08 April 2011

Anime Adaptations of Kenji Miyazawa Stories and Poems

Night on the Galactic Railroad cameo in Summer Days With Coo (Keiichi Hara, 2007)
Kenji Miyazawa has been on my mind quite a lot of late. After watching  Isao Takahata’s adaptation of  Gauche the Cellist and hearing Keiichi Hara speak of his admiration for Miyazawa’s writing, I started seriously thinking about the relationship between Miyazawa and animation. As Ben Ettinger had written compelling about Miyazawa adaptations he enjoyed on Anipages back in 2009, I was not moved to write something myself until the weekend before last when some guests arrived at our home from Japan.

One of our guests was from Iwate and grew up near Miyazawa’s hometown of Hanamaki. As an omiyagi, Koji gave us a noren with the famous Miyazawa poem Ame ni mo Makezu (雨ニモマケズ) written on it. On the day of the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Koji was travelling south from Iwate and had a choice to make between taking the coastal route or the inland route. We are thankful that he took the inland route and thereby avoided being caught in the path of the tsunami that day. Reading it in the wake of this disaster, the poem Ame ni no Makezu (Be not defeated by the rain) reminds us that we should put others before ourselves and be empathic to the needs of others.
Our Miyazawa noren awaiting ironing and a pole on which to hang it.
With this in mind, I have written this post in honour of the people of Iwate and its sister prefectures in Tohoku. The news from Japan currently focuses almost entirely on the fears of nuclear fallout, but we should not forget that people are still suffering and in need of our assistance on the northeastern coast of Honshu. I urge my readers to give generously to the Japan Society’s Earthquake Relief Fund, which has pledged to ensure that 100% of funds raised will go directly to organizations helping those in need. In Germany, I am supporting Nippon Connection’s efforts in raising money for Japan via the Aktion Deutschland Hilft program (Stichwort: Nippon Connection hilft.)

Update 17 April 2011:  Iwate poet's work inspires many following Great East Japan Earthquake (Asahi Shimbun) 

Iwate has inspired many writers from Basho, who wrote about the region in Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道) to the contemporary writer Jakucho Setouchi (formerly Harumi Setouchi) who was the chief priest at Tendaji Temple from 1987 to 2005. Miyazawa is Iwate’s most famous son, and the region’s culture and landscape influenced him greatly.

There have been many films and TV specials of his work – especially around 1996 and 2006 in honour of his 100th and 110th anniversaries of his birth. Most of these are animated. There are many reasons why Miyazawa’s work lends itself well to animation. He is particularly famous for his children’s stories and children’s literature is a popular source of inspiration for animators. The poetic nature of Miyazawa’s work also pairs well with animation – particularly the fantastic elements of his stories like the talking animals in Gauche the Cellist, the surrealism of The Restaurant of Many Orders, or the train travelling through Northern Cross and the Milky Way in Night on the Galactic Railroad.

The first three films on this list of animated adaptations of Kenji Miyazawa’s work are the three best in my opinion. All three won the Noburo Ofuji Award for their innovative animation techniques. The rest of the films/OVA/TV specials are listed in no particular order.

The Restaurant of Many Orders
(注文の多い料理店, Tadanari Okamoto/Kihachiro Kawamoto, 1991)
This adaptation of the short story of the same name was Okamoto’s final project before his death. His close friend Kawamoto finished the film as a tribute. The animation was designed to resemble copperplate engraving and its look was deeply influenced by the artistry of Reiko Okuyama.
Gauche the Cellist
(セロ弾きのゴーシュ, Isao Takahata, 1983)
Image and music are beautifully interwoven in this poetic adaptation of Miyazawa’s short story. One of the great masterpieces of the Oh! Production animators. Studio Ghibli released this film on DVD in 2006 for the 110th anniversary of Miyazawa’s birth. (Read more here)

Night on the Galactic Railroad
(銀河鉄道の夜, Gisaburo Sugii, 1985)
This ingenious adaptation of Miyazawa’s novel altered the story so that the main characters are depicted at anthropomorphic cats. Esperanto is used throughout the film in a nod to Miyazawa’s interest in the language.
The Night of Taneyamagahara
(種山ヶ原の夜, Kazuo Oga, 2006)
Based on the play of the same name by Miyazawa that he wrote for his students in 1924, this was background artist Kazuo Oga’s first time working as a director. Studio Ghilbi released this adaptation on DVD in 2006 for the 110th anniversary of the author’s birth.

