27 April 2016

Animation to Watch: Sawako Kabuki Playlist

Sawako Kabuki (冠木 佐和子, b. 1990) is an eccentric young animation artist in the tradition of Yōji Kuri.  Her work pushes the boundaries of comfortability by depicting female bodies masturbating, defecating, and even puking.  Her luridly coloured films are surreal and daring.  There is always a tongue in cheek sense of humour from fangirling over Shigeru Matsuzaki with a mutant hermaphrodite in the short-short Shigeru (しげる, 2014) to a girl making a peace sign selfie next to a butt hole in Anal Juke.   The shock value of her work has made her a perfect match for music video collaborations.  She has made music videos for Shinsuke Sugahara (菅原信介) and THE POTONE! 

Here is a playlist of works she has shared on YouTube (NSFW) – many with English subs:

Kabuki is a graduate of Tama Art University.  Learn more about her on her website, her blog, and or follow her @soramimicake.




Here, There and Everywhere
Ici, là et partout』(2013

Anal Juke
『肛門的重苦 Ketsujiru Juke』(2013)限定公開


Master Blaster
菅原信介『MASTER BLASTER』, music video(2014)

Don’t Tell Mom!

Soregashi Rock Band
某ロックバンド, music video(未公開) (2015)

What Happens Before War?
『戦争のつくりかた』 collaborative project

Nou Nen (featuring utae)
THE POTONE!『Nou Nen feat.utae』, music video (2015)

Banana and Mayonnaise

Summer's Puke is Winter's Delight

2016 Nishikata Film Review

26 April 2016

Animation to Watch: Moving Colors (2016)

オムニバスリレーアニメーション『Moving Colors』

Moving Colors is an omnibus relay animation made by successive generations of graduates of “Taku-zemi” (Taku seminar).  In other words, it is a tribute to independent animator Taku Furukawa (古川タク, b.1941) by animators who were mentored by him. 

Check out Furukawa's studio Takun Box to see his most recent work: short shorts called One Phrase Theater (ヒトコト劇場 / Hitokoto Gekijō, 2012 - present) that he makes in collaboration with the writer Jun Sakurai (桜井順, b.1934).  

The creative director of Moving Colors is Tomoyshi Joko of decovocal.

Animators who contributed to this Omnibus Relay Animation include:
HakHyun KIM
Yoshiyuki KANEKO
Yutaro KUBO
Yasuaki HONDA
Tomoyoshi JOKO
2016 Nishikata Film Review

14 April 2016

Gonbe’e, the Duck Hunter (かもとりごんべえ, 1961)

The Gakken stop motion animation Gonbe’e, the Duck Hunter (かもとりごんべえ / Kamotori Gonbē 1961), is an adaptation of a common Japanese folk tale.  It was distributed in 1969 as an educational film in the United States by Coronet Instructional Films under the title The Man Who Wanted to Fly.   I have not seen the US dub of the film but in the Japanese version the man, Gonbe’e, flies accidentally not by desire, so I am using the literal translation of the title for this review.  Doubtless, the US dub dropped the name Gonbe’e because it would be difficult for English-speaking children.  In Japanese, the name “Gonbe’e” is a kind of everyman’s name, the equivalent of “John Doe”.  In folk tales and songs, Gonbe’e is usually a kind of country bumpkin or simpleton. 

The story begins with an idyllic scene of ducks enjoying a pond.  Suddenly one of the ducks is captured by a lasso.  Before we see who has thrown the lasso, a children’s song introduces us to “Kamotori Gonbē-san” (Mr. Gonbe’e, the duck hunter).   Gonbe’e steadily pulls in his catch and the scene cuts to a blindfolded boy playing blind man’s bluff with other children.   The blindfolded boy runs into two men, who ask him if he has seen Gonbe’e.  He points them in the right direction.

