25 February 2015

Makoto Wada’s Movie Inspired Art 2: Hollywood Classics



Makoto Wada (和田誠, b. 1936) is best known as an illustrator whose work has adorned the pages of writers as diverse as Shinichi Hoshi, Haruki Murakami, and Agatha Christie.  In addition to illustration, he has also dabbled in film directing and animation – winning the Noburo Ofuji Award for 1964 for his comic animated short Murder (殺人).  In Murder, he spoofs a wide variety of famous film and literary icons including Poirot, Sam Spade, Dracula and James Bond.  He has also done a range of paintings inspired by film stars and classic movies.  This is my second in a series of posts looking at his art and his cinematic muses.  See: Part 1: Early Hollywood.

You can support this artist by ordering collections of his work such as:



This image of Marilyn Monroe is not from a movie, but it is one of the iconic images of the more personal side of Marilyn that the press rarely saw in the 1950s.  Instead of looking all glammed up, Marilyn is dressed in a modest bathing suit and is reading from her copy of James Joyce's modernist novel Ulysses (1922).  The photo was taken by Eve Arden in 1954 on Long Island where Monroe was visiting her friend the poet Norman Rosten.   I find it interesting that Wada has chosen to partially obscure Marilyn's face, yet she is still instantly recognizable by her trademark hair and mole.  The boldly coloured bathing suit doubtless appealed to Wada's eye for colour, and the blue background matches her beautiful blue eyes.  


Audrey Hepburn embodied Hollywood glamour in the adaptation of Truman Capote's novel Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).  Hepburn shines like a ray of light in a black space in Wada's portrait of her.   


In the neo-noir film L.A. confidential Kim Basinger embodied Hollywood elegance of the Golden Era.  I love how Mada makes the black and white of her cloak pop by giving her such a dramatic colour for the background.  

Although this image has all the key elements (costume, chair) to make Liza Minnelli in Bob Fosse's Caberet (1972) recognizable, I think this is one of Wada's less successful homages.   He makes the character of Sally Bowles more kawaii than erotic.  It's a lovely image but it misses the mark for me.  

Bernardo Bertolucci may be a European director, but his epic The Last Emperor was a large scale Hollywood production with an international cast.  Winning 9 Oscars at the 60th Academy Awards, it was certainly the film of 1987.  I like how Wada pares the iconic film poster down to its key elements: the boy emperor Puyi and his castle.  If you haven't seen the film, you should, if only for the amazing Ryuichi Sakamoto / David Byrne / Cong Su soundrack:





Next: Makoto Wada's Movie Inspired Art 3: European Classics

2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

24 February 2015

Makoto Wada’s Movie Inspired Art 1: Early Hollywood


Makoto Wada (和田誠, b. 1936) is best known as an illustrator whose work has adorned the book covers and pages of writers as diverse as Shinichi Hoshi, Haruki Murakami, and Agatha Christie.  In addition to illustration, he has also dabbled in film directing and animation – winning the Noburo Ofuji Award for 1964 for his comic animated short Murder (殺人).  In Murder, he spoofs a wide variety of famous film and literary icons including Poirot, Sam Spade, Dracula and James Bond.  He has also done a range of paintings inspired by film stars and classic movies.  This is my first in a series of posts looking at his art and his muses.  You can support this artist by ordering collections of his work such as:





Charlie Chaplin is a popular subject in Wada's work.  This is the classic scene in The Gold Rush (1925) where the Tramp boils and eats his shoes, imagining that the shoelaces are spaghetti.  As is typical of Wada's style, he simplifies the background in order to put the emphasis on the central character and themes of the scene.   Makoto Wada is known for his love of colour, and I like his choice of green for the Tramp's vest.


This is the final scene in Chaplin's City Lights (1933) when the Tramp finds the Flower Girl again and discovers that she has regained her sight.  She does not recognize him at first and offers him a flower and a coin.  When he grabs her hand, she suddenly realizes that he is no stranger.  It's a moving scene that leaves audiences wiping a tear from their eyes every time.  The colour palette  of Wada's interpretation emphasizes the whiteness of the flower, and the blondness of Virginia Cherrill's hair - the latter of which we only get a notion of in the black and white film.



Wada captures Greta Garbo's austere regalness in her iconic role as Queen Christina of Sweden in Rouben Mamoulian's critical and financial hit for MGM studios.  He's got the Garbo Look just right by capturing the arc of her eyebrows.


