29 November 2011

Coffee Break (コーヒー・ブレイク, 1977)

Coffee falls into the stomach … ideas begin to move, things remembered arrive at full gallop … the shafts of wit start up like sharp-shooters, similes arise, the paper is covered with ink …
-          Honoré de Balzac (オノレ・ド・バルザック, 1799-1850)

Mornings are the most productive time for me.  I usually wake with a fresh perspective on whatever project I am working on and as soon as the kids are off to school, I begin to write.  By mid-morning; however, my brain clouds over and things that seemed so clear when I first woke jumble together and lose focus.  The remedy to this situation is coffee.  Coffee has the remarkable ability to bring order to the chaos of the mind, and to stimulate the imagination when one’s imagination is ready to curl up and take a catnap.

Taku Furukawa encapsulates the ability of coffee to inspire a weary mind in his 1977 animated short Coffee Break (コーヒー・ブレイク).  In the film, a man sits working busily away at his desk – typing into his typewriter, comically scratching his behind, talking on the phone, having a smoke, leafing through a book.  It is a minimalistic line drawing scene with just the man and his desk and door drawn in thin black lines on white paper.  The man - likely a caricature of the animator himself - then makes himself a cup of coffee and as the cup approaches his mouth we hear the sound of a countdown to a rocket launch.  As the coffee pours into the man’s mouth, the screen explodes into a colourful multi-layered image of food floating in the air like debris in outer space.  The floating objects transform from food into animals, then into vehicles, buildings, and people until the sound of the rocket ship is replaced by the wail of an electronic guitar that brings home the nirvana of the experience of drinking a good cuppa Java.

In just three short minutes, Coffee Break demonstrates all the qualities that make Furukawa such a genius of his craft: his ability to transform a simple concept into a thought-provoking work of art, his playful nature, and his limitless imagination.  Earlier this year, in celebration of Furukawa’s 70th birthday, two of his former students, Tomoyoshi Joko and Hiroco Ichinose, created an homage to Coffee Break entitled Coffee Tadaiku (コーヒータダイク, 2011).  The newly married animation team of Joko and Ichinose studied animation under Furukawa at Tokyo Polytechnic University and work under the name Decovocal – a name that was suggested to them by Furukawa (see JMAF 2010 Symposia Report). 

Joko and Ichinose emulate Furukawa in their use of simple line drawing animation to create highly imaginative works.  Coffee Tadaiku mimics the original Coffee Break right down to the style of the opening credits.  “Tadaiku” refers to Furukawa’s given name Furukawa Tadaiku 古川肇郁 – a name which only appears in the credits of his mentor Yoji Kuri’s films.  When the international version of Kuri's Au Fou! (殺人狂時代) was released in 1967, Furukawa’s given name was shortened to just one kanji 古川肇 in the credits and by the time he left Kuri’s studio he had adopted his katakana nickname  古川タクas his official nom de plume.

In this updated version of Coffee Break, Furukawa is depicted typing away at a computer instead of a typewriter – but he still pauses comically to scratch his bottom.  Joko and Ichinose then depict a series of images that they associate with their sensei: a bespectacled Furukawa working with a pencil on an animation table, Furukawa as a baseball fan enthusiastically watching the game on a tablet computer, filing his nails at his desk, watching one of his wind-up toys on the floor (Furukawa is a collector of White Knob wind-up toys), and so on.  Instead of a closed door, Coffee Tadaiku features an open door to a staircase with a small dog quietly sitting in front of it.  When the caricature of Furukawa drinks the coffee, the scene explodes into a sky full of floating objects associated with celebration: cake / champagne / red snapper / onigiri / flowers.  The electric guitar comes in much sooner in this tribute to the animation master ushering in an image of Furukawa drinking coffee as the numbers 7 and 0 float around him followed by Happy Birthday wishes.  

A brilliant tribute for a brilliant animator. 

Watch it for yourself on Youtube.

