longstocking in 1971 (Astrid Lindgren refused to give them the rights to the story).

As with all the young female characters in Takahata/Miyazaki films, Mimiko is a very self sufficient girl. The theme of children home alone (Totoro, Ponyo) or left to their own devices (Grave of the Fireflies) is a significant one in the Studio Ghibli output. This partly reflects the fact that the Japanese demand self sufficiency from their children at a much younger age than one might expect in Western countries. Unlike over-protective North American and English parents who drive their kids to school and pick them up again, even the youngest school children in Japan are expected to walk to school on their own. In central Tokyo it is not unusual to see young children in uniform taking public transit to and from school without parental accompaniment.

The film is packed full of delightful sequences of Mimiko playing house or frolicking with Pan-chan and Papanda. The sight gags will keep children under the age of 10 in stitches, and delight their parents as well. The plot is driven by the question of whether or not the Pandas will stay living with Mimiko, or if they will be rounded up and returned to the zoo from which they escaped.

More on Mimiko, Pan-chan, and Papanda in my forthcoming review of the sequel: Panda! Go, Panda! Rainy Day Circus (1973).

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011
More Ghibli-Related Posts:

Japanese release:

01 January 2011

Nishikata's Best Japanese Animated Shorts 2010

Midnight Eye will soon be publishing its annual Best Films of the Year (Update 2011/01/20: Now available online). I contributed a list of animated shorts to the list. Here is a preview of my selection.  As I did a Best of the Decade last year instead of a Best of 2009, a couple of titles made the list that I saw in 2009.  I have added some honourable mentions and films that were released this year but haven’t made it to a festival near me / my post box yet. To learn more about the films, click on the links.

Hand Soap (ハンドソープ, Kei Oyama, 2008)

I went out of my way to get to Japan Week in Mainz this year specifically to see Oyama’s latest film, Hand Soap, which at the time had won an award at Oberhausen. More recently it picked up the best narrative short award at the Holland Animation Film Festival. A riveting film that examines the horrors of the teenaged years in graphic detail from school yard bullying to the popping of pimples. Oyama achieves the unusual textures of his surreal animations by scanning his own flesh.

In a Pig’s Eye (わからないブタ, Atsushi Wada, 2010)

Wada has achieved a new artistic high with this beautifully illustrated masterpiece of absurdity. In a Pig’s Eye, which won Best Film at Fantoche in Switzerland, uses visual metaphors, repetition and variation of movement, and absurd humour to paint a portrait of an unusual family. Read my interview with Wada here.

A Labyrinth of Residence (居住迷宮, Nasuka Saito, 2008)

This short was a part of the Dome Animation omnibus of films by students of Image Forum in Tokyo which toured festivals this past year. Saito’s animation of 5000 photographs taken over the period of a month demonstrates the clear influence of her mentor Takashi Ito. She transforms a dull concrete “mansion” (apartment building) into a dynamic exploration of form, texture, and pattern. Definitely an artist to keep an eye on in the future.

Crouching Dreams (夢がしゃがんでいる, Tomoyasu Murata, 2008)

If there is an overarching theme to the films of Murata it is that they are located in a place where dreams and reality comingle with one another. Crouching Dreams is a surreal visual journey in which Murata mixes a wide variety of animation styles both drawn and stop motion.

Jam (Mirai Mizue, 2009) and Playground (Mirai Mizue, 2010)

I couldn’t decide which of Mizue’s films I liked the best – they are all hypnotizing to watch. Jam takes Mizue’s experimentation with movement and music to extremes, literally jamming (hence the title) the screen with his insect and amoeba-like creatures as the music increases in complexity and tempo. In Playground, Mizue tries out some new shapes and textures which reminded me at times of Native American art.

Angel (エンゼル, Naoyuki Tsuji, 2008)

Another beautiful charcoal animation from Tsuji, who this time tackles the theme of fertility. In terms of structure, this may be one of Tsuji’s most accessible films so far, and his drawing style continues to remind me of Jean Cocteau.

Animal Dance (アニマルダンス, Ryo Ookawara, 2009)

The beauty of this film is in its simplicity and its blend of movement and music. An exciting experimental work reminiscent of early pioneers like Norman McLaren (esp. Hen Hop, 1942), Len Lye, and Oskar Fischinger. Ookawara’s Orchestra (2008), which he made with Masaki Okuda and Yutaro Ogawa, is also a real gem.

Swimming (Shiho Hirayama, 2008)

The awkwardness of a school swimming lesson is rendered in this beautifully drawn animation. The chubby main protagonist jumps clumsily into the pool and his imagination turns this potentially embarrassing situation into a visual delight. For a young animator, Hirayama already has an expert hand at varying perspective and camera distances, making this little film a real treat to watch.

Cornelis (コネリス, Ayaka Nakata, 2008)

Norman McLaren once said that “every film is a kind of dance,” and that being an animator is like “being a dancer second-hand.” Ayaka Nakata takes the tradition of modern dance to a new level. Free from the limitations of the human body, the male dancer in Cornelis contorts himself into all kinds of unusual shapes. The use of dance and the multiplying of the human form reminded me of McLaren’s Pas de deux (1968).

The Last Train (最終列車の夜, Mana Fujii, 2009)

Mana Fujii was another student artist whose work was featured in the Dome Animation omnibus which I saw at Nippon Connection in the spring. The concept of the film is quite simple but realized beautifully: a person falling asleep on the last train home in the evening and dreaming of angels drawn in light against a dark sky.

Honorable Mentions:

Getting Dressed (服を着るまで, Aico Kitamura, 2010)
  • I only saw this film for the first time last week – too late to include it in my Midnight Eye list. Read more about it here.
Grandma (ばあちゃん, Masanori Okamoto, 2007)
The Tide (生る日の潮汐, Yurika Kaneko, 2008)
Ladybird’s Requiem (てんとう虫のおとむらい, Akino Kondoh, 2005-6) – remake of her 2003 film.  I saw the complete final cut at Shinsedai 2010.

New films I haven’t seen yet, but hope to see this year:

Woman Who Stole Fingers (指を盗んだ女, Saori Shiroiki, 2010)
Hannya Shingyo (般若心経, Keiichi Tanaami/ Nobuhiro Aihara, 2010)
Paper Work (Taku Furukawa, 2010)
Midori-ko (Keita Kurosaka, 2010)
Patterns (Yoshinao Sato, 2009)

UpdateWildgrounds has also posted about his favourite alt anime.  

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011


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