27 January 2012

Isamu Hirabayashi’s 663114 wins the Noburo Ofuji Award

At the Mainichi Film Concours earlier this month, Isamu Hirabayashi (平林勇, b. 1973, Shizuoka) was awarded the prestigious Noburo Ofuji Award, which celebrates innovation in animation, for his latest short film 663114 (2011).  I was disappointed last year that no award was given out when there are so many innovative animators working deserving of recognition by their peers. Hirabayashi is a worthy winner and I am delighted that the Mainichi saw fit to honour him.

Hirabayashi is a graduate of Musashino Art University.  He initially worked as a graphic designer after graduation, but left his job to become an independent filmmaker.  His film Textism (2003) won the Grand Prix at the Image Forum Festival and his following short films have won prizes at festivals around the world.  A Story Constructed of 17 Pieces of Space and 1 Maggot 2007) made my list of Top 40 Animated Shorts of the Noughties.  His international profile was raised in 2010 when Shikasha was invited to the Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight and last September, along with Mirai Mizue’s Modern No. 2 (2011),   663114 was invited to the Biennale in Venice.

The 8-minute short was made in response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami which struck the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.  The story is told by a cicada (セミ) which has been gestating for 66 years.  During the press conference at the Biennale (see video), Hirabayashi explained that he chose the cicada because they when they are nymphs (newly hatched) they must live for a long time underground (usually 2-5 years, but in some species even longer).  When the nymph metamorphosizes into a full-fledged cicada, it lives for only a week.  As we all know, the earthquake of March 11 triggered many more disasters including the tsunami and the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima.  The cicadas of the region are now living in polluted earth, and Hirabayashi feels that they represent “the destiny of Japanese people.”

Hirabayashi, an interpreter, Watanabe, and Iijima at the 68th Biennale 

The music for the film was composed by Osaka-based sound producer Takashi Watanabe.  (渡辺崇, b. 1976, Hiroshima).  He explained that they approached the soundtrack as if it would be an offering at a temple.  He looked to Buddhism and Shintoism in his desire to create a new kind of sacred music.  Keitarō Iijima (Studio 301), the sound producer on 663114, explained that they used Japanese food for making the soundtrack including nattō (fermented soybeans), dried Japanese noodles and also cabbage.  He echoed Watanabe’s sentiments about the sacredness of the project for them, emphasizing that he tried to have a sense of respect for the food that they used throughout the production.

The title is made up of the age of the cicada ‘66’ and the date of the disaster ‘3/11’, but a member of the Biennale panel is confused by the number ‘4’ at the end of the title and asks Hirabayashi to explain the logic behind it.  It turns out that the choice of 66 was not random.  Hirabayashi points out that when the disaster struck on March 11th, Japan had been rebuilding its society for 66 years after the devastation of World War II, and the number 4 refers to the four reactors that were damaged in Fukushima.

Hirabayashi was also asked to explain the meaning of the newly formed cicada that appears the black rain in 663114 as well as about the language of the cicada.  He replies that cicada that is born after the black rain, 66 years later, is polluted by radioactive rain.  Thus, the cicada is altered by the radioactivity.  The language of the cicada is artificial, but they intended for it to have a spiritual, prayer-like meaning. 

The most important message that Hirabayashi wanted to get across with the film is about the saving of children.  The children whose lives have been dramatically altered by Fukushima should be our first priority.  “This is our first prayer: to be able to save children.”

(source: BiennaleChannel)

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2012

Check out Hirabayashi’s work on his YoutubeChannel, his official website, or follow him on twitter.

Isamu Hirabayashi Filmography

Cockroach (2001, 2’)
Penis (2002, 3’)
Helmut (2003, 11’)
Textism (2003, 11’)
VS (2004, 11’)
Conversations with Nature (2005, 5’)
Doron (2006, 16’)
A Story Constructed of 17 Pieces of Space and 1 Maggot (2007, 14’)
BABIN (2008, 30’)
aramaki (2009, 26’)
Shikasha (2010, 10’)
5+ Camera (2011, 15’)
663114 (2011, 8’)