30 April 2014

Rain Won’t (雨ニモマケズ, 2013)

 “Ame ni mo makezu” (Be not Defeated by the Rain) is one of the most famous poems in the Japanese language.  Written by beloved author Kenji Miyazawa, the poem was discovered among his possessions after his passing in 1933.  Like Max Ehrmann’s “Deriderata” (1927), “Ame ni mo makezu” is a kind of a mantra or a musing on how to live one’s best life.

This bilingual picture book edition Rain Won’t (ニモマ/ Ame ni mo makezu, 2013), has been translated by American poet and translator, Arthur Binard and illustrated by renowned animator Kōji Yamamura.  In the afterward, Binard suggests that he wanted to recapture the lost traditional landscapes of Miyazawa’s Iwate Prefecture. “Kenji lived in a land where people grew, raised, and caught all their food.  Now more than 60 perfect of what’s eaten in Japan is imported,” Binard writes, and goes on to lament the loss of arable lands and free-flowing rivers to commercial urban streetscapes and concrete riverbanks.  Binard seems to be using Miyazawa’s words as a rallying cry against nuclear power and multinational corporations and in favour of a return to living in harmony with the environment.

our Miyazawa noren
This message resonates very strongly for my family because this poem has special meaning to us.  My husband specialises in sustainable agriculture and shortly after the disaster of 3/11 we were visited by friends/colleagues from Japan.  One of them, brought us a noren from Iwate and told us what a close call he had the day of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami (see intro to: Anime Adaptations of Kenji Miyazawa’s Stories and Poems to read full story).  Iwate is just north of Fukushima and was badly affected by the 2011 tsunami.  As part of the redevelopment of this area, some researchers are looking at how to restore Satoyama landscapes.

Order from amazon.co.jp.
With his lovingly drawn illustrations, Koji Yamamura has managed to capture the beauty and diversity off the Satoyama landscape of Miyazawa’s time (early Shōwa period).  Satoyama (里山) is the name of the landscape that is cushioned between the mountain foothills and arable land.  It “is characterized by a mosaic feature of different land uses such as woodland, grassland, paddy field, farmland, irrigation ponds and canals, and human settlements, which have been maintained in an integrated manner.” (source: satoyama-initiative.org).  Simply put, it is a landscape in which humans and the natural world are living in harmony with one another.  The most famous example in Japanese popular culture is the rural landscape that the Kusakabe family (Mei, Satsuki and their Dad) move to in Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro (1988).

Using a limited palette (green, brown, yellow, a little bit of red), Yamamura not only depicts the landscape suggested by the original poem, but also adds depictions of the creatures that thrive in a Satoyama landscape.  This includes a variety of insects (dragonflies, grasshoppers, ladybugs, wasps, etc.), birds (tits, swallows, egrets, owls, etc.), and mammals (tanuki, domestic animals), and, of course, people.   

The result is a beautiful picture book edition of Rain Won’t (ニモマゲズ/ Ame ni mo makezu, 2013) that is fully bilingual and can be enjoyed by the whole family.  Although it looks like a typical children’s storybook, the language and philosophy is geared more to an adult reader.  The illustrations are very detailed – the kind of book you can read again and again and always spot something new.

Order from amazon.co.jp.
Catherine Munroe Hotes

My thanks to Koji Yamamura for his generosity.

27 April 2014

Tokyo University of the Arts at Nippon Connection 2014

Acclaimed independent animator Kōji Yamamura will be presenting a selection of works by recent graduates of the animation graduate programme of Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai) at Nippon Connection 2014.  The students are supervised by Yamamura himself, animation producer Mitsuko Okamoto, who last year presented a selection of works at NC2013, and stop motion animator Yūichi Itō (i-toon.org).  Other animators who teach at the school include Taruto Fuyama of Koma Koma Lab, who is currently developing stop motion animation software, and Royal College of Arts graduate Hiromitsu Murakami.

