28 October 2014

L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume 2 (DVD/Blu-Ray release, FR/EN, 2014)

When French indie label Les Films du Paradoxe and independent production/distribution company CaRTe bLaNChe  released the combination DVD/Blu-Ray L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume 1 in 2013, it created a lot of excitement among alternative animation fans.  This was not only because rare films like Dreams (2011), pop art legend Keiichi Tanaami’s final collaboration with the late Nobuhiro Aihara, were being made available for purchase with English and French subs, but also because “Volume 1” indicated that there was a possibility of future releases!

Volume 2 was indeed launched at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival this past spring.  It features 8 films by 6 directors.  The DVD/Bluray finally makes Keita Kurosaka’s 2010 cult favourite Midori-ko available to a wider audience.  Fans of Kurosaka, the master of the grotesque in animation, can also delight in his even rarer 2005 short My Face

The discs also feature recent works by established animators Atsushi Wada and Mirai Mizue, as well as experimental filmmaker Isamu Hirabayashi.  Rounding off this impressive list of artists are two up-and-coming women directors Yoriko Mizushiri, who has been a real festival favourite since the release of her film Futon (布団) in 2012, and Yoko Kuno, whose music video Airy Me for Cuushe, has won acclaim including the New Face Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival last year. 

Here is the complete list of films with links to further information:


Midori-ko (2010) and My Face (ワタシノカオ, 2005) by Keita Kurosaka


In a Pig's Eye (2010) by Atsushi Wada


WONDER (2014) and AND AND (2011) by Mirai Mizue


Snow Hut (2013) by Yoriko Mizushiri


NINJA & SOLDIER (2012) by Isamu Hirabayashi


Airy Me (2013) by Yoko Kuno

L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume 2 is packed in a card paper sleeve that contains both a DVD and a Bluray.  Both discs have English and French menus as well as subtitles when needed.  It can be purchased via Amazon France

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2014

26 October 2014

Sumo Lake (相撲の湖, 2011)




Sumo Lake (相撲の湖, 2011) is a humorous, hand-drawn animated short by Canadian-Australian artist Greg Holfeld (グレッグ ホルフェルド, b. 1965).  The official Japanese name that appears in the film is an attempt at a katakana rendering of the English title: スーモー・ルエク.  Unfortunately, as Holfeld told me himself at Hiroshima 2014 (he was on this year’s selection committee), he found out too late that this was inaccurate.  To begin with, “sumo” does not have a long “u”, and “ルエク” is not commonly used for “Lake” in Japanese.  So, I have amended the title to more authentically capture the English title of the film, which is a play on Swan Lake (白鳥の湖), the nineteenth century ballet composed by Tchaikovsky.


Holfeld’s interest in sumo wrestling dates back to 1990, when he lived in Tokyo.  His attention was captured by the sight of the Hawaiian wrestler Konishiki, the heaviest rikishi ever in sumo with a peak weight of 287kg.   Around this time David Benjamin asked him to illustrate The Joy of Sumo: A Fan’s Notes (1992), which is currently in print in its revised form: Sumo: A Thinking Man’s Guide to the National Sport (2010).  The initial inspiration for this film; however, was a pitch painting by Eddie White and Ari Gibson, co-directors of the animated short The Cat Piano (2009), about a sumo wrestler who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer.  Learn more here.



As with all great comedy, Holfeld takes a simple conceit, the notion of a large, ungainly sumo wrestler doing ballet, and executes it brilliantly for the screen.  The story begins with a wind-up sumo doll performing shiko (四股), the side-to-side stomping that sumo wrestlers ritually perform at the beginning out each bout in order to drive away any demons.  A wider shot shows the tiny doll is facing a large sumo wrestler, who also performs shiko, causing the wind-up doll to fall over, face down.  The wrestler picks up the doll and tries again, but his time the doll clatters away and disappears as if falling into water.  A moment later, the figure re-emerges from the water like “The Lady of the Lake” of Arthurian legend, but the wind-up doll has transformed into a lifelike sumo wrestler on his toes like a ballet dancer. 



