18 September 2014

The 5th Annual Tokyo Food Lovers Film Festival / 第5回東京ごはん映画祭

The 5th Annual Tokyo Food Lovers Film Festival (第5回東京ごはん映画祭)

 A festival that brings together “delicious films” and “delicious food”.

Dates: October 10th – 24th, 2014
Locations: Omotesando Hills and the Image Forum Theatre (Shibuya)
1010()13() 表参道ヒルズ 本館B3F スペース オー
1011()24() シアター・イメージフォーラム(渋谷)

The Tokyo Gohan Film Festival is back for its fifth year.  “Gohan” is the Japanese word for “meal”.  In the festival notes, the organizers point out that the prefix “Go-” in front of the word for “meal” (“han”) demonstrates respect and love for the food that they eat.  It is with this desire to share their passion for food that the festival was created.  With Washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) being added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2013 and Tokyo being named Michelin’s Gourmet Capital of the World for the past seven years, Tokyo is the ideal place for such an event. 

This unique film festival is a celebration of food and film.  Each year, the festival allows foodie film fans to enjoy some of the dishes served up in memorable cinematic dining scenes.  As in previous years, the Tokyo Gohan Film Festival will be presenting a wide range of films from foodie classics like Yasujirō Ozu’s The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (1952) and Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast (1987) to contemporary favourites like Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share (2012), Aki Kaurismäki’s Drifting Clouds (1996), and Wong Karwai’s In the Mood for Love (2000).  There is also a selection of documentary films.

Some of the directors and actors are already familiar to the Food Lovers’ Festival audiences.  Glasses director Miwa Nishikawa’s films are famous for their use of food, and films styled by her frequent collaborator Nami Iijima make regular appearances at the festival.  Marianne Sägebrecht makes an appearance in her recent film Omamamia (2012), but she is most famous for her role in Percy Adlon’s Bagdad Café (1987), which played at the festival last year.  Bob Giraldi’s Dinner Rush (2000) starring Danny Aiello and the docs eatrip (2009) by Yuri Nomura and El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (2011) by Gereon Wetzel are back by popular demand. 

This year, the Tokyo Gohan Film Festival announced an official partnership with the San Sebasti án International Film Festival.  A jury from the Tokyo Gohan Film Festival will award a Culinary Cinema Award at this month’s festival (19-24 September).  The contest Culinary Zinema: Film and Gastronomy was originally created in collaboration with the Berlin International Film Festival and the Basque Culinary Centre “to unite cinema, gastronomy and activities related to food in education, science and agriculture.”  Like the Tokyo Gohan Film Fesitval, this section of the San Sebastián festival brings gastronomy-related films together with themed dinners. The award consists of a prize of €10,000 and an Asian premiere of the winning film at the Tokyo Gohan Film Festival. The festival hopes that “this partnership will create a meaningful meeting point for the world’s great food cultures and traditions, and lead towards the future.”

Babette’s Feast 『バベットの晩餐会』
Babettes gæstebud, Gabriel Axel, Denmark, 1987
Feature film, drama
Dish: turtle soup and cailles en sarcophage (quail and foie gras in puff pastry)
Learn more about these dishes in an archival New York Times article from 1988.  Molly O’Neill recreated cailles en sarcophage for the The New York Times and J. Bryan Lowder has written an engaging piece on his attempt at recreated the dish for Slate.

Inheritance 『オリンダのリストランテ』
Herencia, Paula Hernández, Argentina, 2001
Feature film, drama, the Japanese title directly translates as “Olinda’s Restaurant”
Dish: Argentinian cuisine

Drifting Clouds  『浮き雲』
Kauas pilvet karkaavat, Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 1996
Feature film, drama
Dish: White fish in a Meunière sauce

Omamamia バチカンで逢いましょう
aka “Oma in Roma”, Tomy Wigand, Germany, 2012
Feature film, comedy
Dish: Kaiserschmarrn 

The Angels’ Share 『天使の分け前』
Ken Loach, Scotland, 2012
Feature film, comedy-drama
Dish: Scotch whisky
Scotch whisky is an obvious partner for this film, but I really think that Irn-Bru should have been contacted to introduce the Japanese to the joys of Scotland’s most popular soda pop.

