28 May 2009

Manga-ka Kei Ishizaka's Protest


The Mainichi is reporting that manga-ka Kei Ishizaka (石坂啓, b. 1956) has leveled criticism at the Japanese government for ‘wasting’ 11.7 billion yen of taxpayers money on a new arts facility that will display anime and manga art. Ishikaza won the prestigious Grand Prize at the Japan Media Arts Festival in 1999 or her manga I’m home (アイムホーム) which was adapted into a live action drama by the NHK in 2004 starring Saburo Tokito (時任三郎) and Misako Konno (紺野美沙子). The Aichi-born manga-ka claimed that manga fans would not appreciate original drawings displayed in frames and that she was so ashamed by the project that she would return her 1999 award and ask that the facility not display her works there.

To a certain extent I do agree with Ishikaza. Art in Japan is so under-funded compared to other developed countries, it would be a shame if 11.7 billion yen were just being spent on a museum rather than towards grants for nurturing the talents of both up-and-coming and established artists who have to scramble for funding or take commercial jobs in order to make a meager living. On the other hand, I disagree with Ishikaza’s statement about manga lovers not being able to appreciate original drawings. While living in Tokyo I went to exhibitions of manga and animation artists and found them phenomenally inspiring. In fact, a very small gallery exhibition by Tomoyasu Murata is what inspired me to focus this blog on Japanese visual culture and the book I am writing about Japanese art animation. An exhibition about the life and art of Osamu Tezuka that I saw at the Showa-kan was also a unique experience. Original art has, in the words of Walter Benjamin, an aura about it that reprints cannot quite capture.

The articles that I have tracked down on this statement by Ishizaka do not give the official name of this new ‘facility’, so it is also not clear to me if it will just me a museum or also a place for artists to meet or work. If anyone knows any more details of this project, do let me know.


27 May 2009

Tabaimo at Moderna Museet


Earlier this year (31 Jan – 19 April), installations by Tabaimo (束芋) were featured at the Moderna Museet on Skeppsholmen Island in central Stockholm, Sweden. The exhibit was curated by Lena Essling.

The event included a screening on February 5th of films by Keiichi Tanaami and Shuji Terayama that were chosen by Tabaimo. A summary of the event can be found on the Moderna Museet’s website here. They also posted a video of an interview with Tabaimo about her art. Her views on animation and spectatorship are quite fascinating so I’ve provided a transcript (with some minor grammar revisions) of the English subtitles below.

In this interview with Ulf Eriksson, Tabaimo discusses in depth the three installations used in the exhibition: public conVENience (her contribution to Tokyo Loop which she has transformed into an installation/2006), dolefullhouse (2007) and midnight sea (2006/2008). Tabaimo seems to do a combination of careful planning (researching locations) and letting her art evolve as she works. The latter of which really surprised me as her films seem so meticulously planned and yet she claims to have a working method as fluid as the sea that inspires her.

Interview transcript:

By connecting [a] series of drawings, I can express things in a way [that] a single image could never convey. I was with this aspiration to achieve a greater impact [that] I embarked on animation. Viewers need to be active and participate in my installations. Even if approaching the piece creates a sense of discomfort. I create situations that make viewers feel uneasy and participate more actively.

I try to capture the images and themes that come to me while I work. Later all these images are integrated into a whole, the piece itself. Hopefully, that’s what creates magic. . . that images evolve that I hadn’t even pictured beforehand. That’s my creative process: not being able to predict the outcome. Hopefully, the results will even surprise me.


[re: public conVENience, 2006]

The interesting thing about public lavatories [is] how your privacy is maintained only by thin walls between the stalls. That’s why I chose the setting, in spite of its dark connotations. During the research phase, I videotaped public toilets and collected lots of footage from typical lavatory environments in order to create this piece. I let the lavatory be a stage. Then I thought about what might happen, such as a door swinging open. . . someone fixing their hair, or washing their hands. Then I created characters to populate the space. Then I leave them on their own. I have no idea what they will do. I simply follow their leads.

A public lavatory at a park is generally something you want to avoid. they aren’t usually very clean. Even though they are meant for public use, they are often fairly sleazy. Lots of things happen in lavatories. People like to gossip there. But there are also men who like to take pictures of women in secret. Most anything can happen. Crimes can be committed, while extremely commonplace activities also take place [there].


