18 November 2021

A Bite of the Bone (骨嚙み, 2021)

When a loved one passes away in Japan, their remains are ceremonially cremated.  After the cremation, the remaining remnants of bone ( 骨/hone) are picked out by relatives using long chopsticks and passed from chopsticks to chopsticks and placed into a large urn.  This practice is called kotsuage (骨揚げ).   Newcomers to Japan often learn about it when they are admonished at dinner for making the faux pas of trying to pass food to another person directly by use of chopsticks.

Homami YANO (矢野ほなみ)’s latest animated short, A Bite of the Bone (骨嚙み/ Honekami, 2021), concerns the lesser known tradition of honekami (骨嚙み), when members of the family actually consume some of the bones during the funeral ceremony in order to a keep a part of their loved one inside them.  This was famously done by the actor Shintarō KATSU (勝 新太郎, 1931-1997, star of the Akumyō, Heitai Yakuza, and Zatōichi series), with the bones of both his beloved older brother, Tomisaburō WAKAYAMA (若山 富三郎, 1929-1992, star  of the Kozure Ōkami series), and his father.

With A Bite of the Bone, Yano revisits the traumatic childhood experience of having refused to consume her father’s bones when he died.  As she explains in her director’s note, “The bone I did not eat stayed with me, as if stuck in my throat, and I found myself unable to express the experience in words nor forget it.”


The tale is narrated by the young female protagonist and opens with the sound and images of her father’s funeral.  The nonsense funereal sutra is performed by Yano’s mentor and producer, Kōji YAMAMURA (山村浩二) .  The scene then transforms into a loving recollection of life growing up in a small island community.  The narrator and her sister playing with an inner tube in the water, her father taking them on hikes in the hills, and the haunting memory of an abandoned WWII ammunition dump.  

Yano uses a pointillist style – the many colourful dots giving the memories a shimmering, dreamlike quality.   There is a poetic moment when the girl’s father is pruning the pine trees of the island into the shapes of clouds and waves against a pinky-red evening landscape.  The sadness of the theme of the death of her father is softened by the sweet childhood memories of her dog and the stunning nature of the island.  


Yano’s short animations have always delved into profound issues about love and life, but with A Bite of the Bone, she has reached a level of maturity in her animation style. The constantly changing perspectives and transitions between scenes show the influence of her mentor, renowned award-winning animator Kōji Yamamura, who produced with film at his studio Au Praxinoscope in Setagaya.  During the pandemic, I happened upon Yano working on the film when I stopped into the studio shop to browse the DVDs.  It is wonderful to see that such a beautiful work of art could come out of such dark times.  

A Bite of the Bone has won numerous awards at festivals in Ottawa, Chitose, Raindance, to name but a few.  It has also been entered for consideration at the Oscars.  Thank you to the New Chitose Airport  International Animation Festival for making this year’s short film selection available for screening online for those of us who are still restricting their travel.  

To learn more about Homani Yano, visit her website: https://honamiyano.com/  

2021 Cathy Munroe Hotes