Coffee Break appears on Takun Films (1998) which can be ordered from Anido.
Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011

22 November 2011

The Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Shows (1972-1980), Part II

I remember that once in an English Literature class we were asked: “If you could travel back in time to be in the audience for any performance in history, what would you like to see?”  My answer at the time was to see Fred and Adele Astaire dance on Broadway.  Today, I think my answer would be to attend the Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Shows. 

The first Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Show (川本+ 岡本パペットアニメーショウ) was in October 1972, one year after Tadanari Okamoto had held a retrospective of his own work.  As mentioned in Part I, Okamoto had been the one to suggest a joint event with his friend Kihachiro Kawamoto.  Even with the work of two animators, they still did not have enough to fill a programme, so Kawamoto came up with the idea of including live puppet theatre.   Many of the live puppet performances were written and directed by Kawamoto himself. 

The events allowed not only these two acknowledged masters of puppet animation to shine, but also gave the staff who worked for them an opportunity to show off their own individual talents.  At the fourth show in 1975, for example, Hirokazu Minegishi presented his own short film The Daughter of Osaka (Ōsaka no ojyōsan).  Minegishi worked for both Okamoto and Kurosawa throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and now does puppet animation under director Tsuneo Goda for Dwarf (Domo-kun, Komaneko, etc.)

According to Kihachiro Kawamoto: Animation and Puppet Master (Kadakawa Shoten, 1994), these are  the animation screening programmes for the Anime-Shows (KK=Kawamoto, TO=Okamoto):

1st Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Show (October 1972)

The Demon (KK)
Chikotan (TO)
The Monkey and the Crab (TO)
The Mochi-Mochi Tree (TO)

2nd Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Show (October 1973)

Tabi (KK)
The Travelling Companion (TO)
Praise Be to Small Ills (TO)
Bach Omnibus (Hiromi Wakasa, Yoko Higashikawa, Hiroshi Jinsenji)

3rd Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Show (October 1974)

Sheep Song (Hitsuji no Uta, Hiromi Wakasa)
All You Need Is Love (Ai koso subete, Satoru Yoshida)
Get off (Noboru Shinogi)
A Poet’s Life (KK)
December Song (TO)
Five Small Stories (TO)  

4th Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Show (October 1975)

Stripe (Hiromi Wakasa)
The Daughter of Osaka (Ōsaka no ojyōsan, Hirokazu Minegishi)
Three Stories (Mitsu no Hanashi, Kimura Hiroshi/Tamotsu Shiihara/Tadakazu Takahashi)
Hana-Ori (KK)
Urameshi Denwa (TO)
The Water Seed (TO)

5th Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Show (October 1976)

From Cherry Blossom With Love (TO)
The Strong Bridge (TO)
Dojoji Temple (KK)
Are wa dare? (TO)

Reprise Screening Event (October 1979)

The Strong Bridge (TO)
The Ningen Ijime Series (TO)
Dojoji Temple (KK)
Are wa Dare? (TO)
Chikotan (TO)

6th Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Show (October 1980)

TV Commercials (TO)
The Strong Bridge (TO)
Ningen Ijime Series Part 4: Oshizuka ni (TO)
Panache the Squirrel (TO)
House of Flames (KK)
Towards the Rainbow (TO)
Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011

Source: Kihachiro Kawamoto: Animation and Puppet Master (Kadakawa Shoten, 1994)

See these Films for Yourself:

The Kawamoto + Okamoto Puppet Anime-Shows (1972-1980), Part I

Ever since reading about Tadanari Okamoto and Kihachiro Kawamoto’s joint Puppet Anime-Shows (川本+ 岡本パペットアニメーショウ) on Anipages, I have wanted to learn more about them.  Had the two Japanese masters of puppet animation met working on puppets for stop motion pioneer Tadahito Mochinaga’s MOM Productions – the studio that famously did the puppet animation for Rankin/Bass’s beloved children’s classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) – or had they met earlier?  How did the idea for the Puppet Anime-Shows develop?  What was screened at the events?

