26 April 2011

Image Forum Festival 2011

It is time once again for the Image Forum Festival to get underway. The festival is jam-packed with alternative animation and experimental films from Japan and around the world.  It opens in Tokyo this weekend and will travel to other cities across Japan throughout May and June.

29 April – 8 May 2011 (Shinjuku Park Tower)
29 April – 7 May 2011 (Image Forum Cinematheque)
4 – 10 June 2011 (Kyoto Cinema)
 1 – 5 June 2011 (Fukuoka City Public Library)
10 – 11 June 2011 (Yokohama Museum of Art)
15 – 19 June 2011 (Aichi Arts Center)

Some of my favourite artists have their latest works screening in the first few programs including Mirai Mizue, Taku Furukawa, Hiroco Ichinose, Keiichi Tanaami + Nobuhiro Aihara, Naoyuki Tsuji, and Kazuhiro Goshima. Mirai Mizue will also be at Nippon Connection (hope to see you there!), Anifest, and Stuttgart this week and next.

Here is a taste of the screening programs:

Program A: Japan Animation Panorama 
MODERN by Mirai Mizue
Tatamp (Mirai Mizue /video/6 min)
MODERN (Mirai Mizue / video/7 min)
SPONCHOI Pispochoi (pecoraped / video/6 min)
TWO TEA TWO (Hiroco Ichinose / video/3 min)
Hana no Hanashi (はなのはなし/Taku Furukawa / video/6 min)
Watashi no Konseki (私の痕跡/Daisuke Nagaoka / video/4 min)
many go round (Yoshihisa Nakanishi / video/6 min)
Omokage (おもかげ/Maki Satake / video/6 min)
Holiday (ホリディ/Ryota Hirano / video/15 min)
Inugoya no Bouken (いぬごやのぼうけん/Hiroyuki Mizumoto / video/22 min)

Program B: Tricky Image
Inkblot #2 by Yuiko Matsuyama
Grass/Sleep (Kazuhiro Goshima/ video/10 min)
Kitsunebi (狐火/Yuki Tsuchiya/ video/30 min)
EXIST (Tetsuka Niiyama/ video/2 min)
INKBLOT #2 (Yuiko Matsuyama/ video/10min)
Exchange (遣取/Moeka Komuro/ video/10 min)
telescope (Katsunori Mizuno/ video/15 min)

Program C: Kehai no Eiga
Kaze no Sei by Naoyuki Tsuji
Dareka ga iru dareka ga iru dareka ga iru
(誰かがいる 誰かがいる 誰かがいる/
Akira Hoshino + Shinatsu Yokomizo +Hirotade Suzuki /8mm/25 min)
EDEN(Shinya Isobe/16 mm/15 min)
FANTÔME(Yo Ota/16 mm/8min)
Wind Spirit (風の精/Naoyuki Tsuji/16 mm/6 min)
Inner Child (内なるこども/Aimi Tanaka /8 mm/18 min)

Program D: Chōichijō no Eiga
Dreams by Tanaami + Aihara
Tokyo Three Dimensional Suite 
(東京浮絵百景/Kazuhiro Goshima / video /15 min)
Subete wa hon (総ては本/Sakumi Hagiwara / video /15 min)
Risan no uta (離散の歌/Hōshu Kurokawa / video /37 min)
garden (Ryohei Shimada / video /9 min)
DREAMS (Keiichi Tanaami +Nobuhiro Aihara / video /6 min)

Three Rooms by Takashi Ishida
. . . and much, much more, including the latest work by one of my favourite installation artists Takashi Ishida. The piece is called Three Rooms (三つの部屋) and is screening in Program I: Hikari no naka de (In the Light). Check out the Image Forum Festival 2011 website to learn more.