There is an interesting similarity between public lavatories and the internet. People have always scribbled things on the walls of the stalls. Nowadays people post similar messages on internet sites and bulletin boards. In both forums, generally anonymous authors direct their messages to a faceless crowd. The same anonymity exists. So the lavatory is a metaphor for this kind of internet communication.


[re: dolefullhouse, 2007]

In “dolefullhouse” it’s important to be observant. The question of whose hands are involved is very important. “Dolefullhouse” resembles a Western-style dollhouse. But you can sense that another, real, house encompasses this ideal miniature. A world exists on the outside. I want to create layers of worlds. The main thing in this piece is how viewers see themselves in relation to what’s going on. Could it be their own hands moving the furniture? Or do they identify with the dolls inhabiting the house? Or do they view the house from above, as pure spectators?

In this piece, it’s important which world you would choose to inhabit. You will also experience the piece differently depending on where you are in the room. I don’t determine who’s who or who does what. I want people to have a regular-sized dollhouse in mind when they look at the large dollhouse projected in front of them. That will cause different sensations depending on how close they are to “dolefullhouse”.


[re: midnight sea, 2006/2008]

This piece is called “midnight sea.” The dark sea at midnight both frightens and fascinates me. It’s like the very darkness of the water is pulling me under. I’m not entirely sure what creatures are moving under the surface, but I tried to create the sense of hairs passing inside the body. I tried to follow the movement of these hairs under the skin. The Japanese word for wave also means wrinkle, and the shifting surface is like the skin of an elderly person. Under the surface you can see things, they’re actually organs or bones. I wanted to create a sense of a foreign object moving inside a body.

This is something very abstract that I don’t really understand myself. As I mentioned earlier, about the way I like to work, I want to create something I cannot predict beforehand. “Midnight sea” is one of the pieces that represents this concept the most. The ancient tradition of a connection between the human body and water is deeply imbedded in my consciousness.

TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT TABAIMO, GO TO HER OFFICIAL ENGLISH LANGUAGE REPRESENTATIVE: JAMES COHAN GALLERY. YOU CAN FIND INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS, AND NEWS ABOUT UPCOMING EXHIBITIONS THERE.

If any of my readers has attended an exhibition by Tabaimo, I would love to hear about the first hand experience either in my comments or by e-mail. I have only seen her work on video or in photographs/prints.


Tokyo Loop / Animation

Animation

Écrans d'asie


Martin Vieillot of EigaGoGo sent me a little note last week telling me about the debut of a new free online magazine dedicated to Asian film. If you can read French, I highly recommend that you take a peek at Écrans d’asie (Screens of Asia) put together by Damien Pacciellieri and his small band of collaborators: Erwin Cadoret, Christophe Falin, Nolwenn Leminez, Li Xin, and Martin Vieillot.

The debut edition, with its beautiful image quality, was timed to coincide with the Cannes film festival which saw six of the twenty films competing for the top prize coming from Asia. Palme d’or contenders included the thriller Vengeance by Johnnie To (Hong Kong), the vampire movie Thirst by Park Chan Wook (South Korea), romantic tragedy Spring Fever by Lou Ye (China), graphic crime film Kinatay by Brillante Mendoza (Philippines), and a movie about a Taiwanese director trying to make a film in Paris called Visage by Tsai Ming-Liang (Taiwan). Mendoza ended up winning the best director award, while Park Chan Wook won a jury prize. Many other Asian films were represented in other categories, such as Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film Air Doll (Kūki ningyō) which screened in the Un Certain Regard programme.


In the preamble to the magazine, Pacciellieri writes of the need for more film criticism of the wealth of new films coming from the east. A case in point might be the special section the magazine dedicated to Ozu’s aesthetics by Nolwenn Leminez. The article trots out the old arguments about Ozu’s ‘zen aesthetics’ and being ‘the most Japanese’ of all directors – overly simplified concepts in desperate need of debunking once and for all. Fortunately, Leminez counterbalances these views with Japanese critics who argue that Ozu has been exoticized by Western critics. Yoichi Umemoto places the blame squarely on Donald Richie’s shoulders. While Richie deserves much praise for bringing the splendor of Japanese cinema to a wider audience outside of Japan, at the same time he and Noel Burch have a lot to answer for when it comes to the ‘othering’ of Ozu. As Leminez concludes, much of western criticism of Ozu has taken a much too narrow view of his art. Far from being the most ‘Japanese’ of directors, in my own personal opinion the reason for Ozu’s continued renown as a film director is the universality of his themes.