I was amused by how fat Orson Welles' head is in Wada's interpretation of this iconic image from Citizen Kane, because I didn't recall Welles looking so fat-headed in this scene.  But then I discovered that some stills of this scene do make his head extraordinarily large.... and of course Charles Foster Kane was indeed getting progressively big-headed throughout the film in the figurative sense. 


The Puerto Rican singer and actor José Ferrer is not as well-known today as many of his contemporaries (Bogart, Peck, Wayne, Tracy, Stewart), but he was a superstar in his time, winning the Tony in 1947 for playing Cyrano on Broadway before going on to win an Oscar and a Golden Globe for this screen portrayal.  Ferrer was the first Hispanic to win an Oscar.  To hear him in action, his best Cyrano speeches are available on iTunes.  He is arguably the top English Cyrano of the 20th century.  


For more by Wada: 

2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

20 February 2015

The Old Man and the Sea (老人と海, 1999)


The Old Man and the Sea (老人と海/Rōjin to Umi, 1999) was the first of two times that the Noburō Ōfuji Award for innovation in animation has been won by a non-Japanese director.  This Russian-Canadian-Japanese co-production qualified for the award because it was co-produced by Japanese companies.  One key figure among the Japanese producers is the animator Tatsuo Shimamura, president of his own studio Shirogumi, and professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design.  Shimamura had won the Noburō Ōfuji Award one year previously for the Shirogumi animated shorts Water Spirit (水の精/Mizu no sei, 1998) and Kappa Hyakuzu (河童百図, 1998).  Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, most independent animators in Russia have had to look to international co-productions in order to finance their work.  In addition to support from Japan, the creative team at Montréal’s  Pascal Blais Studio (Pascal Blais and Bernard Lajoie) were at the heart of this production, and went on to collaborate with Petrov on many commercial projects. 

At the time of the production of this film, the Russian director Aleksandr Petrov (アレクサンドル・ペトロフ, b.1957), had long been admired by fellow animators and animation fans around the world for his superior paint-on-glass animation films.  This involves the painting of a picture and photographing it, then erasing/altering the picture to make the next frame.  This under the camera animation technique requires a great level of skill and planning, because once a scene is started it cannot be corrected.  There have been few practitioners of paint-on-glass, with Petrov being top of the list alongside Vladimir Samsonov (Russia), Caroline Leaf (USA), Georges Schwizgebel (Switzerland) and Witold Giersz (Poland).

Petrov’s Adaptation

Petrov began his adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s popular novel The Old Man and the Sea with a detailed storyboard.  According to a short documentary Petrov made about his techniques as an animator, he had his father (Nikolai Sergeievich) dress up in the role of the “Old Man”, Santiago, and re-enact the movements Santiago would make in the boat.  His son Dima filmed the re-enactment and this footage was used as a reference in the studio.   



On the whole it is a faithful adaptation of Hemingway’s tale.  As a short film, obviously the story information has been streamlined, but the key elements are all there.  Petrov’s artistic style, which critics often call romantic realist suits the subject matter perfectly.  It is realistic in the sense that the character movements and events are depicted in a realistic manner, but romantic in terms of the painting style.  For me, Petrov’s style is like an Impressionist painting in motion.   In the live action adaptations of The Old Man and the Sea, there is a heavy reliance on voice-over narration to express the spiritual aspects of the old man’s relationship to his environment.   With animation Petrov is able to capture this visually in such sequences as the dreamy flashbacks to the African animals of Santiago’s youth, the dramatic arm wrestling flashback, and the dream sequence of Santiago as a youth swimming with the marlin.  




Awards and Honours


In addition to the Noburō Ōfuji Award, The Old Man and the Sea won the Oscar for Best Animated Short for 1999, the Grand Prix and Audience Award at Annecy, the Jutra Award for Best Animated Film (top film prize in Québec), and a Special Prize at Hiroshima (2000).  The film additionally won top prizes at the Montréal World Festival, the San Diego International Film Fesitival, Krok, Zagreb, to name but a selection of honours.

Availability on DVD:



Geneon Universal’s 2002 DVD is only available second hand in Japan. It features Erik Canuel’s Genie Award winning 20-minute documentary Hemingway: A Portrait (Canada, 1999). Both films are dubbed in Japanese.

 In the States, the 2005 DVD of The Old Man and the Sea is currently out of print, but some second-hand copies are available.


 In France, there is a 2004 release that features French and English dubs. Order from Heeza or amazon:




 An Italian release is available with English and Italian dubs and subtitles.
 

 2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

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