25 April 2011

World Film Locations: Tokyo

I heard from Chris MaGee of Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow that the book he edited, World Film Locations: Tokyo, is now available for pre-ordering on Amazon.  It is part of a new Intellect Books series called World Film Locations which plans to examine cities from around the world as movie locations. The first wave of releases is set for late summer and in additon to Tokyo will also include Los Angeles, London, and New York. Join the World Film Locations Facebook Page to keep up to date about these books' release dates and future installments in the series.
World Film Locations series will explore and reveal the relationship between the city and cinema by using a predominantly visual approach inspired by The Big Picture magazine’s ‘On Location’ feature.

Alongside short bite-sized texts about carefully chosen film scenes, each book will be illustrated throughout with evocative movie stills and be complimented by short but insightful essays about themes, ideas and key historical periods relating to each individual city.  (source)
Of the 50 film scenes examined in the Tokyo book, I choose the images and did the write ups for 5 films:

Kon Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad 
(東京オリンピック, Japan, 1965)
Wim Wenders's Tokyo-Ga 
(東京画, Germany, 1985)
Dorris Dörrie's Enlightenment Guaranteed 
(Erleuchtung garantiert, Germany, 1999)
Kentaro Otani's Nana 
 ( ナナ, Kentaro Otani, Japan, 2005)
Tomoyasu Murata's Nuance
 (ニュアンス, Japan, 2006)

It was a lot of fun working on this book because I got to write about such a variety of film styles from documentary to popular feature films.  Locations covered include the Tama River, the Koshu Kaido, Shinjuku, Yanaka Cemetery, and Tokyo Tower.  There are 6 images above because I also tie-in the Nana manga and anime in my write up about Nana.  Most of the films in the book are well known feature films, so it was really great of Chris to let me do one indulgent write up of an alterntive animation piece - Tomoyasu Murata's Nuance.  This short was Murata's contribution to Image Forum's Tokyo Loop (2006).  The book promises to be a visual feast for the eyes.

Here's the official blurb:
World Film Locations: Tokyo gives readers a kaleidoscopic view of one of the world's most complex and exciting cities through the lens of world cinema. 50 scenes from classic and contemporary films explore how motion pictures have shaped the role of Tokyo in our collective consciousness, as well as how these cinematic moments reveal aspects of the life and culture of a city that are often hidden from view. Complimenting these scenes from such varied films as Tokyo Story, You Only Live Twice, Godzilla and Enter the Void are six spotlight essays that take us from the wooden streets of pre-19th century Edo to the sprawling 'what-if' megalopolis of science fiction anime. Illustrated throughout with dynamic screen captures World Film Locations: Tokyo is at once a guided tour of Japan's capital conducted by the likes of Akira Kurosawa, Samuel Fuller, Chris Marker and Sofia Coppola while also being an indispensible record of how Tokyo has fired both the imaginations of individuals working behind the camera and those of us sitting transfixed in movie theatres.
Pre-order today:

Tadanari Okamoto’s Home, My Home (ホーム・マイホーム, 1970)

Home, My Home (1970) was the first work of Tadanari Okamoto’s that I ever encountered. I arrived in Tokyo with my family in late 2004 – a few months too late for the National Film Center exhibition and retrospective of his career. Luckily for me, however, the paper sets and dolls from Home, My Home had been donated to the permanent collection at the NFC and were on display the first time I visited the museum.

Okamoto was famous for his constant innovations with animation techniques. Paper cutouts had been a popular medium in early Japanese animation. Cutout animation was cheaper and more time efficient than cel animation, so animators like Noburo Ofuji (1900-61) were fond of using this method. Cutouts also fit well with Japanese traditional paper traditions and patterned paper like chiyogami gave early films like The Village Festival (1931) a distinctive look. In this animated educational short for children, Okamoto takes the art of paper cutouts to another level by playing with depth of frame.  He preferred using an animation table which allowed him to add layers of depth on glass surfaces.