According to Kawamoto's account in Kihachiro Kawamoto: Animation and Puppet Master (Kadakawa Shoten, 1994), Kawamoto and Okamoto met for the first time at the farewell party Mochinaga hosted for Kawamoto when he departed for Prague to study under Jiri Trnka in 1962.  Okamoto’s enthusiasm for the future of puppet animation in Japan made quite an impression on Kawamoto and became the basis for their friendship.

Shortly after Kawamoto’s return to Japan, Okamoto quit MOM Productions and founded his own animation studio in 1964 which he named Echo Productions.  Okamoto’s first independent film A Wonderful Medicine (ふしぎなくすり, 1965) impressed Kawamoto with its fresh style and subject matter.  However, from the very beginning it was clear that the two men had very different approaches to puppet animation.  Okamoto was able to produce many more films than Kawamoto because he took advantage of the need for educational films for schools.  This meant that Okamoto had a steady source of income for producing animated puppet films and employed a studio system of animating.  He employed a team of talented artists including Sumiko Hosaka, Fumiko Magari, and Hirokazu Minegishi to assist with the construction of puppets and assisting with the animation.   

In contrast, Kawamoto worked as an independent artist in the 1970, making the dolls himself, making their costumes, constructing the sets, and doing the animation with very little money for staff to assist him.  Much of Kawamoto’s work was funded by making puppets for NHK’s children’s programming such as Okaasan to Issho (1966), Cinderella (1973), and Yan Yan Mū-kun (1973-75). 

In the early days of their independent work, Kawamoto and Okamoto began to spent a lot of their free time together, not only to talk about their work but also going on ski trips and other excursions together.  It was on one such outing that Okamoto, who had already hosted a solo show of his own work, suggested putting together a joint puppet animation show.

In hosting their Puppet Anime-Shows, Okamoto and Kawamoto faced two major obstacles: finding enough material to screen and funding the event.  Because puppet animation is a time consuming process, Kawamoto could only complete a new work every couple of years.  Even Okamoto, with his larger staff, could only produce two to four short films a year.  With only a handful of new works, they needed something to fill out the programme to make it a proper event.  Kawamoto came up with the idea of including live puppet theatre performances.   Not only would this lengthen the programme, but live shows could also incorporate the humorous aspects of puppet performances.    

Hosting these Puppet Anime-Shows in addition to their usual puppet animation production schedules was hard going for Kawamoto, Okamoto, and their staff.  The positive reaction of the audience to the screenings and performances outweighed any hardships that they experienced and made it all worthwhile for them.  Kawamoto has said that if it were not for Okamoto and the Puppet Anime-Shows his work would never have amounted to much.  The period during which they held the Puppet Anime-Shows was the time that Kawamoto felt that he truly became an artist.  Ten years after the curtain closed on the final Puppet-Anime Show, Kawamoto was able to pay a final tribute to his friend and puppet show collaborator by completing The Restaurant of Many Orders (注文の多い料理店, 1991), the film that Okamoto left unfinished when he died suddenly of liver cancer at the age of 62.   

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011

What puppet films were screened at the Puppet Anime-Shows?  Read Part II to find out.

To learn more read: 


21 November 2011

Towards the Rainbow (虹に斑って, 1977)

The great puppet animator Tadahito Okamoto (岡本 忠成, 1932-90) was at his most prolific during the 1970s, sometimes creating two or even three short films per year.  The most beautiful of these is Towards the Rainbow (虹に斑って/Niji ni Mukatte, 1977): a story of love conquering all odds.  The 18 minute short is adapted from the folk tale Futari ga kaketa Hashi (ふたりがかけた橋) by Etsuo Okawa about two young lovers separated by a river. 

The story is narrated by screen legend Kyoko Kishida, who lent her voice to numerous puppet animations by both Okamoto and his friend and colleague Kihachiro Kawamoto.  The story is interwoven with the music of folk singer Kōhei Oikawa, who adapted the story Futari ga kaketa Hashi into song for the film.  Okamoto had used Oikawa once before for the music for Praise Be For Small Ills (南無一病息災, 1973).