Here are the 9 films that will be screened at Nippon Connection 2014.  The film descriptions and student profiles were provided by Geidai’s Graduate School of Film and New Media.  I have added official websites/blogs/twitter handles if you'd like to learn more about these up-and-coming East Asian artists.  I just saw some of these films at Stuttgart 2014 and there are some real gems that I will write about in the near future.

Date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 
Time: 17:30
Venue: Naxoshalle Kino, Frankfurt am Main
For Tickets: Nippon Connection

Catherine Munroe Hotes

Everyday Sins (日々の罪悪/Hibi no Zaiaku, 2014)
Guilty is an art university student who is slacking off on her school work and feels horrible about it. Plus, she's confused about her family and Christianity, and she can't even get her ex-boyfriend to accept a small present she bought for him.

Yewon Kim キム・イェオン
Filmography: "Little Sweetheart" 2010, "LANGUAGE" 2011, "My Frame" 2013, "Everyday Sins" 2014
Biography:  Born in Republic of Korea, 1988. Graduated from Korea Animation High school, Department of Animation in 2006. Tokyo Polytechnic University, Department of Animation (2011). Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media, Department of Animation 2014).              

Flower Bud (花芽/ Haname, 2014)        
The uncertainty, struggles, and joy of the moment upon becoming an adult. Between lullabies and songs I hum to myself. Between a man and myself. That subtle flickering in a single instant, forgotten once it is over.  Never forget that moment. . .              

Saki Nakano 中野咲
Fimography: “Fragments of One” 2012, “Ream” 2013     
Biography: Born in Gunma, 1988.  Joshibi University of Design. Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media, Department of Animation (2014).         

PAMON (パモン, 2014)
PAMON are magical and mysterious creatures who can move the hair on their head however they wish, and communicate using their chest hair. This tale takes a peek at an ordinary day for the PAMON.   

Kazushige Tōma 当真一茂
Filmography: "BANABANAFRIENDS of Work" 2010 "Scary of crack of Work" 2011, "Happy fluffy time of Work" 2013               
Biography: Born in Okinawa, 1988.  Okinawa Prefectural University of the Arts, Department of Design and Crafts Design (2012). Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media, Department of Animation (2014). 

Mrs. KABAGOdZILLA (ミセス・カバゴジラ, 2014)  
“Mrs. KABAGodZILLA had a daughter whose feet and arms looked just like her own.” Mother and child were always together, but the mother's hospitalization makes the daughter remember the past, and think a little about what lies ahead. 

Moe Koyano 小谷野萌   https://www.youtube.com/user/MoyanoKOE
Filmography: "Kyu-ri" (2010), "No Sound, I'm Here." (2011), "OPENIT" (2012), "My Dear Flesh" (2013)     
Biography: Born in Tokyo, 1989.  Tokyo Polytechnic University, Department of Animation (2012). Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media, Department of Animation (2014).
Lonesome Hero (ひとりぼっちのヒーロー/Hitori botchi no hīrō, 2014)    
This is for children who couldn't be on their own. And, for the time when you're older and you've forgotten your determination to be on your own.          

Manami Wakai 若井麻奈美  http://jitojito.ninja-web.net/top.html
Filmography: "TRAIANGLE", 2010 "Daily Lives at Daisy Lodge", 2013         
Biography: Born in Kanagawa, 1989.  Tama Art University, Department of Paintings, Oil paintings (2012). Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media, Department of Animation (2014).

00:08     (2014)  
This piece takes 8 seconds, and creates intervals between the frames, and then makes them bigger. It's about expansion and enlargement, not the passage of time. 8 seconds becomes that much more luxuriant.    

Yūtarō Kubo 久保雄太郎   https://twitter.com/yutaro960
Filmography: "crazy for it" 2012, "Kicking Rocks" 2013     
Biography: Born in Oita, 1990.  Polytechnic University, Department of Animation (2012). Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media, Department of Animation (2014).        

