08 October 2014

A Visit to Tochka’s Studio in Kyoto

After Hiroshima 2014, I jumped on the Shinkansen to Kyoto to meet up with my family and some of the researchers headed to the Satoyama Concept gathering with us in Fukui Prefecture.  Of course, I could not stop in Kyoto without paying a visit to one of my favourite animation teams: TOCHKA.  I have been following their projects for many years (see: Tochka Works 2001-2010) and had the chance of participating in one of their PiKA PiKA Workshops at Nippon Connection 2011.

Tochka (トーチカ) is a collaborative art team led by Takeshi Nagata (ナガタタケシ, b. 1978) and Kazue Monno (モンノカヅエ, b. 1978).  The couple met as art students at Kyoto College of Art where they were mentored by the late experimental animator Nobuhiro Aihara (相原信洋, 1944-2011).  Tochka are renowned stop motion animators who have won acclaim at international festivals including Ottawa (Honorable Mention, 2006), the Japan Media Arts Festival (Excellence Award, 2006), and Clermont-Ferrand (Grand Prix, 2008).  Nagata also works in the Moving Image Lab at the Osaka Electro-Communication University.  They are best known for their innovative PiKA PiKA (Lightning Doodle) animation technique. 

Tochka has recently moved to new studios in a former elementary school which the local government has converted into studio spaces for artists.  With its high ceilings, oversized windows and beautiful hardwood floors, it is the perfect location for artists to work.  There are a number of other artists working in the building including sculptors and painters. 

Takeshi Nagata showed me some of their recent work including a stop motion using objects they had around their studio for a collaborative work for the Korean Indie-Anifest and the trailer for the Nara Arts Festival (奈良県大芸術祭, Sept 1 – November 30), which has been playing on video screens throughout Nara Prefecture’s transportation system since August.  The trailer features three dimensional PiKA PiKA animation dancing around some of Nara’s most famous historical and cultural sites starting with a beautiful pixillation sequence of the sun setting on the legendary Ishibutai Tomb (石舞台古墳), one of the ancient stone monuments in Asuka.    The sun appears to light a flame inside the tomb, which gives birth to a PiKA PiKA animation of the Chinese character (big), which features in the title of the festival (the literal translation of the festival name is Nara Prefecture Big Arts Festival).  This character has a lot of significance in Nara because it is home to the oldest Daibutsu (大仏/ “Big Buddha”) statue at Asuka-dera and the most famous Daibutsu at Tōdai-ji.

There a glorious pixilation sequence of the Daibutsu at Tōdai-ji in which PiKA PiKA Lightning Doodles appear to dance around the Buddha as the camera sweeps in a 180° rotation around the pedestal and wood beams housing the statue.  Colourful PiKA PiKA characters also swirl around the spiral in Muro Sanjo Park Art Forest.  No advertisement for a festival in Nara would be complete without an appearance of the mascot Sento-kun (せんとくん ), designed by Nara City Office to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the completion of Nara Heijō-kyō (the ancient capital of Japan) in 2010.  The character looks like an infant Buddha with antler representing the deer for which Nara is famous. 

Tochka were a great choice for this trailer, because the collaborative nature of PiKA PiKA animation – as demonstrated in the sequences showing participants of all ages – really captures the kind of inclusive atmosphere one expects at a festival.  It certainly made me wish I was in Nara to enjoy the sights and festival events.

At Tochka’s studios we also saw footage from a recent installation project they did near their Kyoto Studios which allowed children to experience a Mission Impossible style space.  Using movement sensitive lights, they rigged up a room with “laser beams” that the children had to try to navigate without toughing the beams of light.  It looked like a lot of fun for the participants.

Nagata-san gave me a copy of his feature film Okappa-chan Travels Abroad (おかっぱちゃん旅に出る/ Okappa-chan Tabi ni Deru, 2011).  This a feature film adaptation of the autobiographical illustrated book of the same name by the writer/artist Boojil (ブージル, b. 1984).  Boojil stars as her quirky self as she recreates her journey of self-discovery in Thailand and Laos.  The film is in Thai, Japanese, and English and the Japanese DVD release comes with subtitles in all three languages plus Korean and Chinese.   The DVD includes a postcard featuring art by Boojil, Boojil stickers, and a detailed booklet.  You can order a copy through cdjapan.

After our studio tour, Tochka took us to the Kyoto International Manga Museum where we could browse their extensive collection of manga, learn about the history of manga, and explore the fascinating exhibit of 43 Years, 18,000 Pages – The Complete Works of Tsuchida Seiki (土田世紀全原画展――43年、18,000).  Seiki (土田世紀, 1969-2012) was a highly respected manga-ka who won the Excellent Prize at the Media Arts Festival in 1999 for Under the Same Moon (同じ月を見ている) which was adapted into a film of the same name by Kenta Fukusaku in 2005.  Seiki was due to contribute to Shueisha’s new Grand Jump Premium magazine in 2012 when he died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of only 43 (Source: ANN).  The Manga Museum’s exhibit demonstrated the astounding output of this artist who was cut short at the height of his powers.  The most moving sections for me were the room with a glass floor where you could walk over scattered pages of his work, and Seiki’s plain, empty desk covered in scratch marks and ink spills. 

By this time, our tummies were growling, so Tochka took us out to Kyoto’s unofficial "Ramen Street" – the approximately 30+ ramen restaurants on and around Hagishi Oji Dori.  The reason for the congregation of reasonably priced Chinese noodles is the proximity to Kyoto’s university campuses.  As the more popular spots had giant line ups, we went for a simple family run place that really hit the spot.  

After lunch, we popped around the corner to Keibunsha Ichijoji (恵文社一乗寺店) Bookstore, Gift Shop, and Art Gallery.  We could have easily dropped a fortune on lovely things at this amazing shop.  They even had unusual works like Kōji Yamamura’s Muybridge’s Strings Flip Books (a tie in to his NFB co-production) and pins of Uncle Torys  (トリスおじさん) – the animated character designed by indie animation pioneer Ryōhei Yanagihara to advertise Suntory’s Torys Whisky.  I got a pin, while the kids bought books about Kaiju. 

We concluded our day with Tochka with Nagata-san taking us to the Sagano Romantic Train (嵯峨野観光鉄道).  Particularly popular in autumn, the train took us along the Hozu River with views of the gorge and a glimpse of Satoyama at the end before we headed back.  It was a wonderful day and Tochka’s hospitality is hard to beat.  I hope we can return the favour by having them as our guests in Germany in the near future.  

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2014