The film tells the story of a fox and a mole who are walking along and dreaming about their ideal home. The story is told by song – a popular format for children’s films in Japan. The catchy and amusing “Mogura to Kitsune to Akasakana” was composed by Seiji Yokoyama with lyrics by Yoshiko Kōyama. It is a duet between and male and a female with Kazuo Kumakura singing the story of the mole and Yoshiko Mari singing the story of the fox.

Tadanari Okamoto Sakuhin Shu / Animation
Home, My Home appears on this DVD

The characters walk from screen right to screen left with the fox above ground and the mole digging along underground directly under the fox. The ground is a collage of the real estate pages of the newspaper. The characters and the sets are made of craft paper folded into three dimensional shapes. The puppets were made by Sumiko Hosada, a longtime Echo (Okamoto's animation studio) employee who has also made puppets for Kihachirō Kawamoto.

The dreams of the fox and the mole are indicated by the placement of a circle of coloured dots in the foreground of the image, creating a kind of blurry picture frame. They dream  of cute Western-style houses with a wife, son, and daughter living in comfortable middle class homes with Western-style kitchen, living room, bedroom, and a modern Japanese-style bathroom.
Depth of frame was achieved using an animation table.
The mole suddenly sneezes, which startles the fox above and causes him to fall down. This triggers their dreams to turn dark and they envision the destruction of their dream homes with a dump truck crashing into the fox’s house and a military jet knocking into the mole’s house. The family homes are then carted off by construction vehicles and replaced by modern raised highways and industrial buildings. The sequence ends with a kind of black smog blotting out the screen. The fox and the mole turn around and walk in the other direction and wonder if they need to move to outer space. 

The first time that I saw this film, I interpreted it as having an environmental message about the destruction of animal habitats à la Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994). Then I realied that the dreams that the fox and the mole have are not for animal dwellings but for idealized human homes. This suggests the film is really about deep-seated human fears about the effect that encroaching industrialization will have on their quality of life.

The design and execution of this animation is really top notch. The animation was executed by Hiroshi Tabata and Fumiko Magari. Two of the crew on this film, Sumiko Hosada (保坂純子) and Fumiko Magari (真賀里文子), are currently teaching puppet design and puppet animation at the Laputa Art Animation SchoolHome, My Home and The Flower and the Mole (花ともぐら/Hana to Mogura, 1970) jointly won the Noburo Ofuji Award in 1971.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011
This review is part of Nishikata Film Review’s  2011 Noburo Ofuji Award Challenge.

23 April 2011

Speed (スピード, 1980)

It is amazing to think that Taku Furukawa’s award-winning animated short Speed (1980) is just over 30 years old because the style and the message seem just as fresh and relevant today as they did then. Our “high speed society,” as the opening title card calls it, has only gotten faster and more frenetic in the intervening years. 

Using his trademark sketchy, casually rendered illustration style, Furukawa depicts the various methods humankind has used over the centuries to do things more quickly and conveniently. Furukawa’s minimalist drawing style has much in common with the New Yorker illustrations of Saul Steinberg (1914-1999) or Ed Arno (1916-2008).

In the first section of the film, a man and a monkey sit at the foot of a tall, fruit bearing tree. The man shakes the tree in order to get the fruit. In order to obtain more, he climbs the tree. The monkey seems shocked by the man’s aggressiveness. The man does not share with the monkey. In fact, in his greed to have the last fruit on the tree he disregards his own safety and causes the branch to break. He falls with it to the ground. This scene is followed by a number of comical short vignettes which depict man trying to master skills such as starting a fire, fishing, making wine, and so on.

In the climactic point of this sequence, the man blasts off into outer space with the rocket ship landing in the eye of the moon in a visual reference to Georges Méliès’s pioneering film A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune, 1902). Coloured shapes burst like confetti from the mouth of the moon and the sequence of events appears backwards at an accelerated speed with a black background replacing the white and neon-bright coloured lines replacing the black lines (see comparison above).