The debut edition of Écrans d’asie also includes a fascinating piece on the role of cats in Japanese animation by Martin Viellot (screencap above) as well as reviews of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Sitll Walking, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata, and Miyazaki’s Ponyo by Damien Pacciellieri. Not to mention, of course, pages and pages of articles and reviews of films from across the rest of Asia including the Middle East. This magazine is clearly a labour of love and I look forward to reading future editions. For more information, check out their Facebook Group.

Tokyo Sonata / Japanese Movie

Japanese Movie



26 May 2009

Two in Tracksuits (ジャージの二人, 2008)


This film begins on a swelteringly hot day in Tokyo. A 54-year-old father and his 32-year-old son are escaping from the heat by indulging in ice cream in an air conditioned Mini-Stop convenience store. They decide to head to the family home in rural Gunma Prefecture to get away from the oppressiveness of summer in Tokyo.

Once in Gunma, they find that it is so cool that they need to put on warmer clothes. Searching about in boxes of items belonging to the late grandparents who used to live in the house, the father finds a collection of seventies-style colourful school tracksuits. These tracksuits become both a visual gag and a symbol of togetherness for the father and son: their ‘slow life’ uniforms, so to speak.


The Two in Tracksuits (Jaji no Futari) / Japanese Movie
(click above to order film)

Two in Tracksuits (Jaji no Futari) could be described as a buddy film. However, unlike the American films that gave that genre its name, this is not a chatty film. Both men have a lot of issues to resolve, such as bad marriages, job dissatisfaction (the father) and joblessness (the son), but they do so by taking time to enjoy each other’s company and the peacefulness of rural life.

Rock star Makoto Ayukawa (father) and actor Masato Sakai (son) are both masters of the poker face, and the laughs are subtlety evoked through visual repetition and variation gags. For example, the father and son find tomatoes on sale at the local supermarket and fill their cart with them. Then neighbours begin giving them bags of tomatoes as presents, which leads of course to the running gag of them serving tomatoes (salad, sandwiches, etc.) to their visitors. It sounds very simple on paper, but left the audience in stitches during its screening at Nippon Connection.

The repetition and variation theme is reflected in the storyline. The film actually depicts two summers. The first summer, the men are alone in the family home. The second summer, the men are joined first by the son’s wife, then by his half-sister. The visitors are a clever device for showing the uniqueness of the father-son relationship which at first seems rather superficial. The ending (which I won’t spoil) uses one of the films running gags (about the difficulties of reading kanji) to demonstrate just how strong the bond between these two men is. A truly uplifting film for those who enjoy the ‘slow life’.

director & screenplay: Yoshihiro Nakamura 中村義洋
writer: Yū Nagashima 長嶋有 (novel)
cinematography: Takashi Komatsu小松高志

Son ♦ Masato Sakai 堺雅人
Father ♦ Makoto Ayukawa 鮎川誠
Son’s wife ♦ Miki Mizuno 水野美紀
Hanako-san (sister) ♦ Asami Tanaka 田中あさみ
Toyama-san (neighbour) ♦ Michiyo Ookusu 大楠道代
Dankan ♦ Okada  ダンカン

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2009

07 May 2009

Stop Motion in Nagoya



A great little amateur animation I found on Youtube.  The Japanese title places the action more specifically in Ōzone (大曽根) in Higashi-ku. I must admit that, as a huge ffan of silent movies, I am partial to the use of irises in films.

05 May 2009

Talk Talk Talk (しゃべれどもしゃべれども, 2007)


As the title implies, Hideyuki Hirayama’s adaptation of Takako Satō’s Talk Talk Talk (Shaberedomo Shaberedomo) is all about talking, both privately and in public. At the centre of the drama is the young rakugo performer Mitsuba, played by Taichi Kokubun of the boy band Tokio. Mitsuba’s colleagues and audiences find him a mediocre talent, but he is determined to succeed in order to honour the memory of his late grandfather who was a huge fan of this traditional form of storytelling.

Rakugo (落語) is performed in traditional costume while sitting down in the seiza (正座) position. The stories told are long and complicated comic tales involving a dialogue between two or more characters. The storyteller plays all the roles, distinguishing the different characters through variations in pitch, tone, and gesture. The comedy comes not only out of the story, but out of wordplay such as puns and onomatopoeia.