Crazy Little Thing (澱みの騒ぎ/Yodomi no Sakagi, 2014)
The two of them, all alone at home. All alone with her father's corpse. Memories, ideals, and reality all sink beneath the muck. Everyone is alone. Everyone is in solitude.     

Onohana  小野ハナ (Hana Ono)   http://ginkgo.raindrop.jp/
Filmography: "Do as the Fish Tells You" 2013       
Biography: Born in Iwate, 1986.  Iwate University, Department of education, Art and Culture (2009). Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media, Department of Animation (2014).

Exit My Room (おでかけ/Odekake, 2014)
He lives his life everyday like it's nothing special. Today he eats, gets dressed, and heads out once again.             

Ayaho Kawakami 川上彩穂  http://moment-moment.tumblr.com/
Filmography: "I'm nothing" (2013)           
Biography: Born in 1989.  Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Department of Ecoregion Science (2012). Graduated from the Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media, Department of Animation (2014).           

My Milk Cup Cow (コップの中の子牛/Koppu no naka no Koushi, 2014)
Father tells his 4-year-old daughter Nunu that there's a cow at the bottom of her milk cup. Nunu believes him and drinks all of her milk, but there is no cow. Nunu gradually stops believing her father, who constantly tells her various lies.       

Yantong Zhu 朱彦潼   https://twitter.com/marumaru_ken
Filmography: "Loft" 2010, "The Man Who Ate an Apple" 2012     
Biography: Born in Nanjing China, 1988. After graduating from Nanjing University of Finance and Economics, Department of Adverting in 2010, Zhu came to Japan and started making animated shorts. Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media, Department of Animation (2014).

Adapted from official press notes provided to Nippon Connection 2014 by Geidai Graduate School of Film and New Media   

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

15 April 2014

Nippon Connection 2014

Nippon Connection 2014

The programme for the 14th Nippon Connection in Frankfurt am Main has been finalized.  From the 27th of May until the 1st of June, the world’s largest Japanese film festival has invited over 100 feature films and shorts.  Many of these films will be German, European, and even International premieres.   

This year’s selection ranges from skewed comedies to moving dramas, from art house cinema to thrillers, not to mention cutting edge documentaries.  The 50+ invited film professionals, actors, and artists from Japan and festivalgoers can mingle in the Festival Center in Künstlerhaus Mousonturm and the Theater Willy Praml in the Naxoshalle. Other venues include the Deutsche Filmmuseum, the Mal Seh'n Kino and the exhibition space Ausstellungsraum Eulengasse.   Once again, Nippon Connection will be presenting diverse cultural events such as exhibitions, lectures, workshops, concerts and culinary treats. 


With approximately 400 film productions a year, Japan is currently the fourth biggest film producing nation in the world.  The Nippon Connection 2014 team has tried to whittle down the latest releases to a carefully considered and multifaceted selection.  Nippon Cinema this year features many internationally celebrated names.  Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son, which has won many awards in the past year including Best Film at the Japanese Academy Awards and the Jury Prize at Cannes 2013.  The latest art house film from Shinji Aoyama, The Backwater will also screen.  Another highlight is Sang-il Lee’s remake of Unforgiven set in 19th century Hokkaido and starring Ken Watanabe as a Japanese version of the Clint Eastwood character.

Japan is famous for its original comedies and this year offers yet another selection of quirky and surprising films.  Nobuo Mizuta’s The Apology King pokes fun at the practice of dogeza – the extreme form of apology that requires falling on one’s knees with one’s forehead to the ground, prostrating oneself in the ultimate expression of repentance.

Sion Sono has a dedicated fan base at Nippon Connection who are anxiously awaiting his latest film Why Don't You Play in Hell?,  Yakuza film inspired in part by Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.  Sono has described it as “an action film about the love of 35mm”.

Many favourite guests of Nippon Connection are due to return again this year to present their latest works.  Ryuichi Hiroki will be onhand in Frankfurt with his moving romantic drama Crying 100 Times – Every Raindrop Falls.   Nobuhiro Yamashita is also back with Tamako in Moratorium, a story about a father-daughter relationship that critic Mark Schilling “christened a slacker-dramedy”.  Tamako in Moratorium made Kinema Junpo’s list of the top 10 Japanese films of 2013.