The two wrestlers face-off and begin to wrestle one another, but midway through their fight transforms into a graceful pas de deux.  One wrestler sinks into the water yet again, then re-emerges for another showdown.  However, this battle gets interrupted by the stomping foot of a Godzilla-esque kaiju.  Thus commences the climax of the film, which is a hilarious combination of epic battle and dance off.  The icing on the cake is the glorious soundtrack composed by Benjamin Speed in a style similar to that of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.  It is a beautifully drawn film, as you can see from some of materials Holfeld has shared on his website.  The three-minute film consists of 1,300 drawings – a total of 6.24 kg of paper.  The simplicity of the pencil sketch on paper style is delightful, particularly when paired with the complexity of character movement. 

Sumo Lake can be viewed on Vimeo.  You can support Greg Holfeld by buying his books and comics.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014


24 October 2014

Ninja & Soldier (2012)



Children have been playing war games for as long as adult have been engaging in war, as the touring V&A Museum of Childhood touring exhibition War Games demonstrates.  From “cowboys & Indians” and “cops & robbers” to re-enacting actual battles with toys, children use these games to role play being a hero.  Award-winning experimental filmmaker Isamu Hirabayashi (A Story Constructed of 17 Pieces of Space and 1 Maggot, 663114, Soliton) explores the relationship between war games and actually engaging in violence in his animated short Ninja & Soldier (2012). 


Against a backdrop that looks like a traditional Japanese scroll, two crayon-drawn figures of children introduce themselves.  Ken is a ninja from Japan, while Nito is a soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  At first the two 8-year-old boys try to one-up each other, in the way that children often do in such games.  Ninja and soldiers are very strong, they proclaim.  Ken brags that he can kill an enemy with his throwing star (shuriken), while Nito explains that he can kill an enemy with his rifle. 



As the kids continue to describe their exploits, it becomes clear that Ken has only played at being a ninja in the park, while Nito has actually killed people.  The soundtrack becomes distorted when Nito reveals that he killed his own mother.  Ken accuses Nito of lying, but Nito explains how he was forced to become a child soldier in the Congo by men who threatened to kill him if he did not execute his own mother. 

Nito’s horrific story is told against a collage of photographs by Ani Watanabe.   It soon becomes clear that what is just play to one child is a terrifying reality to another.  By comparing and contrasting the children’s stories, Hirabayashi reveals that all children are susceptible to acts of violence, but whether or not they commit it themselves is a product of the circumstances in which they live.  In order to highlight the universality of this story, Hirabayashi has the actors use a made-up language which is only made comprehensible through childlike scrawls of text “translating” it. 

Ninja & Soldier has shown at international festivals including the Berlinale 2013 and Image Forum Fesitval 2013.  It appears on the CaRTe bLaNChe / Les Films du Paradoxe DVD: L'Animation Indépendante Japonaise, Volume 2 (DVD/Blu-Ray release, FR/EN, 2014).

Director:
Isamu Hirabayashi

Producer:
Yasuo Fukuro

Drawing & Animation:
Isamu Hirabayashi

Photographer:

Graphic Artist:
Katsuya Terada

Art Director:
Ken Murakami

Animation Assistant:
Mina Yonezawa

Voice Actors:
Reigo Mizoguchi
Shion Noda

Composer:
Takashi Watanabe

Assistant Composer:
Kina Kuriwaki

Clarinet Ensemble:
Hidenao Aoyama
Shizuka Omata
Toshiyuki Muranishi
Terumichi Aoyama

Sound Design:
Keitaro Iijima

Foley Artists:
Yu Arisawa
Momoko Iijima

Sound Studio:
Kobe Institute of Computing-College of Computing

Distributor:
Tamaki Okamoto (CaRTe bLaNChe)


Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

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