The men decide to see if they can convince Gonbe’e to catch more than one duck a day as it would be profitable for them.  “Why catch only one, when you could catch many?”, they tell him.  Gonbe’e, being a simpleton, is easily swayed, saying: Oh I never thought about that. What a great idea!”  Gonbe’e  figures that if he were to catch many ducks at once, he would then have more time to play and laze about.

Gonbe’e goes home, where his wife is busy on the spinning wheel.  He tells her his new plan, but she advises him against it.  The next day he catches four ducks and the men handsomely reward him, encouraging him to catch even more.  Early the next morning, while it is still dark, Gonbe’e sneaks up to the sleeping ducks and puts ropes around all of the their necks.  Just as dawn breaks, he ties all the ropes around his waist.  The ducks awake and startled by the ropes, fly off carrying Gonbe’e with them. 

A farmer reaping his daikon radish spots him, as does his wife, the children, and an elderly man.  They all fear for his safety.  Here the director Matsue Jinbo (神保まつえ) has chosen to dramatize Gonbe’e’s distress by giving us a point-of-view shot with the camera lurching wildly over the set.  Stop motion animations at this time would usually only give us one point-of-view of the set with changes in camera distance, so it is great to see a non-experimental film (this is an educational film for children) think outside the box in terms of techniques.  A great deal of thought had to go into the landscape design so that they could shoot these sequences from above as well as from the side.

Thus begins Gonbe’e’s misadventure across the countryside: startling a shop owner and his customer, nearly drowning in a pond, before finally being attacked by a bird of prey who loosens Gonbe’e from the ropes.  He falls and lands on the roof of a tall pagoda.  Inside, a Buddhist monk and his apprentice are praying.  In a comical little sequence, the apprentice, who playing a drum, is lulled to sleep by the monk’s chanting of the sutra.  His reprimand is interrupted by the cries of Gonbe’e on the roof.   

The apprentice rings the heavy bell to summon the villagers to assist.  There is much hand-wringing, scratching of heads, and prayers by the monk over what to do.  Their ladder is too short, so they decide to stretch out a blanket for Gonbe’e to jump into.  After being rescued, Gonbe’e heads home, arriving after dark much to the relief of his long-suffering wife.  He pledges to her that from tomorrow he will return to his former ways.  The short film concludes with a reprise of the children singing “Kamotori Gonbē-san”.

This story has been published as a children’s picture book many times.  The one that I recall includes two additional misadventures which see Gonbe’e falling into farmer’s field and into an umbrella shop, and in both cases causing more work that he needs to stay for a time to help with.  Sometimes the number of ducks is quite ridiculous - as many as 99!  This adaptation reduces the number of misadventures in order to get to the more amusing climax of Gonbe’e stuck on the top level of a pagoda.  It is cleverly done and sure to amuse the young children that are the target audience of the film.   

The setting must be quite old as the duck hunting is performed with lassos rather than with guns.  The only kind of traditional duck-hunting that I have heard of are the kamoba (Imperial Wild Duck Preserves), where they lure the ducks into a prepared area and capture them with large nets).  Guns began being used extensively in Japan during the Sengoku Period (Warring States Period, 1467-1573), but I imagine they were not available to peasant farmers until much later. 

Of all the Gakken fairy tales that I have reviewed thus far, this one is my favourite for its excellent storytelling and clever puppet and set designs.  I like that the villagers, particularly Gonbe’e, are a little rough around the edges.  The puppet makers have clearly given a lot of thought to how to make the puppets expressive of character.  Many puppets were made for this piece.  Although most of them do not speak, they give life to the village from the mother with the baby on her back to the children playing blind man’s bluff.   The pagoda design, both inside and out, is also excellently done.  This children’s classic was brought to life by the producer Haruo Itoh (伊藤治雄) and director Matsue Jinbo (神保まつえ). 