Okamoto sets the scene with an ancient, creased map of two communities in the mountains that are separated by a fast flowing river.  The divided communities feud with each other with the young boys calling names and throwing rocks at each other across the deep gorge.  A young girl on one side of the river collects flowers which she offers the boys on the other side of the river as a gesture of goodwill, but she is cruelly struck down by stones.  A young boy tries to stop his older peers from continuing to throw stones at her and is struck down himself. 

From that moment on a friendship blossoms between the girl and boy.  One day, he brings her a present in a basket which he tries to send to her side of the river along a rope, but some boys tear the rope out of her hands and the basket washes away in the river.  In spite of all these obstacles, their love for each other only grows stronger.  When the boy grows into a young man, he braves the terrible current of the river with his raft to visit his love on her side of the river.  Their love seems impossible for both are bound by responsibilities to their own families and communities. 

The young man decides to build a bridge across the river and sets to work with supporters from his village.  However, the river is too strong and knocks the bridge down.  In her distress over the seeming impossibility of their romance, the woman falls into the river and the young man rescues her.  As she lies in shock in his arms, the couple sees a magical display of white cranes forming a bridge over the river and the woman experiences a vision in which she dances on a rainbow joining the two communities.  This vision inspires them with the idea of building a new kind of bridge that does not need a support beam.  The tale promotes the value of devotion, dedication, and perseverance.

Towards the Rainbow is a truly spectacular stop motion animation.  The puppets were handcrafted out of wood and cloth and the misty backgrounds and sets – which are similar to those used in Okamoto’s previous film The Strong Bridge (ちからばし, 1976)  – have been made with an eye to historical accuracy.  Okamoto is said to have done extensive research about how such bridges were designed and constructed in the period in which the film is set.  The attention to detail practised by Okamoto and his puppet and art designers can be seen in everything from the men having stubble on their faces after a long day of work to the use of a professional choreographer to assist with the young woman’s dance on the rainbow in the dream sequence.

In the opening sequence the young girl is shown picking flowers in a field of higanbana or red spider lilies – which fans of Japanese cinema will recognize from Yasujiro Ozu’s film Equinox Flower (彼岸花/Higanbana, 1958).  Higanbana – which also appear on the cover of the original storybook – usually bloom around the autumn equinox near countryside graveyards and are associated with the journey of the soul into the next world.  It is clear that the bridges being built in Towards the Rainbow, are not just literal but spiritual as well.  The film comes full circle, beginning and ending in autumn with the narrator declaring that the young heroine in her bridal garb is more beautiful than the autumn leaves.


Tadanari Okamoto 岡本忠成

Original Story
Etsuo Okawa 大川悦生

Kunpei Nagakura 永倉薫平 
Yoko Higashikawa 東川洋子 
Tadanari Okamoto 岡本忠成

Seishiro Fujimori 藤森誠代 
Hirokazu Minegishi 峰岸裕和 
Hiroshi Taisenji  奏泉寺博 
Tokiko Ōmukai 大向とき子 
Yumiko Yoshida 横田由美子

Art Design
Takashi Komae 小前隆 
Masami Tokuyama 徳山正美 
Chizuko Makisaka 槇坂千鶴子 
Minoru Kujirai 鯨井実

Sumiko Hosaka 保坂純子 
Yoshiko Kumahiko 阿彦よし子 
Sumie Ishii 石井寿美恵

Minoru Tamura 田村実

Naoko Aizawa 相沢尚子

Isamu Koufuji 甲藤勇

Kyoko Kishida  岸田今日子

Saburō Satō 佐藤三郎

Kōhei Oikawa 及川恒平

Paper Land  ペーパーランド 
Shuji Honda 本田修二 
Makoto Kouda幸田実 
Masayuki Nakatomi 中富雅之 
Kifu Mitsuhashi 三橋貴風 (shakuhachi)

Credits courtesy of Animations Wiki

Towards the Rainbow won Tadanari Okamoto his 5th Noburo Ofuji Award at the 16th Mainichi Film Concours.  This review is part of Nishikata Film Review’s  Noburo Ofuji Award Challenge.

text © Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011

17 November 2011

Zipangu Fest 2011

Zipangu Fest gets underway tomorrow night in London and runs until the 24th of November.  It is the first UK-wide festival devoted to Japanese film.  The festival bills itself as a showcase for the best of cutting edge and avant-garde Japanese cinema.  Last year’s inaugural festival took place at various venues around London’s East End before travelling to regional events in Bristol, Leeds, Coventry, Nottingham and Newcastle in the UK, and further afield to Tallinn, Estonia.  This year's festival is packed with cinematic gems both new and old.

