02 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