Children have been playing war games for as long as adult have been engaging in war, as the touring V&A Museum of Childhood touring exhibition War Games demonstrates. From “cowboys & Indians” and “cops & robbers” to re-enacting actual battles with toys, children use these games to role play being a hero. Award-winning experimental filmmaker Isamu Hirabayashi (A Story Constructed of 17 Pieces of Space and 1 Maggot, 663114, Soliton) explores the relationship between war games and actually engaging in violence in his animated short Ninja & Soldier (2012).
Against a backdrop that looks like a traditional Japanese scroll, two crayon-drawn figures of children introduce themselves. Ken is a ninja from Japan, while Nito is a soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo. At first the two 8-year-old boys try to one-up each other, in the way that children often do in such games. Ninja and soldiers are very strong, they proclaim. Ken brags that he can kill an enemy with his throwing star (shuriken), while Nito explains that he can kill an enemy with his rifle.
As the kids continue to describe their exploits, it becomes clear that Ken has only played at being a ninja in the park, while Nito has actually killed people. The soundtrack becomes distorted when Nito reveals that he killed his own mother. Ken accuses Nito of lying, but Nito explains how he was forced to become a child soldier in the Congo by men who threatened to kill him if he did not execute his own mother.
Nito’s horrific story is told against a collage of photographs by Ani Watanabe It soon becomes clear that what is just play to one child is a terrifying reality to another. By comparing and contrasting the children’s stories, Hirabayashi reveals that all children are susceptible to acts of violence, but whether or not they commit it themselves is a product of the circumstances in which they live. In order to highlight the universality of this story, Hirabayashi has the actors use a made-up language which is only made comprehensible through childlike scrawls of text “translating” it.
Ninja & Soldier has shown at international festivals including the Berlinale 2013 and Image Forum Fesitval 2013. It appears on the CaRTe bLaNChe / Les Films du Paradoxe DVD: L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume 2 (DVD/Blu-Ray release, FR/EN, 2014).
Drawing & Animation:
Kobe Institute of Computing-College of Computing
Tamaki Okamoto (CaRTe bLaNChe)
Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014