19 February 2014

WONDER (2014)

“Dedicated to my teacher Masahiro Katayama, 
who opened up my eyes to the WONDER of animation.” 
- Mirai Mizue, WONDER, end credits

“Wonder” is the word I would use to describe the emotion that I felt when I first discovered the animation of Norman McLaren as a child exploring the NFB video tape collection in my local library.  I had been exposed to NFB animation in school, but this was something new and exciting, and it changed my understanding of animation forever.  I imagine that feeling of wonder is what Mirai Mizue and his peers (Kunio Katō, Akino Kondoh, among others) felt when Professor Masahiro Katayama (read: In Memory Of) introduced them to the world of independent animation as undergraduates at Tama Art University in the early 2000s.  Thus, it was moving to see that Mizue had dedicated his latest animated short, the aptly named WONDER (2014) to his late sensei.

I am reminded of that sense of wonder whenever I see a new film by Mirai Mizue because like Norman McLaren, he is constantly challenging himself with innovative animation projects.  WONDER is the end result of the WONDER 365 ANIMATION PROJECT executed by Mizue between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013.  In this project, Mizue set himself the goal of producing a one-second film – 24 images – per day for 365 days with the support of sponsors.  At the completion of that year, Mizue’s producers, CaRTe bLanChe, set up a kickstarter campaign to transform the resulting sequence of 8,760 images into a complete film (8 minutes in length) – including a 35mmm print and a soundtrack by the acoustic band the Pascals – that could be sent to international festivals.  So far, WONDER (see: official website) has made the Jury Selection at the Japan Media Arts Festival, and last week it competed in the shorts competition at the Berlinale 

Mizue animated WONDER using his signature “cell animation” technique that he has been wowing audiences with since his debut animation Fantastic Cell in 2003.  The cells in question refer not to celluloid (as in the traditional animation technique “cel animation”), but to organic cells which make up the basic structures of the weird and wonderful creatures that Mizue brings to life in his abstract films. In the programme to the Berlinale, Mizue’s technique is compared to a colour organ (Farbenklavier), “in which visual effects are produced when a musical key is struck,” they describe Mizue’s latest film as “a journey to the world of cells and structures.” (Source: Berlinale).  In addition to the cells animation, WONDER features a wide range of abstract paintings that by turns complement and contrast with each other. 

Mizue does not use storyboards in planning his films, but instead improvises using his intuition.  This imparts a lyrical quality to his work and results in a film in which every new transformation surprises the viewer like fireworks exploding in the sky.  When presented on a programme with his fellow CALF animators, whose work often explores deep and troubling psychological issues, Mizue’s films lift up the spirits with their warm colour palettes and they inspire audiences with their creativity.  Thanks in part to the Pascals’ upbeat soundtrack, WONDER is Mizue’s most joyous film to date.  The colours dance across the screen with an ease that belies the tremendous amount of hard work and dedication that went into its meticulous execution. 

WONDER will be screened along with 14 other shot by Mirai Mizue at the Human Trust Cinema Shibuya on February 22nd.  They are also hosting an exhibition of the animator’s illustrations called WONDER FULL until the end of the month.  Learn more at the official website WONDER FULL.  Clips of the film from the WONDER 365 ANIMATION PROJECT can be found of Mizue’s official Vimeo and Youtube profiles.  Keep an eye out for WONDER at international festivals because it is a real treat for the senses when seen on the big screen.

2014 Catherine Munroe Hotes