03 December 2014

The Gourd Bottle (ひょうたん, 1976)

The Gourd Bottle (ひょうたん, 1976) is an independent animated short by Shin’ichi Suzuki.  Suzuki belongs to the first generation of post-war indie animators who pushed new boundaries in animation in the 1960s and 1970s.  His short film Dot (, 1971) played at the 8th and last of the Animation Festivals held at Sōgetsu Hall alongside films by fellow innovators such as Goro Sugimoto and Keiichi Tanaami.

A “gourd bottle”, or hyōtan in Japanese, is a bottle made from the calabash fruit (lagenaria siceraria).  It is also variously called “bottle gourd”, “opo squash” or “long melon”.  It is an edible fruit when harvested young, but if left to mature it can be dried and made into a bottle.  In some Asian countries it is also used for making utensils or pipes.

For The Gourd Bottle, Suzuki uses his pared-down caricature style that fans of his manga will be familiar with.  It is a comic tale with a simple, but absurd conceit: a drunk salaryman with a bow-tie is at a bar. He notices that his glass is empty, but rather than ordering another one, he pulls out a gourd bottle from under the table.  The man sitting next to him gets sucked into the bottle, like a reverse of the genie coming out of the lamp in Aladdin, and the drunk shakes the bottle and drinks its liquid.  The barkeep spots the drunk with his own liquor bottle and orders him to leave.  The barkeep also gets sucked into the bottle.  The process repeats itself with others the drunk encounters along his way: a sexy lady, a cop, a dog peeing against the side of the bottle, until he accidentally leaves the bottle on the ground and finds the tables turned on him.

On the whole, it is a relatively simply executed animation, with its minimalist style allowing the audience to focus on the humour.  There are two brief, but brilliant animation sequences: 1) the man pointing the cop’s gun at the “camera” and shooting the gun straight at the spectator and 2) the final sequence in which a car runs over the gourd.  The best gag in the film is when the guy sucks the dog up into the gourd bottle, and when he drinks its liquid wets his own pants.  It’s a comic classic its era in the vein of Marv Newland’s Bambi Meets Godzilla, (1969), Makoto Wada’s Murder (1964), and the films of Yoji Kuri and Taku Furukawa.  Tongue-in-cheek sense of humour meets unadorned, expert animation.

Kōichi Fujita / 藤田紘一
Katsumi Ōnishi / 大西克実
Masatoshi Mizumachi / 水町正俊 (Sound)
Akio Bando / 坂東昭雄 (Camera)
Eiko Nishide / 西出栄子 (Editor)

Shin’ichi Suzuki (鈴木 伸一, b. 1933)  http://sam.or.jp/

Born in Nagasaki, Suzuki began his career as a manga-ka when he was a high school student, submitting his works to magazines such as Manga Shōnen. In 1956, he joined Otogi Pro under the mentorship of anime pioneer Ryuichi Yokoyama where he worked on the series Instant History (later renamed Otogi Manga Calendar, 1961-64).  Together with his fellow manga-ka Fujio Fujiko, Shōtarō Ishinomori, Jirō Tsunoda, Fujio Akatsuka, and others, he established the short-lived Studio Zero (1963-1971).  He has been involved in the production of a variety of animation from indie to mainstream.   Some of the big name projects he worked on include Phoenix 2772 (Taku Sugiyama, 1980), Akira (Katsuhiro Ōtomo, 1988), and Legend of the Forest (Osamu Tezuka, 1987).  Suzuki is one of the founding members of the Suginami Animation Museum and since 2005 has been its director.  

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2014