Animation and Experimental Films

My favourite parts of the festival programme this year are the animation and experimental film events.  There are two screenings celebrating the work of Takashi Makino: Enter the Cosmos and Seasons Inter View.  Makino is one of Japan’s top experimental filmmakers.  His colourful abstract works take spectators on a journey of the senses.  Makino will be in attendance for the latter of the two screenings. 

Some brilliant animated shorts will be featured in the Beyond Anime: The Outer Limits screening including works by Ryu Furusawa, Ryo Hirano, and KTOONZ.  I highly recommend the work of Image Forum graduates Nasuka Saito and Mana Fujii, whose works I ranked as the best of the Dome Animation special at Nippon Connection 2010.  

Julian Ross has curated a special event for Zipangu called Nippon Re-Read: Radical Fragments and Abstractions from Japan I and II + Cat Soup which will present a spectrum of experimental works past and present.  It is a strong programme which will be topped off by a screening of Tatsuo Sato's Cat Soup (2001) with live accompaniment by premiere noise-rock band Bo Ningen. All proceeds from this event with go to disaster relief efforts in Japan.


The festival will open with the stunning new film KanZeOn (Neil Cantwell, 2011), a mystical journey from the timeless to the modern that examines the role of sound in Japanese Buddhism. This screening includes a discussion with special guests Neil Cantwell, Tim Grabham, and ta2mi led by Lucia Dolce, the director of the Centre for the Study of Japanese Religion at SOAS.

In the wake of the March 11 disaster in the Tohoku region of Japan, Zipangu has introduced a Nuclear Reactions programme featuring Hitomi Kamanaka’s documentaries Ashes to Honey (read review) and Rokkasho Rhapsody (read review) - both of which I recommend highly.  In addition, Zipangu is screening Shinpei Takeda’s moving road-trip documentary Hiroshima Nagasaki Download, in which two college friends interview atomic bomb survivors living in North America.  There will be a Q+A with the director after the screening.  Hiroshima Nagasaki Download will be preceded by The Student Wrestler (Yumehito Imanari, 2010) which was the winner of the audience award at Image Forum 2010.

Other docs on the programme include We Don’t Care About Music Anyway (Cédric Dupire/Gaspard Kuentz, 2009) about  Tokyo’s avant-garde noise music scene and horror meets J-pop in Shirome, a mockumentary that involves director Koji Shiraishi luring prepubescent idol band Momoiro Clover into a supposedly haunted abandoned school – the result lies somewhere between the Blair Witch Project and the X-Factor.

Rare Films

The Zipangu Retro programme will feature a rare screening of the 1959 docudrama Lucky Dragon No. 5 directed by one of post-war Japan’s most important independent film makers, Kaneto Shindō.  It tells the story of the Bikini Atoll hydrogen bomb catastrophe that exposed a Japanese fishing boat crew to radioactive fallout.  

Another rare film being screened as part of Zipangu Retro is a 1930s ghost story The Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen (Kiyohiko Ushihara, 1938).  Subtitled especially for Zipangu Fest and never seen before in the UK, this gem is one of Japan’s few surviving pre-war horror films.

UK Premiere of Abraxas 
UK fans of Japanese cinema should also be sure to check out the UK premiere of the much-lauded feature film Abraxas, which tells the story of a punk musician turned Buddhist monk.  Abraxas was a surprise hit at the 2011 Sundance Festival and was well received at Nippon Connection 2011.  Read Marc Saint-Cyr’s review of the film to learn more.