Once the images are back at the beginning of the story, Furukawa reverts to the original black on white style and a new story of mankind’s advancing progess takes place this time with an emphasis on art and design. The third section of the film takes advances in transportation over the centuries as its theme. If Furukawa were making the film today, I could imagine him doing a fourth section with the theme of communication.

In the wake of the disaster at Fukushima, it would seem that we need to heed Furukawa’s warning more than ever: faster does not necessarily mean better, and perhaps we need to slow down and appreciate the world in its natural state and be respectful of the other living things that we share this planet with. Although it may have a serious message at its heart, the message is related with Furukawa’s characteristic sense of humour.

This review is part of Nishikata Review’s 2011 Noburo Ofuji Award Challenge.

Speed appears on the Anido DVD Takun Films. Please support this artist by purchasing his work.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011

21 April 2011

Tokyo Joe (東京ジョー, 1949)

Made at the peak of Humphrey Bogart’s career, Tokyo Joe (Stuart Heisler, 1949) provides some rare glimpses into life in Tokyo under the American Occupation. Bogart plays Joe Barrett, a retired lieutenant colonel who ran a nightclub in Tokyo before the war and was married to the beautiful European singer Trina (Florence Marly). For reasons known only to himself, Joe left his wife and Japan shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor and the intervening war made it impossible for him to return.
Did they really label the streets with letters of the alphabet during the Occupation?
Several years afer the war, Joe decides to pick up the pieces of his life in Tokyo. Haunted by the song Trina used to sing, “These Foolish Things Remind Me of You”, he wonders what happened to his wife whom he believes must have died. He discovers that Trina has indeed survived the war but has remarried and has a child, and that he will need to deal with a lot of red tape, hassle, and prejudice in order to go back into business with his old friend Ito (Teru Shimada). He gets blackmailed by Baron Kimura (Sessue Hayakawa) into participating in an illegal smuggling operation and has to find a way to reconcile his personal life and ambitions with the precarious situation he finds himself in.
Bogart in a rickshaw with Tokyo streets rear projected behind him.
 It was impossible to shoot Tokyo Joe on location in 1948 – the first Hollywood shoot there wouldn’t happen until House of Bamboo (read my review of it) in 1955 – but Columbia Pictures was able to send a camera crew to Tokyo to shoot exterior footage. They were the first Hollywood camera crew to be granted permission to shoot there by the American Occupation. The opening aerial footage of Tokyo is quite impressive and Columbia pictures tries to give the film an air of authenticity with the street scene footage in the opening scenes when Joe first arrives in Tokyo. Sadly, these are rather awkwardly handled through the use of a Bogart body double and Bogart shot with rear projection of the Tokyo footage. 
A Bogart body double on the streets of Tokyo.
In spite of this, Tokyo Joe is an oddly likeable film. To be certain, it is not one of Bogart’s best performances and the plot and dialogue are a bit creaky at times, but there are enough interesting elements to keep fans of classic Hollywood films content. The story is a lot more believable than House of Bamboo when it comes to the portrayal of interactions between Japanese and foreign characters. As the actors were shot entirely in the Columbia Pictures Hollywood studios, there are the usual faux pas of characters wearing their shoes indoors but the interiors are more authentically staged than in House of Bamboo. In some ways they are the polar opposites of each other - the exterior shots in House of Bamboo were far superior to their interiors, and vice versa for Tokyo Joe.  In the name of realism, Bogart even takes a stab at speaking Japanese, which one would expect as the character that he plays lived so long in Japan – though he of course keeps the famous Bogart intonation. 
Great camaraderie between Bogart and Shimada.
 The American pilots that Joe hires demonstrate the kind of prejudices and suspicion towards the Japanese that one would expect considering the brutality of the Pacific War. Any negative comments about the Japanese are counterbalanced by Joe’s broader experience of the Japanese – particularly his close friendship with Ito. Ito’s friendly, open nature is contrasted sharply by the slyness and manipulativeness of Baron Kimura. This role was perfect for Sessue Hayakawa, who had mastered the role of the villain during the silent period. This film marked the beginning of Hayakawa’s post war comeback in Hollywood. 
Sessue Hayakawa plays bad well.
 The use of Japanese and Japanese-American actors aids the authentic feel of the film. The dialogue might not be as snappy as Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) and the plot might not be as tight as The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941), but the film putters along at a decent pace.  Furthermore, it’s nice to see a more well balanced portrayal of the Japanese in a Hollywood picture than the faceless, nameless, soulless soldiers in the war movies of the day. 