2016 Cathy Munroe Hotes

11 April 2016

The North Wind and the Sun (きたかぜとたいよう, 1960)

The North Wind and the Sun (きたかぜとたいよう/ Kitakaze to Taiyō, 1960) is based on the story of the same name (北風と太陽) from Aesop's Fables (イソップ寓話).  The story focuses on a competition between the North Wind and the Sun to determine which of them is stronger.  They challenge each other to see which one of them can succeed in making a passing traveler remove his jacket.  The film was distributed in the United States by Coronet Instructional Films in 1962 under the title The North Wind and the Sun: An Aesop Fable

Many Gakken educational shorts use a traditional setting, but this one modernizes it by having the North Wind riding through the sky on a kind of scooter with a built-in wind machine.  The interior workings of the sun are beautifully rendered in a modern art style.  The technique used is stop motion animation using cut outs and flat puppets that are skilfully rendered.  After the North Wind fails to get the jacket off of the traveler, the sun’s rays bring not only warmth but springtime to the landscape.  The most lovely animation sequences are those of paper flowers opening.  The effects are simple but effective.  A very charming film overall.

This short animation was produced by Haruo Itoh (伊藤治雄) and directed by Kazuhiko Watanabe (渡辺和彦).  Although the tale has been adapted many times over the centuries in many different media, the only other animation I have seen of this tale is the NFB’s The North Wind and the Sun: A Fable By Aesop (Les Drew/Rhoda Leyer, 1972).  Like the Gakken animation, is very short and an educational film for children.  Both shorts modernize the setting, transforming the cloak of the original tale to a jacket.  The NFB film places a stronger emphasis on the moral: “Persuasion is better than force”.  Watch both the films below:


2016 Cathy Munroe Hotes

The Musicians in the Woods (もりのおんがくたい, 1960)

The Musicians in the Woods (もりのおんがくたい / Mori no Ongakutai, 1960) is an adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale (グリム童話) Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Town Musicians of Bremen / ブレーメンの音楽隊 / Bremen no Ongakutai).  It is the 27th tale in the volume one of the 1819 publication of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales.  The Japanese title, which I would translate to The Town Musicians of Mori, changes the name of the German city of "Bremen" to the common Japanese family name of "Mori" (which means forest).  This choice was likely intended to make it easier for children to understand.  The film was distributed on 16mm in the United States by Coronet Films under the title The Musicians in the Woods in 1961. 

The film opens with a man riding in a wagon pulled by donkey.  He becomes frustrated by the donkey’s poor performance and tries to get him to move forward by offering him a carrot.  When the donkey shows no interest he pulls on the reins.  The donkey resists and the farmer is sent flying backwards.  This angers the farmer, who unties the donkey and tells him to get lost, giving him a kick in the backside for good measure.  The donkey decides to try his luck in town.

In the next scene, a hunter is frustrated by his old dog, who is too tired to help chase a rabbit.  The donkey sees takes pity on the dog and him to join his journey to town.  This scene is followed by one in which a farmer’s wife places a basket of eggs on the ground.  As soon as her back is turned, an army of mice line up and steal many eggs.  The housewife blames her old cat for this.  The cat tries to catch the mice but she is too old and the housewife throws the cat out the window.  She lands on the donkey and joins the two other animals on their way to the city.  

They have hardly walked a step when they hear the cries of a rooster.  With a visual flashback, we learn that the rooster is in danger of being turned into dinner.  He joins the menagerie on their journey.  They traverse a bridge and a barren landscape before coming across a cottage in the forest. They peer in the lit windows of the house and discover it is the lair of a group of bandits dressed like stereotypical pirates.  The animals watch the bandits feasting and reveling in their ill-gotten gains.  They almost get caught by one of the bandits when they make too much noise outside.  They then scare the bandits by standing on top of one another and making fearsome shadows on the windows while making terrible noises.  