Glasses 『めがね』
Miwa Nishikawa, Japan, 2007
Feature film, drama
Dish:  Japanese breakfast, kakigōri (shaved ice)
One of my favourite Japanese films of the Noughties, read my review to learn more.

The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice 『お茶漬の味』
Yasujirō Ozu, Japan, 1952
Feature film, family drama
Dish: Ochazuke (green tea over rice)

In the Mood for Love 『花様年華』
Wong Karwai, Hong Kong, 2000
Feature film, drama
Dish: food cart style zongzi (chimaki in Japanese) and noodles

Eat Drink Man Woman 『恋人たちの食卓』
Ang Lee, Taiwan, 1994
Feature film, drama
Dish: Taiwanese cuisine, particularly soups

Dinner Rush  『ディナーラッシュ』
Bob Giraldi, USA, 2000
Feature film, drama
Dish: pasta
Check out this review with recipes by Kristin Eddy.

Wings of Desire『ベルリン・天使の詩』
Der Himmel über Berlin, Wim Wenders, West Germany / France, 1987
Feature film, drama
Dish: Coffee

The Dinner『星降る夜のリストランテ』
La cena, Ettore Scola, Italy, 1998
Feature film, drama/comedy
Dish: Italian cuisine
Cooking Up Dreams
De ollas y sueños, Ernesto Caellos, Brazil/Peru, 2009
Dish: Ceviche (fresh Peruvian fish in a marinade) with Pisco Sour (a Peruvian cocktail)

eatrip  eatrip
Yuri Nomura, Japan, 2009
Dish: Roast Chicken in a Green and Lemon Sauce / in a Strawberry and Sayori (fish) Marinade

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress  『エル・ブリの秘密 世界一予約のとれないレストラン』
Gereon Wetzel, GERMANY, 2011)
Dish: El Bulli Creative Cuisine

Go to the festival's official website to learn more about this year's events and guests.

17 September 2014

Scenes (情景, 2012)

Since winning the Oscar prize for Best Animated Short in 2009 for La maison en petits cubes (つみきのいえ, 2008), Kunio Katō (加藤久仁生, b. 1977) has been relatively quiet on the international festival circuit.  At home; however, he has been busy making animation in his capacity as an animator at the commercial and graphic design company ROBOT.  In 2010, he made a beautiful series of animated shorts as part of the promotion of the 40th anniversary of the Japanese housing company Sekisui Heim (セキスイハイム).  In 2011-12, an exhibition of his work went on the road starting with the Towada Art Center in Aomori, followed by the Hachioji Yume Art Museum in Tokyo (Feb. 10 – March 25, 2012),  the Kariya City Art Museum in Aichi (April 21 – June 3, 2012), and the Nagashima Museum in Kagoshima (July 21 – Sept.  17, 2012).

The centrepiece of these exhibitions was a new work created by Katō called Scenes (情景/Jōkei, 2012).  Reviews of the exhibition indicated that this new work consists of seven animated vignettes, with each vignette animated in a different style.  According to animeanime.jp’s review of a Kunio Katō screening event at Ebisu Garden Place last fall, the vignettes (or “omnibus”) are called: Holidays (休日 / Kyūjitsu), Snow ( / Yuki), Potage (ポタージュ / Potāju), Them (あいつ / Aitsu), Morning ( / Asa), Nap (昼寝 / Hirune), and Curtain Call (カーテンコール/ Kāten kōru) (my title translations and transliterations).  The press screener that I saw had only 5 of these 7 vignettes, so my review is based on those. 