Horror fans will enjoy cult favourite Takeshi Miike’s Lesson of the Evil.   Death in the age of internet and social media is the theme of the first Japanese-Indonesian thriller co-production Killers by The Mo Brothers.   Yoshiro Nakamura‘s suspenseful mystery The Snow White Murder Case unfolds over twitter as an ambitious journalist tries to solve the murder of a beautiful cosmetics company employee. 

The Apology King (Shazai no osama), Nobuo Mizuta, J 2013
Au Revoir l' Été (Hotori no Sakuko), Koji Fukada, J 2013
Backwater (Tomogui), Shinji Aoyama, J 2013
Be my Baby (Koi no uzu), Hitoshi One, J 2013
Crying 100 Times - Every Raindrop Falls (100 kai naku koto), Ryuichi Hiroki, J 2013
Forma, Ayumi Sakamoto, J 2013
Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats (Fukufukuso no Fukuchan), Yosuke Fujita, J 2014
Jinx!!!, Naoto Kumazawa, J 2013
Killers, Mo Brothers, Japan /Indonesien, 2014
Leaving on the 15th Spring (Tabidachi no Shima Uta – Jugo no haru),  Yasuhiro Yoshida, J 2013
Lesson of the Evil (Aku no kyoten), Takashi Miike, J 2012
Like Father, Like Son (Soshite chichi ni naru), Hirokazu Koreeda, J 2013
My House, Yukihiko Tsutsumi, J 2012
Number 10 Blues / Goodbye Saigon (Nanba ten burusu / Saraba Saigon), Norio Osada, J 2013
Pecoross' Mother and Her Days (Pekorosu no haha ni ai ni iku), Azuma Morisaki, J 2013
R100, Hitoshi Matsumoto, J 2013
Robo G, Shinobu Yaguchi, J 2012
The Snow White Murder Case (Shirayuki hime satsujin jiken), Yoshiro Nakamura, J 2014
Tamako in Moratorium (Moratoriamu Tamako), Nobuhiro Yamashita, J 2013
Unforgiven (Yurusarezaru mono), Sang-il Lee, J 2013
Why Don't You Play in Hell? (Jigoku de naze warui), Sion Sono, J 2013
Yokohama Story (Yokohama monogatari), Ichiro Kita, J 2013


Nippon Connection will feature internationally acclaimed animator Koji Yamamura with a selection of some of his best and latest films.  He will also be hosting a selection of works by students from Tokyo University of the Arts where he is a professor in their 2-year graduate animation programme.

The late Nagisa Oshima’s only “animated” film Band of Ninjas (1967) will get a rare screening.  When budgetary constraints prevented him from making a live-action version of Sanpei Shirato’s popular 17-volume manga of the same name, Oshima ingeniously used unorthodox camera movements and voiceover dialogue to bring Shirato’s original drawings to life.  Set in the 16th century, it tells the story of the son of a defeated warlord who joins a peasant rebellion to avenge his father’s death.

Anime fans will delight at the selection of innovative works this year including Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Patema Inverted – a four episode ONA fantasy series that tips the world on its head. 

Legendary manga-ka of Akira-fame, Katsuhiro Otomo is back after a long absence from animation.  His omnibus Short Peace features four fantastic short films including Shuhei Morita’s Oscar-nominated Possessions (read my review), Omoto’s Noburo Ofuji Award-winning Combustible (read my review), Hiroki Ando’s GAMBO and GUNDAM mecha designer Hajime Kataoki’s A Farewell to Arms.

