This year marks only the second time that a woman has won the prestigious Noburō Ōfuji Award for innovation in animation at the Mainichi Film Concours. The first was the puppet animator Nozomi Nagasaki for N&G Production’s Home Alone (るすばん, 1996) nearly two decades ago. Now, Japan’s oldest animation award has been won by recent Geidai graduate Hana Ono (小野ハナ, 1986), who goes by the pen name Onohana in English. Onohana is from Iwate Prefecture and completed a degree in Art Culture at Iwate University (2009) before doing her MA in Animation at Geidai (2014).
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Crazy Little Thing (澱みの騒ぎ / Yodomi no Sakagi, 2014) is Onohana’s graduate film from the Geidai programme, where she was supervised by the 2007 Noburō Ōfuji Award winner and Oscar nominee Kōji Yamamura. According to a short “Making of” Doc made by Geidai that I picked up at Hiroshima last year, Onohana began with an incomplete vision which she developed as she went along. Once she got stuck in, she explains that the story seemed to take on a life of its own. She storyboarded the 10-minute short and then made each frame by hand using pencil on paper. The entire film is in a sombre black and white with very little dialogue.
The film opens with a shocking scene of a girl, possibly in her early teens, sneaking up to a sleeping man on the sofa. She slips a noose around his neck and strangles him. All the action happens in the background, while in the foreground loom tall, dark liquor bottles. We soon see the space from a ceiling shot as the girl moves to tidy up the room with the hanged man looming over her. This shot allows us to see that in addition to bottles, the table is littered with beer cans. She takes the bottles to the kitchen where the floor is teeming with bottles. The girl’s sad face staring over a sea of bottles tells us all we need to know: this poor girl has been brought to such desperate circumstances by the alcoholism of her father.
The girl puts on her coat and rushes out into the snow to check the mail. She cuts a small, forlorn figure against the vast white garden. The front gate and the house are distorted to loom over her, emphasizing her smallness. When she steps back into the house, the phone is ringing. She doesn’t answer immediately, and is shocked by the sound of her father’s voice snarling at her to answer the phone. He has an open can of beer in his hand and is watching her closely. The phone goes to the answering machine and we hear the voice of the grandmother. The father tries to get to the phone, but is blocked by the girl and then the vision from the past disappears and we see that the father is still hanging from the noose.
Thus the story begins to weave in and out of reality and the imagined, the concrete and the symbolic, as the girl deals with her fluctuating emotions. At times she is in a rage at her father, at other times she seems to be calmly mourning his passing. There is even a brief scene that looks like the man mourning a funereal photograph of his younger self. The story comes to a head with a tree growing symbolically out of the father’s corpse. The house floods with a black liquid and the girl must climb the branches of the ever growing tree to escape, hopefully to a better future that the horrors of the past.
It is a deeply troubling film that examines the growing problem of individuals living in isolation in Japan since the collapse of traditional family structures. Stylistically, Onohana uses a lot of shots from directly overhead that show the floorplan of the house. When you go to the real estate agent in Japan, you don’t usually see photographs of the apartment but rather such floorplans since space is at such a premium. Not only do these scenes add visual interest, but they emphasize how the girl feels trapped in that space, like a guinea pig in a cage. It is a powerfully moving film that is not for the faint of heart.
Crazy Little Thing has screened at many festivals over the past year including Nippon Connection, Tokyo Anima!, SICAF, Fantoche, Anilogue, and Geneva. The film received an honourable mention for the Walt Disney Award for Best Graduation Film at Ottawa. It appears on the DVD Geidai Animation: 5th Graduate Works 2014.
Learn more about Onohana on her official website or follow her on twitter, tumblr, and vimeo. Onohana also belongs to the animation group Onionskin along with fellow animators Toshikazu Tamura, Ai Sugaya, and Yewon Kim. In addition to their indie work, they make music videos and commercials.
Cathy Munroe Hotes 2015