Each of the vignettes has a minimalist style.  Instead of the fully coloured foregrounds, mid-grounds and backgrounds of The Diary of Tortov Roddle (2003-4) and La maison en petits cubes, Scenes looks more like an animated sketchbook with backgrounds either non-existent or merely hinted at.  As is typical for Katō, each of the vignettes, or “scenes”, feature a mix of the familiar and the playfully surreal. 

The “scenes” have no dialogue, only sound effects accompanied by music composed by frequent Katō collaborator Kenji Kondō (近藤研二, b. 1966), who also composed the soundtracks to The Diary of Tortov Roddle and La maison en petits cubes.  Although I couldn’t spot them in the rather sparse credits, I am pretty sure that the soundtrack was performed by Kondō’s band, the Kuricorder Quartet (栗コーダーカルテット).  The screener that I have gives four options for the soundtrack.  Three rotate the music between different “scenes”, which changes the mood of each “scene” from playful to reflective, while the fourth soundtrack option is without music (ie sound effects only).

I have already used the adjective “playful” twice in this review because that is my overall impression of Katō’s approach to these animated “scenes”.  Rather than present a fully fleshed out story, as he did in La maison en petits cubes, these vignettes are more about hinting at stories and characters and allowing the audience to make their own connections.  It has a much more spontaneous feel to it than his earlier work, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Katō took a free-form, stream-of-consciousness approach instead of storyboarding as he usually does (I will update when/if I find out how he planned the film). 

Holidays / 休日 / Kyūjitsu

Opening with clouds against a blue sky, this “scene” is a series of mini-scenes of people on holiday.  There is an over-arching mini-story about a father and son who create a puddle at a water tap (the kind one might find in the backyard or a Japanese playground) then pick it up (the “playfully surreal” that I mentioned earlier) and play with it until finally releasing it into the sea like a captured fish.  Interspersed with this mini-story are scenes of other people enjoying their leisure time: girls playing jump rope, a couple flying a toy remote control plane, a father and daughter kicking a red ball, all culminating in a wide shot incorporating all the people as if they are in the park together. 

Snow / / Yuki

The snow in this “scene” looks more like autumn leaves, but then it is difficult to draw white against white.  This vignette suggests the feeling of winter with the crunch of snow underfoot, the activities people do indoors and out to keep warm on a cold day, people having a snow fight, tinned fish, and other associations the artist has made with his wintry theme.

Potage / ポタージュ / Potāju

Potage comes from the French and refers to thick soups, stews, and porridges that have their origins in medieval French cuisine.  Potage, particularly corn potage, is quite a popular dish in Japan.  This “scene” explores associations surrounding this homey meal: girlfriends hanging out together, family meals, a couple with their backs to each other reading, and a surreal sequence with a fish that leads to an image of typical potage ingredients (fish, onions, potatoes, etc).  The vignette evokes a feeling of togetherness and shared experience.    

Them / あいつ / Aitsu

It was quite hard to translate the title of this “scene” because the word “aitsu” is a very colloquial one that depends on the context.  It most often means “that one” / “him” / “her”.    This vignette is once again a series of associations, but the background has a yellow hue (my guess is that it has been painted onto different paper than the earlier vignettes) and it looks more like watercolours than pencil on paper.  There is a summer theme to this vignette (cicadas on the soundtrack, the drinking of Ramune soda, the playing of baseball).  I interpret this mini-story as concerning a schoolgirl’s friendship with a yellow creature, and a schoolboy’s jealous reaction to this relationship. 

Morning / / Asa

This vignette begins in a style associated with experimental films: a black background thickly painted with white onto which Katō has overlaid a series of pencil sketches of breakfast items.  There is a wonderful sequence in which a liquid poured into a glass metamorphoses into a series of different drinks associated with breakfast.  This is followed by montage of the diverse array of breakfasts available in Japan from the western influence of toasts and pancakes to traditional Japanese breakfasts of fish and rice.  From the minimal to the decadent, this vignette is a feast for the eyes. 