Band of Ninja (Ninja Bugeicho), Nagisa Oshima, J 1967
Koji Yamamura Special (Kurzfilme)
Patema Inverted (Sakasama no Patema), Yasuhiro Yoshiura, J 2013
The Portrait Studio (Shashinkan), Takashi Nakamura, J 2013
Short Peace, Katsuhiro Otomo, Shuhei Morita, Hiroaki Ando, Hajime Katoki, J 2013
Space Dandy, Shingo Natsume, J 2014 (Animeserie)
Sonny Boy & Dewdrop Girl (Hinata no aoshigure), Hiroyasu Ishida, J 2013
Tokyo University of the Arts – Animation Special (shorts)


Nippon Visions is a forum for up-and-coming young directors and independent filmmakers and films that defy the conventions of mainstream filmmaking.  Acting both as a mirror to contemporary trends and as a platform for new talent, this programme always promising something new and inspiring.  Many directors and artists will personally present their works and answer audience questions.  Highlights of the programme include Tetsuichiro Tsuta’s visually stunning and poetic Epos The Tale of Iya and Junichi Inoue’s timeless melodrama A Woman and War.

Three years have passed since the catastrophe of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the wounds are still deep.  Nippon Connection presents the documentary films The Horses of Fukushima by Yoju Matsubayashi and Kesennuma, Voices. 3 by Yukihiko Tsutsumi, which devote themselves to the people and animals of this devastated region.  In The Connecting Bridge the deaf-mute director Ayako Imamura tells the story of how hearing impaired people experienced and survived the catastrophe and how their lives have been since 3/11.  Fukushima-native Hiroshi Kanno has made a drama called Fukushima that demonstrates how the shadow of nuclear energy has hung over the region for 70 years.  

And the Mud Ship Sails Away (Soshite dorobune wa yuku), Hirobumi Watanabe, J 2013
Antonym (Rasen ginga), Natsuka Kusano, J 2014
Bon & Lin (Bon to Linchan), Keiichi Kobayashi, J 2014
Broken Pieces (Koppamijin), Yuji Tajiri, J 2013
The Connecting Bridge (Kakehashi – Kikoenakatta 3.11), Ayako Imamura
The End of the Special Time We Were Allowed (Watashitachi ni yurusareta tokubetsuna jikan no owari), Shingo Ota, J 2013
Firecracker Ideals (Hanabi shiso), Moe Oki, J 2013
The Frivolous (Rikkoho), Toshimitsu Fujioka, J 2013
Fukushima (Ai to kibo no machi), Hiroshi Kanno, J 2013
The Horses of Fukushima (Matsuri no uma), Yoju Matsubayashi, J 2012
In and out of Japan (Experimentalfilmprogramm)
Kanagawa University of Fine Arts, Office of Fim Research (Kanagawa Geijutsu Daigaku Eizo Gakka Kenkyushitsu), Yuichiro Sakashita, J 2013
Kesennuma, Voices. 3. Yukihiko Tsutsumi, J 2014
Sunk into the Womb (Shikyu ni shizumeru), Takaomi Ogata, J 2013
Tale of a Butcher Shop (Aru seinikuten no hanashi), Aya Hayabusa, J 2013
The Tale of Iya (Iya Monogatari), Tetsuichiro Tsuta, J 2013
Unlucky Woman’s Blues (Tsugunai), Shinji Imaoka, J 2014
A Woman and War (Senso to hitori no onna), Junichi Inoue, J 2012
Zentai, Ryosuke Hashiguchi, J 2013


This year’s retrospective has the moniker: Ko Nakahira: The Wild Child of the Sixties.  Director Ko Nakahira (1926-1978) began his career as an assistant to film legends like Akira Kurosawa and Kaneto Shindo.   In 1956 his film Crazed Fruit caused a sensation with its French New Wave inspired fresh approach to filmmaking.  It led to Nakahira being associated with the Nūberu bāgu (Japanese New Wave) filmmakers of the postwar generation. This and eight other films from the 50s and 60s will be shown at Nippon Connection, giving us a taste of is unsettled period in Japanese history.