Zipangu Fest 2011 – celebrating the best of cutting edge and avant-garde Japanese cinema – will be held at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts and Café Oto from November 18th to 24th, before moving to venues around the UK. The festival will showcase a selection of Japan’s finest features, documentaries, shorts, animation and experimental films.  For full details visit: http://zipangufest.com.

Paper Films (Le cinéma sur papier / ペーパーフィルム, 2005)

With the aid of computers, mainstream animation has become more and more complex over the years as each studio tries to outdo the other with eye-popping 3D effects.  While the renowned animator Taku Furukawa has always been open to tinkering with new technologies, at heart he has always recognized the value of animation in its most basic form of putting pen to paper and drawing a series of images.

Furukawa’s 2005 animated short Paper Films (Le cinéma sur papier / ペーパーフィルム, 2005) harkens back to his exploration of early animation in his 1975 award-winning film Phenakistiscope (Odorokiban/驚き版).  In Phenakistiscope, he imitated the 19th century circular spinning toy of the same name.  With Paper Films, he takes animation back to its even more ancient form of a horizontal sequence of images that depict stages of motion.

 The illusion of motion is demystified in Paper Films as Furukawa first shows the paper pictures that make up his animation on a gallery wall, before setting them into motion.  A row of just over half a dozen images of a sun pop up and down like ponies on a carousel.  Furukawa then moves the camera in to capture just one of the animated images to reveal that instead the pupils of the green-nosed sun are actually people. 

This pattern of showing the miniature images in a row then moving in closer to reveal a surprise repeats throughout the film.  In one instance we see what looks like a couple consuming a heart-shaped cake, but when the camera moves in closer we see that it is no ordinary couple but a centaur and a mermaid.  Another sequence appears just to be that of a crescent moon lying down, but then the camera moves in closer to reveal a naked woman popping out of the moon like Momotaro from the peach.

Paper Films is a useful film for teaching students the principles of animation and the significance of perspective in animation.  When seen in an animated sequence onscreen, some series of images give the impression of horizontal movement.  However, when the camera focuses on just one of the series the movement appears to be vertical: a Humpty Dumpty figure wearing an anti-war slogan on a T-shirt is not really moving sideways, but plummeting onto a row of tanks like a bomb; a car that looks like it is moving from left to right is actually moving from the distance into the foreground; and so on.

As ever, Taku Furukawa is having fun with animation and he playfully drops references to historical antecedents that shaped both his artistic aesthetic and his sense of humour – everything from Muybridge to the Marx Brothers.  The playful nature of the film is emphasized by the lyrical score by his daughter Momoko Furukawa (official website) and Akihiro Yoshida.

The title of this film is occasionally rendered as "Paper Film" because of the ambiguity of the katakana English title.  I chose the plural "Paper Films" for the title because that is how it appears in the opening credits of the film.  The plural makes sense because the 6'21" short is actually made up of many seconds long animated short films.  

Paper Films appears on the Anido DVD Takun Films 2.

16 November 2011

Radioactivists – Protest in Japan since Fukushima (2011)

The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 and the ensuing nuclear disaster were a wake-up call not only for the citizens of Japan but for people around the world living with nuclear energy.  If a catastrophe of this magnitude could happen in a country as technologically advanced as Japan, then surely it could happen closer to home.  The notion that local governments are looking out for the best interests of the people when it comes to nuclear energy has been forever destroyed by this event.