The bandits run away in fear and the animals run into the house and eat the food left behind.  When the animals go to bed for the night, we see that the bandits are keeping watch on the house from the hill.  They discuss whether or not the animals are bakemono (化け物 / preternatural creatures of Japanese folklore).  One of the men sneaks back into the house but is frightened by the eyes of an “o-bake”.  All four animals attack the man, but because it is dark he thinks it is bakemono.  The bandit runs back to his companions and tells them of his nightmarish experience.  They all run away in terror.  The next day, the animals celebrate their success by putting on an orchestral performance using items they found around the house and they presumably live happily ever after.

This animated short produced by Haruo Itoh (伊藤治雄) and directed by Matsue Jinbo (神保まつえ) is a fairly straightforward adaptation of Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten with scenery and puppets made in the Western style.  The story is quite similar to the original except for the scene in which the animals attack the bandit.  In the original, the man tells his companions that he was scratched by the long fingernails of a witch (the cat), cut by an ogre with his knife (the dog), hit by an ogre with a club (the donkey) and that a judge had screamed from the rooftop (the rooster).  They simplify this to blame the attack on bakemono or o-bake – a concept that Japanese children would be familiar with from folk tales. 

I particularly enjoyed the simple but effective techniques used to create specials effects in this stop motion puppet film.  The rooster’s flashback is cleverly indicated by a black matte shaped like an egg.  The suffering felt by the bandit when the animal quartet attacks him is amplified by the use of cartoonish “pow” shapes superimposed over the image.  The animation team was able to have a lot of fun with the man’s nightmarish flashback sequence which uses experimental techniques of superimposing symbols to convey the idea of trauma.  It reminded me of Salvador Dali’s set design for the dream sequence in Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock, 1945). 

According to the Gakken 70th Anniversary website, this film won a West German film festival prize 西独逸映画祭入賞.  Unfortunately, it does give the German name for this prize and I have as yet been unable to find more information about where the film might have screened in Germany at that time.  I have eliminated the Berlinale, the International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg, and Oberhausen by checking their archives.  I will update if I learn more information. 

2016 Cathy Munroe Hotes

07 April 2016

Kasa Jizō (かさじぞう, 1960)

Kasa Jizō (かさじぞう, 1960) is a black and white puppet animation by Gakken, who are celebrating their 70th anniversary this year.  This short film was produced by Haruo Itoh (伊藤治雄) and directed by Kazuhiko Watanabe (渡辺隆平).  Along with his Gakken colleague Matsue Jinbo, Watanabe is one of Japan’s puppet animation pioneers.  He is not as well known as Tadahito Mochinaga, Kihachirō Kawamoto, and Tadanari Okamoto, but hopefully Gakken’s decision to make his work available on YouTube during their 70th anniversary celebrations will boost his profile.   Disc 10 of Kinokuniya’s Japanese Art Animation Film Collection: 12 Volume Set also features Watanabe’s work including The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse (1959), Princess Kaguya (1961), The Jakata Tale of the Golden Deer (1962), The Tale of the Crane (1965), The Little Match Girl (1967).

Kasa Jizō is adapted from the traditional Japanese folk tale (日本むかし話) of the same name (笠地蔵).  There are several regional variants of this story, but the one chosen by Gakken is the most common.  It is set in the winter a long time ago in rural Japan.  An elderly couple are doing chores in their thatched house.  New Year’s is the following day, but they are running low on rice.  The elderly man decides to head to town to sell some of his handmade kasa (woven straw hats) so that may have enough rice to celebrate Shōgatsu (the New Year).  The wife helps her husband to dress for the snowy conditions on the long trek to town.

Along the way the elderly man stops to pay his respects to a row of Jizō (the Japanese version of Ksitigarbha, the bodhisattva usually in the form of a Buddhist monk).  The snow continues to fall heavily.  After a while, the man passes by the Jizō again on his return from town, trudging slowly and steadily through the deep snow.  It occurs to him that the Jizō must be getting cold in all this snow, so he puts his remaining kasa on their heads.  He discovers that he is short one kasa and decides to donate his own kasa to the last Jizō.