Summer Storm (Natsu no arashi), Ko Nakahira, J 1956
Crazed Fruit (Kurutta kajitsu), Ko Nakahira, J 1956
That Guy and I (Aitsu to watashi), Ko Nakahira, J 1961
Mud Spattered Purity (Dorodarake no junjo), Ko Nakahira, J 1963
Only On Mondays (Getsuyobi no Yuka), Ko Nakahira, J 1964
Flora on the Sand (Suna no ue no shokubutsugun), Ko Nakahira, J 1964
The Hunter's Diary (Ryojin nikki), Ko Nakahira, J 1964
Whirlpool of Flesh (Onna no uzu to fuchi to nagare), Ko Nakahira, J 1964
Black Gamble Devil's Left Hand (Kuroi tobakushi - akuma no hidarite), Ko Nakahira, J 1966

Kozue Kodama with Atsushi Wada at NC2012

As ever, the films at Nippon Connection will be able to enjoy a wild range of delicacies at the food stalls, with massage stands as well this year!  There are many workshops, to choose from such as Kimono, Taiko drumming, Kobudo (Okinawan martial arts), Kyudo (archery), Kendo, tea ceremony, as well as subtitle and manga workshops.   

A photography exhibition called Tokyo 24-70mm by Natascha Pflaumbaum will feature Tokyo city scenes. 

In addition to cooking workshops, for the first time, the festival will feature a culinary tour through Frankfurt.

 Koto-player and singer Karin Nakagawa will be performing.

There will be the usual program of Podium discussions, filmmaker talks and lectures on the current situation in Fukushima, Hirokazu Koreeda and Japanese Cinema of the 60s.


Events for kids aged 6-12 will include workshops on the Japanese guardian god Jizo, Kendo, calligraphy, and bento-making.  

The much-loved Düsseldorf-based artist Kozue Kodama is back again --- this year she will be doing a Kamishibai performance for kids 

A German-dubbed Japanese children’s film is also planned.


Ticket sales start on the 2nd of May 2014 and can be ordered through www.nipponconnection.com and www.adticket.de

14 April 2014

28th Image Forum Festival 2014

28th Image Forum Festival 2014

Tokyo: 27 April – 6 May 2014 at Park Tower Hall and Theatre Image Forum
Kyoto: 17 May – 23 May 2014 at Kyoto Cinema

Springtime is here, which means it’s time for the Image Forum Festival with its cutting edge selection of avant-garde animation and experimental film from around the world.  The full programme can be found in pdf format on the festival’s official website (JP only).  For a taste of what’s in store, here are some images and trailers from Programme A: Japanese Animation New Works:

USALULLABY (Asami Ike, 2013)

MAZE KING (Hakhyun Kim, 2013)

Anal Juice (肛門的重苦, Sawako Kabuki, 2013)

Waiter (Ryoji Yamada, 2013)

GYRØ (円香MADOKA, 2014)

Flower Bud (花芽, Saki Nakano, 2014)

Madly in Love (メロメロ, Ikue Sugidono)

An apple and an apple - Welcome back me -
(りんごごりんご~おかえりわたし~, Kaori Nakashima, 2014)

DE_RIRIA_SUBASUTAIMU (Shinsaku Hidaka, 2013)

Snow Hut (かまくら, Yoshiko Mizushiri, 2013) --- read my review

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

Olympic Games on Dankichi Island (ダン吉島のオリムピック大会, 1932)

 The most popular heroes of the Fifteen Year’s War (1931-1945) in Japan were boy heroes like the comic strip figure Mābō and the folk tale legend Momotarō.  One of the most loved was Daring Dankichi (冒険ダン吉/Bōken Dankichi) from the comic strip series of the same name by Keizō Shimada (島田啓三, 1900-1973).  The comic appeared in the magazine Boy’s Club (Shōnen Kurabu) and the tales were also edited into a children’s picture book as well as adapted into a series of animated shorts.   