One of the countries most deeply impacted by increased anti-nuclear sentiment in the wake of the Japanese disaster has been Germany, where the government was pressured into announcing a commitment to abandon nuclear power on May 30, 2011. By chance, two young politically aware Germans, Julia Leser and Clarissa Seidel, were in Japan during the catastrophe.  Leser, a student of Japanology and politics at Leipzig University, had just completed a year abroad at Waseda.  Her friend Seidel, a recent media studies graduate, had joined her for a short holiday.  Two days after the earthquake hit, the two returned to Germany where they were frustrated about the lack of media coverage of the growing anti-nuclear movement in Japan that they were following on websites like J-Fissures and Shirōtono Ran.  Inspired by the by this, Leser and Seidel returned to Japan with a camera to make their first documentary: Radioactivists – Protest in Japan since Fukushima (2011)

Radioactivists focuses exclusively on the reaction to the nuclear disaster in Tokyo.  The first Shirōto no Ran (素人の乱/Revolt of the Amateurs) demonstration was held in Koenji on April 10th.  With an estimated 15,000 people in attendance, it was the largest protest of its kind in Japan since the 1970s.  Seidel and Leser tell the story through lively footage of the protests and the testimony of the key figures organizing the movement:  Hajime Matsumoto, an entrepreneur and activist who founded the Shirōto no Ran movement, the writer Yoshihiko Ikegami who is editor in chief of political magazine Gendai Shisō, and Keisuke Narita, an anarchist, activist, and owner of a DIY-Infoshop in Shinjuku.  The political and social ramifications of this movement are put into context in the film by interviews with the political scientist Chigaya Kinoshita and the sociologist Yoshitaka Mōri.
Matsumoto painting a flag with the word "KAISAN" (解散/dissolution) on the front step of his recycle shop.

For first time documentary filmmakers, I was impressed that Leser and Seidel were able to whittle down  over 20 hours of footage into a neat 72 minute film.  Apart from some inelegant transitions between sections of the film, it is a strong documentary with a nice balance of information and images.  The emphasis is firmly placed on giving voice to the concerned citizens of Tokyo with the filmmakers themselves content to stay behind the lens.  The behind-the-scenes footage of the organization of the second protest in Shibuya in May shows the jocular good-will of the organizers to get as many people as possible to join in the demonstration while at the same time doing their best not to irritate the police or the park attendants of Yoyogi Park. 
Prof. Steffi Richter with Clarissa Seidel and Julia Leser at Japan Week, Frankfurt am Main

The audience at Japan Week for the premier of Radioactivists last Saturday was a lively crowd with many  activists in attendance who had attended Occupy Frankfurt earlier that day.  It was an eye-opening experience for many to realize how lucky they were with their ability to protest openly in Germany compared to the much more tightly regulated protests in Japan.  For example, in Japan the police are able to detain people without charge for up to 23 days – a time period which can lead to innocent people losing their jobs if applied injudiciously by police. 

Although Radioactivists makes the large numbers of police at the demonstrations look out of proportion to the peaceful nature of the protesters and allows Keisuke Narita to share his grievances about police behaviour, on the whole the film tries to maintain a positive impression of the first three Shirōto no Ran demonstrations.  This is not an anti-police or anti-government film, but a documentation of a group of people entreaty to their fellow citizens to join them in their call for an end to the use of nuclear energy in Japan.  The promotion of good will is aided in a large part by the participation of Human Recovery Project, a network of punk and rock bands who do charity work in the Tohoku region.  The musicians add a celebratory, festival atmosphere to the marches.  The most moving moment in the film for me was a heartfelt performance of Kiyoshiro Imawano's anti-nuclear cover version of Eddie Cochran's  "Summertime Blues". 

Radioactivists is really just a snapshot of the anti-nuclear movement in Tokyo between March and June.  Due to budgetary constraints, the makers were unable to travel to cities like Osaka and Kyoto where anti-nuclear protest has also been significant.  The film ends with footage of the third demonstration in June as it winds along the streets of Shinjuku.  Since Leser and Seidel finished shooting the film in June, the demonstrations have continued on a bi-monthly basis with more and more participants at each event.  For more information about the documentary and updates on the protests, you can follow the filmmakers on Twitter or on their blog.  I do hope that the filmmakers are inspired / get the funding to make a sequel.

16 January 2012 UPDATE: This film is now available on DVD with Japanese, English, German, and Spanish subtitles.  Click here for more details.

RADIOACTIVISTS – Protest in Japan since Fukushima
Germany/Japan 2011, 72 min.