Not yet screened:
Nap / 昼寝 / Hirune
Curtain Call /カーテンコール/ Kāten kōru

This is a fascinating collection of animated short-shorts.  I would imagine that the overwhelming success of La maison en petits cubes put a lot of pressure on Kunio Katō to follow that project up with something spectacular.  Scenes is not a film designed to wow, instead it feels like the work of an artist who is looking inward.  It is a reflective and observant piece that subtly explores the craft of animation and its ability to express the inner workings of the human mind.  Instead of presenting a fully formed story, it unfolds like a piece of music with a theme and variation pattern.  It will be interesting to see where Katō’s creative mind will lead him next.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

07 September 2014

Wagorō Arai: His World of Silhouette Animation

Wagorō Arai: His World of Silhouette Animation
荒井和五郎~影絵アニメーションの世界~, 2013)

At Hiroshima International Animation Festival 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting the famous train photographer and animation expert Masatoki Minami (南正時, b. 1946).  He gave me a screener of his short documentary Wagorō Arai: His World of Silhouette Animation (荒井和五郎~影絵アニメーションの世界~ / Arai Wagorō – Kage-e Animēshon no Sekai – , 2013) which he made with the support of the JAA (Japan Animation Association).  The 16-minute film screened at JAA’s Into Animation 6 event in August 2013.

Wagorō Arai (荒井和五郎, 1907-1994) was an early Japanese animation pioneer and contemporary of Noburō Ōfuji (大藤 信郎, 1900-1961).  Inspired by the films of German animator Lotte Reiniger, whose  pre-war films were shown extensively in Japan (Donald Richie, A Hundred Years of Japanese Film, p.247), Arai and Ōfuji each developed their own brands of silhouette animation in the tradition of Japanese shadow plays and 19th century utsushi-e (写し絵 / magic lantern shows).

Minami first encountered the work of Arai at the 2nd Hiroshima festival in 1987.  He saw a screening of Madame Butterfly’s Fantasy (お蝶夫人の幻想, 1940), a 12-minute silhouette adaptation of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1904) and was moved by the experience.  Speaking to Arai at the festival, he discovered that the elderly gentleman was working on a new film and on October 15, 1987 he traveled to Arai’s atelier in Shinmachi (today incorporated into Takasaki-shi) in Gunma Prefecture for an interview.

For the next 2 decades, this VTR material stayed in storage and was not publicly screened.  It wasn't until Minami showed the footage to a fellow animation expert that he learned just how rare and valuable the material was, and so plans were set in motion to turn the footage into a documentary with the support of the JAA.  The screenplay was planned with the assistance of the late Prof. Masahiro Katayama (片山雅博, 1955-2011) of Tama Art University

The documentary uses the VTR footage of Arai in his atelier in 1987 answering Minami’s off-camera questions and intercuts it with National Film Center footage of his original films.  Salient details about his life and career are also given through the use of title cards and other onscreen text.  The footage is not of the highest quality, but this really does not matter because the fact that footage exists at all of Arai talking about his craft is remarkable.  I have looked for years for information about Arai and his career and it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Minami’s short documentary illuminates many details I previously had not known about Arai from why his career as an animator was so short to how he made his films. 

Born in 1909, Arai trained as a dentist.  His passion for silhouette animation led him to make his first film, The Gold Key (黄金の鈎 / Ougon no Kagi) in 1939.  He continued to work as a dentist and made the animation in his spare time.  His next project, Madame Butterfly’s Fantasy (お蝶夫人の幻想 / Ochōfujin no gensō, 1940) together with Jack and the Beanstalk (ジャックと豆の木 / Jakku to mame no ki, 1941) and Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫 / Kaguya Hime, 1942) solidified his place as one of the top independent animators of the early anime period.  He is unique in Japanese animation history for his dedication to silhouette animation.  The only other animator to experiment with the medium at this time, Ōfuji, also made animation in other styles, most notably cutouts using washi paper (See: Song of Spring, The Village Festival). 