It is believed that the adventures of Dankichi were inspired by the real life tales of the exploits of Koben Mori (森小弁, 1869-1945), the colonist who was one of the early Japanese settlers in Micronesia.  The International Institute for Children’s Literature in Osaka, on its web archive One Hundred Japanese Books for Children (1868-1945) summarizes the plot of Shimada’s picture book Bōken Dankichi thusly:  “In this story, a boy protagonist drifts to a southern island in his dream.  He becomes king of the island.  On one hand, this work tells a story about creating a pastoral utopia on an island, however, on the other hand, it can be read as the embodiment of the idea to conquer Southeast Asia at that time.” (See: IICLO for more details and scans of the book).

The animated short Olympic Games on Dankichi Island (ダン吉島のオリムピック大会/ Dankichi-jima no Orimpikku Taikai, 1932) is one of a handful Dankichi animations extant.  The animator and director are currently unknown.  It seems likely that the film was made to coincide with the Games of the X Olympiad which was held in Los Angeles in 1932.  One of the few Asian nations represented at these games, Japan sent almost as many athletes as Germany – although their team was still only a quarter of the American contingent that year.

The animation sets the Olympic games on Dankichi Island, hosted by the king of the island Dankichi himself.  A variety of animals, both wild and domestic, compete against the native peoples of Dankichi Island, who are portrayed using Jim Crow blackface stereotyping.  The “natives” wear grass skirts to denote the Pacific islands – an area of great strategic concern to the Japanese government at this time.  The spectators and athletes are depicted as being segregated, with the animals on one side and the “natives” on the other in any scene in all crowd scenes.  The races are full of gags and pratfalls, with contestants winning more by accident than design.  Dankichi himself even participates in a log-carrying race and wins because of the misery of another.  The “natives” toss him into the air in celebration at the end of the film.   

The animation is quite rudimentary, made with cut-outs and simple designs.  Following the common practice of the silent era, “close-ups” are done using irises.  The relationship between comic strips and animation can be seen in the use of speech bubbles in addition to inter-titles.  Other common motifs of comics – such a as stars and swirls to denote dizziness – abound. 

The propagandistic nature of this film is made clear from the outset with the first shot being of Japanese flag flying from a tropical tree.  Dankichi is clearly delineated as being “other” than the natives of the island with his “whiteness” and round-faced “kawaii” look.  The native peoples are affable fools, who bumble about good-naturedly in contrast to the direct action of Dankichi.  The not-so-subtle message of the film is that the Japanese (Dankichi) are superior to the Pacific Islanders (Jim Crow stereotypes).   Indoctrinating children into the myth of the cultural superiority of Japan was crucial at this time to the colonial aims of the ruling class.

It is fascinating to see that the Japanese adopted racist black stereotyping from the West.  I have not looked into how far back the use of this imagery goes in Japanese culture, nor do I know from whence it came, but my educated guess would be that they were influenced by American popular culture.  American films, cartoons, and comics were readily available in Tokyo at the time that Shimada created Dankichi.  Minstrel themes were very common in American silent films – in fact, Warner Brothers’ had just had a smash “talkie” hit a few years earlier with The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927) starring Al Jolson doing the blackface routines for which he was famous.  The Jazz Singer (ジャズ・シンガー) was first shown in Japan on 21 August 1930 so there is the possibility that it was seen by Shimada and the animators of this film.  Unfortunately, at this time in U.S. history, Jim Crow imagery was the norm.  To learn more about its pervasiveness, I recommend Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum.  Examples of Jim Crow imagery in animation from the 30s and 40s include United Artists’ Censored Eleven and MGM’s Mouse Keeping (1948) starring Tom and Jerry.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014


This  film is silent, with a soundtrack composed and performed by Jōichi Yuasa (湯浅ジョウイチ) for the DVD release.

This film appears on disc 4 of Digital Meme’s box set Japanese Anime Classic Collection.

A discussion of Dankichi in comics and animation used to promote imperialism can be found in Chapter 2 of Michael Baskett’s The Attractive Empire: Transnational Film Culture in Imperial Japan, Honolulu: U of Hawai’i P, 2008. 

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