Directed + Produced by:
Julia Leser + Clarissa Seidel
 Clarissa Seidel
Additional Photography:
Arseny Rossikhin
Associate Producers:
Roger Zehnder
Yoshihiro Akai
Graphic Design:
Clemens Berger
René Hänsel
Original Music:
Junsuke Kondo
We Want Wine
Yasuo Akai

Yoshihiko Ikegami
Chigaya Kinoshita
Hajime Matsumoto
Keisuke Narita
Yoshitaka Mōri
Human Recovery Project 

Radioactivists had its world premiere on 12 November 2011 at:
This event was sponsored by Nippon Connection:

14 November 2011

Japan in Germany 6: Marie Miyayama

On Friday night I had the pleasure of watching Marie Miyayama's The Red Spot (Der Rote Punkt / 赤い点, 2008) for the second time at the Deutches Filmmuseum Frankfurt as part of the Nippon Connection Film Special at Japan Week.  This was my first time seeing the film in its original 35mm format and the colours were even more brilliant than in the digital format.  In addition to the obvious uses of red with Aki’s backpack, her mother’s lipstick, her aunt’s umeboshi, and the dot on the map, there were more subtle uses of red on the curtains in Aki’s room and the dress of Mary in Johannes’s carving of Mary and the baby Jesus. 

It’s a beautifully shot film, and I found myself even more strongly moved by the actors’ performances the second time round which for me is always the sign of a well made film.  I was happy that I had seen the film once before with English subtitles for the southern German dialect of “Allgäuerisch” is challenging for me.  However, I noticed that there was much more laughter at this screening of The Red Spot than there was at Shinsedai 2010 in Toronto because the Frankfurt audience picked up on the subtleties of the local humour – especially in the scene when Johannes has to pick Elias up at the police station and in the scene when Aki’s elementary German confuses Johannes.

Marie Miyayama (宮山麻里枝, b. 1972) was also in attendance and took questions from the audience after the screening.  Miyama was born and grew up in Tokyo.  She came to Germany in 1995 to study filmmaking at the Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich and she remains based in Munich.  During the Q+A, Miyayama pinpointed the first time she saw Wim WendersAlice in the Cities (Alice in den Städten/都会のアリス, 1974) as being the moment that she fell in love with European cinema. 

Someone in the audience noted that Aki, the main protagonist in The Red Spot, was about the same age that Miyayama was when she first came to Germany and wondered if there were any autobiographical elements in this film.  Miyayama replied that many personal elements come into her films mainly through her own interest in exploring intercultural themes.  She also prefers to write her own screenplays in order that she may look deep into herself to bring some kind of personal truth to her films.  However, that being said, it should be remembered that The Red Spot was based on someone else’s story.  When Miyayama was working as an interpreter, she had a female client who came to Germany with just such a red spot on a map and employed Miyayama to help her find this spot where her family had died on the famed “Romantic Road” (Romantische Straße) between Würzburg and Füssen.  In the film, we see one of the most famous sightseeing attractions of the Romantic Road, Schloss Neuschwanstein, in the photos that Aki finds on her parents’ camera.  In real life, the woman that Miyayama assisted was a cousin of the lost family, not the surviving child, and as the story was developed into a screenplay many more fictional elements were added to the plot.

So far, The Red Spot has enjoyed a proper theatrical release in Germany and has been well received at international film festivals.  Miyayama remains ever hopeful that she could also release the film in Japanese theatres.  So far, the film has only shown twice in Japan at a festival for women filmmakers and at a German film festival.  It will be screened again in December at Waseda University as part of the celebration of 150 years of friendship between Japan and Germany. 

Miyayama has taken a short maternity break from filmmaking but is now working on new projects.  With an eye on continuing her exploration of intercultural themes, she is working on a scenario about a German woman who goes to Japan.  Not wanting to pigeonhole herself as a director; however, this film will be a comedy.   

To see more photos from this event, go to my Google Plus profile.

For more information about Marie Miyayama, see her homepage and her profile at Japanese Women Behind the Scenes.

This event was sponsored by Nippon Connection:


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