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