It is said in Japanese folklore that the kappa are water sprites that, like the endangered Japanese giant salamander, inhabit streams. Mischievous creatures, the kappa have been depicted as everything from harmless creatures who challenge those they meet to various tests of skill to threatening creatures who have been blamed for drowning and the rape of women. In recent years, kappa have featured in everything from anime such as Keiichi Hara’s Summer Dayswith Coo (2007) to Shinji Imaoka’s pink film musical Underwater Love (2011).
The indie animator Ryo Hirano based his 2009 short film The Kappa’s Arms (河童の腕/Kappa no Ude) on a story he had a read about a kappa losing its arm. He initially developed one page of scribbles like a manga and based on that rough sketch developed the concept further. As Hirano was working on this animation, a friend of his passed away, and this altered the story significantly. This is Hirano’s most personal film to date, with a letter his mother once sent him when he was an exchange student in New Zealand also influencing the plot (source: Public Image)
On a flat rock in a quiet stream, two young kappa, one green and one yellow, playfully sumo wrestle with each other. Fun turns to horror as the green kappa loses his balance and grabs onto the yellow kappa’s arm to prevent himself from falling into the water. He ends up tearing both arms from his friend’s body, leaving the yellow kappa with bloody stumps. The yellow kappa seems unperturbed by this until the green kappa playfully runs away with the arms. He tries catch up with his friend but stumbles on a stone and floats away downstream.
The yellow kappa’s arms struggle free from the green kappa and jump into the stream as well. The green kappa then spots his friends lifeless body and dives into the stream to try to rescue him. The tearful green kappa and his friend’s arms wash up at a seaside resort and in this new mysterious habitat with strange visitations from a rainbow coloured triangular UFO, the green kappa faces the grief of having lost his friend.
The Kappa’s Arms is a mixed media film that mainly relies on cutouts for the character movement. The soundtrack mainly consists of natural sounds (flowing stream, bird calls) until the dream-like sequence at the end when Hirano adds music to the mix. It is one of Hirano’s most straightforward stories and demonstrates his love of the grotesque (guro) in manga and animation. Friendship conquers all in this little story. . . just not in the way that you might expect.
Catherine Munroe Hotes 2012
Watch the film for yourself on Hirano's official Youtube channel.
Learn more about Ryo Hirano on his official website.
2007 udara udara (うだらうだら)
2008 Future Man (蟻人間物語/Ari Ningen Monogatari)
2008 Midnight Zoo (深夜動物園/Shinya Dōbutsuen)
2009 music video orchestra (collaborative work for Omodaka)
2009 The Kappa’s Arms (河童の腕/Kappa no Ude)
2009 Ichigwankoku / One-Eyed Country (一眼国/Ichigankoku)
2009 Guitar (ギター)
2010 Kensaku Shōnen (検索少年, Tabito Nanao music video)
2011 Hietsuki Bushi (ひえつき節/Omodaka music video)
2011 Space Shower TV Station ID
2011 Holiday (ホリデイ)