I would recommend Tokyo Joe to people who are interested in the time period. It is certainly interesting to see how they depict the American Occupation. I’m not sure how realistic the plot points are concerning war criminals hiding out in Korea trying to sneak back into the country to plot a coup, but the rising fear of communism was certainly a key concern of the times.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011

17 April 2011

Keiichi Tanaami’s Favourite Animation

Since I was a child, I’ve always loved Disney movies and cartoons in general. Each time I draw a picture regardless of what it’s for I always think about how it would look if animated. That’s why animating my drawings comes quite naturally to me. – Keiichi Tanaami (Tokyo, 3 August 2009)

The words that most often are used to describe Keiichi Tanaami's artistic style include “pop art,” “surreal,” “psychedelic,” and “experimental.” Watching his animated films, it is easy to make comparisons with Tanaami’s mentor Andy Warhol, other experimental filmmakers of the 60s like Stan Brakhage, and masters of abstract animation like Len Lye, Oskar Fischinger, and Norman McLaren.

In fact, Tanaami has been influenced in equal measures by both mainstream animation and experimental fare. During his interview for the DVD/book Set A Portrait of Keiichi Tanaami, the artist speaks of his childhood passion for Disney movies and shorts. On the 2003 Laputa survey, Tanaami listed a wide range of animation styles as his top animations of all time. Not only do American animated classics like Steamboat Willie, Superman, and Mr. Bug Goes to Town make his list, but also some of the best of world animation including works by McLaren, Suzan Pitt, Raoul Servais, and Paul Grimault. Tanaami also lists early experimental animation by  Fischinger,  Hans Richter, Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Porter.

In his commentary about his selections, Tanaami writes that the films of Oskar Fischinger have made a significant impact on him as an artist, influencing many aspects of his own animation. Of Raoul Servais’s Nocturnal Butterflies, he says that the film has a certain “je ne sais quoi” – a special quality or depth that one cannot achieve in digital formats. Tanaami does use computer technology in the editing process of his films today, but he and his frequent collaborator Nobuhiro Aihara still prefer to draw their films by hand.

Here are Tanaami's best of animation picks:

(スーパーマン, Dave Fleischer, 1941) 

(アスパラガス, Suzan Pitt, 1979)

Night on Bald Mountain / Une nuit sur le mont chauve
(禿山の一夜, Alexandre Alexeieff / Claire Parker, France, 1933)

Mr. Bug Goes to Town
(aka Hoppity Goes to Town / バッタ君町に行く, Dave Fleischer, USA, 1941)

Blinkity Blank
(線と色の即興詩, Norman McLaren, Canada, 1955)

Le petit soldat 
(小さな兵士, Paul Grimault, France, 1947)

Le roi et l’oiseau 
(王と鳥 やぶにらみの暴君, Paul Grimault, France, 1948)

Studie Nr. 1-13
(スタディ , Oskar Fischinger, experimental series, 1929-33)

Nocturnal Butterflies/Papillons de nuit
(夜の蝶, Raoul Servais, 1998)

Rhythm 21
(リズム21, Hans Richter, Germany, 1921)

Steamboat Willie
(蒸気船ウィリー, Ub Iwerks/Walt Disney, USA, 1928)

A Retrospective of Keiichi Tanaami's animated films will be screened in Toronto on April 23rd with the proceeds going to earthquake/tsunami charity.  The retrospective will then travel to Winnipeg and Montreal.  Click here to learn more.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011


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