Gauche the Cellist (セロ弾きのゴーシュ, Yoshitsugu Tanaka, 1949)
Gauche the Cellist (セロ弾きのゴーシュ, Kenjiro Morinaga, 1953)
Gauche the Cellist (セロ弾きのゴーシュ, Matsue Jinbo, 1963)

These three are rare shorts, which are only available in archives/libraries in Japan. Tanaka is famed as an animation pioneer for his silhouette animation Perrault the Chimney Sweep. Jinbo was a pioneer of puppet animation at Gakken and she went on to produce many well-loved anime TV series in the 1980s. Pictured here is the Morinaga adapation, which may actually be a puppet drama rather than an animation. Studio Nova has posted a photograph from the making of this short film.
Miyazawa Kenji Collection - The Acorns and the Wildcat
(宮沢賢治作品集 どんぐりと山猫, Toshio Hirata, 1988)
OAV of a children’s story by Miyazawa.
Matasaburo the Wind Imp
(aka Matasaburo of the Winds, 風の又三郎, Rintaro, 1988)
 OAV of a popular story by Miyazawa. A rare treat for fans of Rintaro.
The Life of Gusko Budori
(グスコーブドリの伝記, Ryutaro Nakamura, 1994)

(雪渡り, Setsuko Shibuichi, 1994)

Oppel and the Elephant (Part II of the Three Tales)
(新しい動画 3つのはなし-オッペルと象-, Keiko Kozone, 1960)

The Three Tales is famous as being the first domestic anime televised. It is an experimental anthology with parts 1 and 3 adapted from stories by Hirosuke Hamada and Mimei Ogawa.

Kenji's Trunk (賢治のトランク, 1996)

This is an omnibus of short films that includes The Twin Stars (双子の星, Ryutaro Nakamura), The Cat's Office (猫の事務所, Hiroshi Fukutomi), The Coat of a Glacier Mouse (氷河ねずみの毛皮, Setsuko Shibuichi). The omnibus was made as part of the celebrations surrounding the 100th anniversary of Miyazawa’s birth.

Allusions to Miyazawa in anime:

Pom Poko
(平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ, Isao Takahata, 1994)

In addition to being layered with references to Japanese fairy tales and legends, there are many references to Kenji Miyazawa in this animaton. Pictured above is the famous goblins’ parade where you can see a visual allusion to Night on the Galactic Railroad in the night sky. The twin girl spirits in Pom Poko come from Miyazawa’s children’s story Twin Stars (双子の星).

Galaxy Express 999
(銀河鉄道999, Rintaro, 1981)

The steam train running through the stars in Miyazawa’s novel Night on the Galactic Railroad inspired Leiji Matsumoto to write the original manga on which this anime adaptation was based.

Spring and Chaos: The Life Story of Kenji Miyazawa
(イーハトーブ幻想〜Kenjiの春, Shoji Kawamori, 1996)
This TV anime special was produced to mark the 100th anniversary of Miyazawa’s birth. The Japanese title cites “Ihatov”, which is a famous fictional setting in Miyazawa’s books, while the North American title is derived from Miyazawa’s poetry collection Spring and Asura. Miyazawa and the other characters in the film are depicted as anthropomorphic cats in a nod to Sugii’s adapation of Night on the Galactic Railroad.

For more on many of these Miyazawa anime adaptations, head over to Anipages.

Update 17 May 2011: Recently discovered that Atsushi Wada has also done an adapation of a Miyazawa poem called Dancer of the Vermicular (蠕虫舞手, 2004).  Here's a screencap:

Update 7 July 2012:  
The Life of Gusko Budori

(グスコーブドリの伝記, Gisaburo Sugii, 2012)

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011