Mitsuba insists on using traditional stories despite the cajoling of his younger peers to try modern tales in order to make himself more popular. His main flaw is that he tries too hard to mimic his mentor Kosanmon, played with flair by the imitable Shirō Itō. In doing so, Mitsuba fails to infuse his storytelling with his own unique sensibilities.

Through happenstance, Mitsuba finds himself teaching rakugo to a motley crew of misfits in the living room of the home he shares with his grandmother Haruko Toyama (Kaoru Yachigusa). His first student is Masaru-kun, the nephew of one of Toyama-san’s tea ceremony disciples. Masaru has just moved to Tokyo from Osaka and is being bullied in school for his Kansai-ben (dialect). His aunt hopes that learning a skill will improve his self-confidence at school. There is also Satsuki Tokawa, a sullen but beautiful young women whose grumpy exterior belies the fact that she seems to diligently help her parents run the family dry cleaning business. Rounding off the trio is a retired baseball player, Yugawara, whose poor public speaking skills are ruining his chances of keeping his new job as a radio commentator.
The camaraderie and good-natured squabbles of these rakugo classes acts a catalyst for each of the characters, including Mitsuba himself, to grow as individuals and to face problems they have in their personal lives. The film is heartwarming without being too sappy and has plenty of comedy with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. The cast works really well as an ensemble with strong performances from all leading players. The ever graceful and beautiful Yachigusa brings such warmth and humour to a rather small role and the young fellow playing Masaru-kun (Yuuki Morinaga) practically steals the show with his infectious laughter and high energy performance.

The centerpiece of this film, however, is the art of rakugo itself. Through its use of repetition of the two main stories by different characters in the film, Hirayama teaches the audience how to appreciate the subtleties of the storytelling craft.

The trailer for this film can be viewed on its official homepage. The DVD (with English subtitles) is available:



Director: Hideyuki Hirayama 平山秀幸
Screenwriter: Satoko Okudera 奥寺佐渡子
Based on novel by: Takako Satō 佐藤多佳子

Cast

Mitsuba 今昔亭三つ葉(外山達也)● Taichi Kokubun 国分太一
Kosanmon 今昔亭小三 ● Shirō Itō 伊東四朗
Satsuki Tokawa 十河五月  ● Karina 香里奈
Masaru Murabayashi村林優 ● Yuuki Morinaga 森永悠希
Taichi Yugawara 湯河原太一 ● Yutaka Matsushige 松重豊
Haruko Toyama 外山春子 ● Kaoru Yachigusa 八千草薫

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2009

03 May 2009

Moving (おひっこし, 2008)



At the Musabi Student Film Explosion screening at Nippon Connection, the real standout for me was a three-minute animation from director Kei Suezawa (末澤慧). Musabi is the nickname of the Musashino Art University (武蔵野美術大学), a leading college in the education of young artists including Satoshi Kon.

The film Moving (おひっこし/Ohikkoshi, 2008) takes a simple story concept and uses it as a vehicle to show off the animators talent. The animation is executed with innovation and a sense of humour. It opens with moving men clearing the furnishings from a room. Two identical grey cat decorations sit side-by-side on a shelf staring forwards with wide eyes and ambivalent expressions on their faces. Neglected by the movers, one of the two cats tumbles off into the traffic. From there the cat falls into the sewers and floats out into the ocean to begin its adventures around the world. The film closes with the cat landing back in the moving van, but it’s colour has faded to white during its journey making the cats look like a pair of salt & pepper shakers.

The cel animation looks to be hand drawn and uses bold colours. A professionally mixed soundtrack of music and sound effects complements the high quality of the animation. My one criticism of the film is the inclusion of one of those stock scenes of an aboriginal island community dancing around a caldron which suggests they are cannibals. This is such a cliché and not even a funny one at that.

When I looked this little film up on Musabi’s website, I found that someone named Hodaka Ueda (上田穂高) received top billing on their screening list, but I have found very little information about the current status of either of these two students. Ueda and Suezawa seem to also have collaborated together on another short animation called Buraunkan Heya (ブラウン管部屋). Judging from the high quality of Moving (おひっこし, I suspect that the students behind it are studio bound and have a bright future in animation ahead of them.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2009

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