20 December 2013

L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume 1 (DVD/Blu-Ray release, FR/EN/JP, 2013)

L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume1 (DVD/Blu-Ray release, FR/EN/JP, 2013)

The French indie label Les Films du Paradoxe, who have a terrific catalogue of animation DVDs from Te Wei to Paul Driessen, have collaborated with CaRTe bLaNChe to release a combination DVD/Blu-Ray of Japanese independent animated shorts made between 2006 and 2012.  The selection features a wide range of experimental techniques from drawn animation to pixilation. 

The selection opens with two films by Shin Hashimoto (橋本新, b. 1978) of CALF, an up-and-coming Tama Art University graduate who has become known for the dark, atmospheric nature of his works.  Beluga (ベルーガ, 2011) is a nightmarish take on the story of the little match girl which, won a special mention at Zagreb 2012.  This is followed by his earlier film The Undertaker and the Dog (葬儀屋と犬/Sougiya to Inu, 2010), a deeply disturbing yet beautifully painted film that was widely praised by critics when it screened at international festivals.

The unique aesthetic of experimental filmmaker Isamu Hirabayashi (平林勇, b.1972) became known to a wider audience in 2011/12 when his animated short 663114 (2011) received high honours from being invited to the Biennale in Venice to winning the Noburo Ofuji Award.  As I wrote in my review of the film last year, it is one of the most profound responses to Tohoku disaster, and it is worth buying this selection just to see it on Blu-ray.

Hiroki Okamura (岡村寛生, b. 1968) and Takumi Kawai (川合匠, b. 1968), better known as Kawai + Okamura (カワイオカムラ, since 1993), are a creative duo who both teach at the Kyoto University of Art and Design.  As students at Kyoto City University, Okamura majored in oil painting and Kawai in sculptor, but today they are best known for their innovative films and installations that combine a number of different techniques from CGI to stop motion.  Columbos (コロンボス, 2012) is a reimagining of the legendary television detective Columbo with puppets.  It is a unique puppet animation unlike anything I have ever seen before with unbelievable use of lighting, special effects, and choreography of figures. 

Acclaimed CALF animator, Mirai Mizue (水江未来, b. 1981), has contributed two of his recent films Tatamp (2011) and Modern No. 2 (2011).  Tatamp is an example of Mizue’s distinctive “cell animation” style that feature a chorus of little amoeba-like, colourful cells whose movements and shapes are inextricable from the soundtrack (read my full review).   Modern No. 2 is an example of Mizue’s experiments with geometric animation.  Learn more about this style of animation in my post The Modern Films of Mirai Mizue.

Yoriko Mizushiri (水尻自子, 1984) is a graduate of the Joshibi University of Art and Design in Kanagawa.  Her trademark animation style is to focus on individual parts of the body from an original perspective.  Her 2012 animated short Futon (布団) won a number of prizes in Japan including the prestigious Renzo Kinoshita Prize at Hiroshima and the New Face Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival. It has also been a big hit at international festivals, making the short list for Cartoon Brew’s most well liked animated short of 2013.  The second film of hers featured on this DVD, Kappo (かっぽ, 2006), demonstrates that Mizushiri established her unique style early on in her career.

Another CALF animator, Kei Oyama (大山慶, 1978), also features on this DVD.  His fleshy, disturbing, yet strangely poignant film Hand Soap (ハンドルソープ, 2008) won prizes at Oberhausen, Holland, and Hiroshima. Read my review here.    The animation community is anxiously awaiting the release of his latest work After School, which crowdsourced funding on Camp-fire in 2012.  He’s taking a risk by trying out a totally new style – can’t wait to see the results. 

Dreams (2011) is the last collaborative film by long-time friends and colleagues Keiichi Tanaami (田名網敬一, b.1933) and Nobuhiro Aihara (相原信洋, 1944-2011).  Up until Aihara’s sudden death in 2011, the two well-established artists made 15 films together in just over a decade – many of which can be found on the 2011 Chalet Pointu/CaRTe bLaNChe/ARTE DVD  Portrait of Keiichi Tanaami.  The films came out of the fact that both artists were teaching at Kyoto University of Art and Design.  The collaborative process consisted of one of the artists drawing a picture for a scene and leaving it on the other’s desk.  The other artist would add to it or remove some parts and put it on the first artist’s desk, and so on back and forth until the film developed.  This kind of artistic “correspondence” was unique in the art world and it is a mesmeric experience to watch their complementary styles on screen together. Dreams is followed by the prolific Tanaami’s latest offering: Red-Colored Bridge (2012).  In his characteristic brightly coloured style, Tanaami uses the symbolic red bridge to heaven found in traditional Japanese gardens to take us on a psychedelic, erotic, and spiritual journey into his imagination.

There are few animators today who truly embody the creative spirit of my favourite animator, Norman McLaren, and TOCHKA (トーチカ, since 1998) is one of them.  TOCHKA is the husband-wife animation team Takeshi Nagata (ナガタタケシ, b.1978) and Kazue Monno (モンノカヅエ, b.1978) who are known for their innovative PiKA PiKA light animation films (read more about them and learn how you can order a DVD of their works).  This DVD features their original 2006 film PiKA PiKA and their latest film MAZE (2012).  In MAZE, Nagata and Monno have come up with yet another innovative new way to showcase their PiKA PiKA animation: on a grid pattern of 12x4 squares.  A team of assistants with different coloured lights act like pixilated Bunraku performers colouring in and around the blocks with light.  This film required meticulous planning and choreography. My favourite moment is the Pac-Man inspired sequence where a yellow arrow and a couple of stars negotiate a maze.   

The DVD/Blu-ray concludes with two recent films by acclaimed CALF animator Atsushi Wada (和田淳, 1980).  The Great Rabbit (グレートラビット, 2012) is Wada’s most successful film to date winning him the Silver Bear at the 62nd Berlinale among other honours – read my review here.  And finally, as I wrote in 2010, I consider The Mechanism of Spring (春のしくみ, 2010) to be “Wada’s most light-hearted film to date, capturing the delight that young children and animals take in the season. The young chubby boys examine the wildlife, take off their shirts and run about gaily, and observe a plant sprouting out of the earth, among other delights.”  I like that they chose to end the DVD with this uplifting film. 

On the whole, this is a terrific selection of recent independent animation from Japan --- the best collection since Image Forum’s Thinking and Drawing: Japanese Art Animation in the New Millennium (2005) and Tokyo Loop (2006). The greatest thing about this DVD/Blu-ray is that it is called Volume 1, suggesting that we can expect more DVDs in the future.  It has French and English subtitles and can be ordered via Amazon France.  For those of you in Tokyo, Koji Yamamura’s new animation museum/shop Au Praxinoscope in Setagaya has the film on their list. 

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2013