Minami’s interview reveals that two of his animation staff, including assistant director Nakaya Tobiishi (飛石仲也), died during World War II and their deaths were what caused him to stop making animation. In the late 1980s, he decided to make an animation called Mukashi-banashi Nagori no Futomeno (昔噺名残之太布).  This story is better known as Tsuru no Ongaeshi (鶴の恩返し), “The Crane Returns a Favour” or Tsuru Nyōbō (鶴女房), “The Crane Wife”, a popular folktale about a man who rescues a crane from a trap and the crane repays him by coming to him in the form of a beautiful woman whom he marries.  This is the project that Arai was working on when Minami went to interview him in October 1987.  In the documentary, Arai sits in a wheelchair at his animation table with various silhouettes prepared for filming and others in envelopes within easy reach.

On Madame Butterfly’s Fantasy:

  • 3 people, including Arai himself, made it over the course of 1 year
  • Arai’s animation crew were either students of dentistry or working actively as dentists, they weren't people looking into becoming animators full-time, it was something they did in their spare time
  • Wilhelm Plage (ウィルヘルム・プラーゲ, 1888-1969), the notorious German copyright hound, made it difficult for Arai to get the rights to use Puccini’s music, because the music was not yet 50 years old.
  • fortunately, the soprano Tamaki Miura (三浦環, 1884-1946), celebrated for her international performances as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, lived in his neighbourhood and supported his efforts and even performed on the soundtrack. 
  • critics praised him for his depiction of the evening light in the film.

On his New Work Mukashi-banashi Nagori no Futonuno and his Techniques: 

  • Arai vociferously declares his dislike of colour in silhouette films.   Fascinatingly, he gives the example of Ōfuji’s The Phantom Ship (幽霊船, 1956) as an example of the style of silhouette animation that he does not like.   This is particularly fascinating as not only has Ōfuji received high praise internationally for The Phantom Ship – it received an Honourable Mention for Experimental Film at the Biennale in 1956 (learn more in my discussion of the film) – but Lotte Reiniger, who is said to have been Arai’s role model (she is not mentioned in this documentary), used colour in her films – though I believe it was mostly colour tinting (at least for her films of the 1920s) not cellophane cutouts as Ōfuji used in The Phantom Ship and Whale (くじら, 1952). 
  • Arai laughingly says he wants to submit Mukashi-banashi Nagori no Futonuno to some world competition for animation
  • he puts heavy lead on the paper so that it doesn't move easily
  • he uses a multi-plane animation table to create depth of space
  • his animation table is 40 years old – in the documentary he is using his original animation table
  • everything is handmade
  • the camera is placed looking down from the ceiling
  • the tiny figures for walking from a distance have no movable parts.  He makes a series of small cutouts and keeps replacing them for each shot
  • he is using the exact same methods as he used to
  • he finds it difficult to make the cutouts exactly identical, but on that day they got the face exactly the same (his hands look as though he is suffering from arthritis so I am sure this was no easy task for him)
  • he puts the kimono on top of the naked body, so that when they walk you can see the gap opening in the kimono –such realistic details are important to him
  • he wants to express the softness of the kimono material, wants it to look natural
  • Arai discusses with Minami his negotiations with a shop in Asakusa for Kabuki music for the opening title sequence – he seems particularly interesting in the distinctive Kabuki percussion sounds 
  • Arai likes cute or beautiful faces, not rough faces
  • he wants to improve his techniques from the past and has been looking to Ningyō jōruri, also known as Bunraku, for ideas about how to handle his figures
  • Minami concludes the interview by encouraging him to finish the animation as soon as possible

In the afterword, Minami writes that Arai did indeed complete the film and submit it to Hiroshima
Arai died of a heart attack on 4 January 1994 at the age of 87.

Although the film is brief –  it would have been wonderful to hear more about Arai's life and times – it gives a rare insight not only into Arai's career, but also into his personality.  He comes across as someone who takes his craft seriously, but also has a sense of humour.  If it hadn't been for the tragic deaths of his animation team during the war, I feel sure we would have had many more delightful silhouette animations from this early master.  

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014


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