The elderly man returns to the comfort of the wood burning fire of his hearth.  His wife is patiently sewing.  He is covered with snow.  As he is hat-less, his eyebrows and the small tufts of hair above his ears are full of frost.  His wife asks about the kasa and the man is tells her about the Jizō.  She agrees that he did the right thing and they laugh cheerfully together. 

There is a lovely cutaway to a full moon glowing between the trees to indicate that night has fallen.  The camera pans over curious prints in the snow and male voices can be heard singing in the distance.  The singing awakes the couple and they sit up on their futons.  The man sees the shadow of men wearing kasa passing the window.  The volume of singing increases and their door opens.  To their shock, gifts come flying through the door.  To show their gratitude, the Jizō have brought supplies for the New Year.

The animation tells the story in a straight-forward manner with a couple of overhead shots and interesting shot compositions.  It appears that the film has been transferred from 16mm to digital without restoration (and possible via a video copy first) so some of the scenes are lacking in sharpness.  I really enjoy the character design of the elderly couple.  They are depicted as cheerful and sympathetic, in spite of their penniless circumstances.  It is a lovely tale for sharing with family over the New Year holiday. 

2016 Cathy Munroe Hotes

The Dove and the Ant (ありとはと, 1959)

The Dove and the Ant (ありとはと / Ari to Hato, 1959) is a short animation adapted from the tale of the same name from Aesop's Fables (イソップ寓話).  It was released in the United States in 1962 by Coronet Instructional Films under the title The Ant and the Dove.  The Japanese translation of this fable traditionally puts the ant first in the title, but in English it is more common for the dove to be named first.  Coronet went with the literal translation of the Japanese title, but I prefer to use the standard English title of the fable.

A narrator tells us that this story takes place in a forest.  With a cheerful soundtrack melody in the background, a cute little ant wearing a hat is rolling a coin back to his hole. Exerting some effort (“Yoisho! Yoisho!”), he rolls the coin into a long tunnel that looks like it has been decorated with graffiti by a child.  He eventually adds the coin to a pile of loot in his living room and goes back outside in search of more treasures. 

The ant encounters a snail and takes a ride on its back.  The snail climbs a tree stump where the ant discovers a dragonfly.  The dragonfly takes the ant for a ride.  They pass by the dove and the ant calls out a greeting “Hato-san konnichi-wa!”  Suddenly, he slides off the dragonfly and lands in the water.  The ant cannot swim and calls for help.  The dove hears the ant’s cries and flies to help.  Along the way, the dove picks a leaf which she drops near the ant.  The ant crawls on the leaf and floats to safety.  The ant calls out his thanks.

No worse for his adventure, the ant returns to collecting treasures.  The next day, a hunter is spotted in the forest.  He shoots at a tree and has an apple fall comically onto his head.  Curious and concerned, the ant follows the hunter’s every move.  He suddenly realises that his friend the dove, who is sleeping in the tree, is in danger of being shot.  He grabs some tweezers and runs up the body of the hunter.  The cry the hunter makes when the ant plucks one of his leg hairs startles the dove who flies to safety.  The ant is relieved and skips his delight as the hunter leaves disappointed.  The tale ends happily.  The final curtain is of grass, with a ladybug in the foreground for good measure. 

This animation was produced by Shinichi Kanbayashi (神林伸一) and directed by Kazuhiko Watanabe (渡辺和彦).  The technique used is stop motion using cutouts and 2D puppets.  The Gakken version adds more wildlife to the forest scene (the snail, the dragonfly), likely in order to teach children about forest wildlife.  Insects are a popular theme for all ages in Japan, and preschoolers learn about them at an early age.  My children’s nursery school in Tokyo had a pet beetle in the classroom, for example.  No credit is given onscreen for the narrator, but I had the impression that one female voice did both the ant and the narration.  It is a sweet film, suitable for a preschool audience.  The “shots” fired by the hunter are only implied not actually heard, so it is unlikely that children would be disturbed by this tame portrayal of hunting. 

2016 Cathy Munroe Hotes


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