25 September 2014

While the Crow Weeps (カラスの涙, 2013)

Crows are an ever present feature of life in Japan.  They are a nuisance to many city-dwellers with their loud caws and their habit of riffling through garbage that has not been put under a protective net.  At the same time, there is much to admire in the crow.  They are clever birds who adapt well to new environments, from making their nests out of wire coat hangers to placing walnuts on the road so that they can be cracked open by cars running them over.


Because crows will feed on the carrion of animals, they have often been associated with death in the myths and legends of many cultures.  Their mysterious nature has also inspired many great works of poetry and other literature.  The corvid family appear frequently in Shakespeare, not to mention great poetic works like Ted Hughes’s collection of poems Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow (1970), Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative poem “The Raven” (1845), Vachel Lindsay’s poem “Two Old Crows” (1917), and Robert Frost’s “Dust of Snow”:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

- Robert Frost, New Hampshire, 1923

The young, Osaka-based animation duo of Makiko Sukikara (鋤柄真希子, b. 1982) and Kōhei Matsumura (松村康平b. 1980) were inspired by stories, both literary and scientific, for their poetic animated short  While the Crow Weeps (カラスの涙 / Karasu no Namida, 2013).  The film first came to my attention when they won the New Face Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival 2013.  Jury member Toshikatsu Wada (和田 敏克, b. 1966), of Kakio 24 Animation Studio and adjunct professor at Tokyo Zokei University, praised While the Crow Weeps as “a powerful new work.  .  .  that depicts the grim reality of living in the wild. The brilliant texture and the accuracy of the portrayal is overwhelming, patiently depicting a cloudy sky at dawn, the thickness of a mist, or how crows rise up one-by-one into the air. And there is no anthropomorphic emotional interpretation whatsoever in the countenance of the crows. The uniform inclusion of a sense of strain in this world, and living and dying in it, is a single large idea, and the crows that live based on this are depicted with majesty. We can expect much from artists who create this kind of self- produced work.” (Source: j-mediaarts.jp)

Speaking to Sukikara and Matsumura at Hiroshima 2014, where While the Crow Weeps screened as part of the showcase Japanese Animation Today (現代日本のアニメーション), I learned about how the film was made.  Sukikara did the drawings, animation, and direction while Matsumura wrote the screenplay, and did the cinematography and editing.  They worked in collaboration with the experimental artist and composer Nobukazu Takemura (竹村延和, b. 1968), who is also a native of Osaka, though he is currently based in Germany.  Takemura was an inspired choice of collaborator as he has experimented with his own original animations. 

The film begins with the caw of crows and the camera appears to push through heavy fog and fronds of rice plants to settle on a large tree covered in crows.  Images of the crows at rest on the tree are interspersed with the skeletal form of one of their brethren on the ground.  The tranquil scene comes to an end when one of the crows lets off a loud caw and a spectacular overhead perspective shows the crows flying away from the tree.  This is followed by a view from below as the crows circle above in the cloudy sky.

A naturalistic sequence transforms into an artistic one as the crows form an unnatural circle and rotate in a formation that brings to mind a spinning Phenakistocope – an early animation device.  This sets up the dichotomy that evolves throughout the film: naturalistic observations about the behaviour of crows are interwoven with artistic interpretations of the bird.  Realistic imagery of a cat with a dead crow in its beak contrasts with surreal impressions of the spirit of a dead crow chasing off the cat and unrealistic scenarios such as crows flying in an unlikely formation like planes going to battle.  In his notes for the film, Matsumura writes of his fascination with cannibalism and crows, and how it challenges human ethics.  Like many animals, crows are opportunistic feeders and in rare cases have been known to even prey upon their own.  With such imagery, While the Crow Weeps is at once a celebration of the beauty of nature while acknowledging its savagery.   

The dissonance of Nobukazu Takemura’s soundtrack adds a sense of unease to the atmosphere of the film.  For me, the most beautiful aspect While the Crow Weeps is Makiko Sukikara’s artwork and animation.  Using a combination of techniques – sumi-e, watercolour, and cutouts – on a 12-layers animation table, she has created some striking images.  The beautiful but eerie opening sequence of the crows on the tree has lingered in my memory since I screened the film. 

Follow @sukimaky on twitter to learn about future screenings of this animated short.

Animation & Director: Makiko Sukikara

Photography & Writer: Kōhei Matsumura

Music: Nobukazu Takemura

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014 

Doron Coron (ドロンコロン, 2012)

Doron Coron (ドロンコロン, 2012) is an amusing 3-minute clay animation that Yūichi Itō (Harbor Tale, Knyacki!) produced for "The Earth and Children of Tomorrow - Pray for Happiness" campaign by TVK (Television Kanagawa).

Doron Coron comes to life after a child angel tinkles off a cloud.  This unusual heavenly elixir rains down onto a dark city street and brings to life the titular boy character made of dirt who rolls off to explore the city.  He has a pleasant interaction with a worm, and a not so pleasant interaction with bird excrement, but is cheered by the growth of a plant on his head.  The plant grows and grows and Doron Coron heads to the countryside where he enjoys pleasant interactions with the natural world. 

NHK Petit Petit Anime: Knyacki! - / Claymation
Order Itō's Knyacki!

This animated short is an imaginative celebration of the natural world that is sure to delight a preschool spectator.  The animation is accompanied by a delightful musical soundtrack and a playful voice, who speaks a nonsense language which seems to express the feelings of Doron Coron.  As is typical of Itō, this stop motion animation is very colourful and has an impressive depth of space, with just as much attention to detail paid to the background as to the foreground.

Upon winning the FutureCity Yokohama Award at the Short Shorts Film Festival 2013 for Doron Coron, Itō said of the film, “I hope viewers experience a difference in their feelings and the way they think about their everyday life as connected to the future.”  Follow Itō on twitter @knyackiii to learn about future screenings of this charming stop motion animation.

Yūichi Itō (伊藤有壱, b. 1962) was born in Tokyo and established his own animation studio I.TOON Ltd in 1998.  He uses a variety of animation techniques but favours clay animation.  He first came to my attention in 2005/6 when I saw his Puchi Puchi anime series Knyacki!  (ニャッキ!, 1995) featuring an amusing little caterpillar on the NHK.  He has also made many memorable television commercials and music videos such as the coffee chain Mister Donut’s Pon de Lion and Ken Hirai’s Kimi wa Tomodachi. In addition to his own animation projects, Itō teaches animation to graduate students at the Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai).  

Official website: http://www.i-toon.org/

19 September 2014

Camera Japan Festival 2014 / カメラジャパン・フェスティバル2014

Camera Japan Festival 2014 / カメラジャパン・フェスティバル2014

2-5 October, LantarenVenster, Rotterdam
6-9 October, De Melkweg, Amsterdam
10-12 October, Kriterion, Amsterdam

Check out the schedule for more details.

CAMERA JAPAN, the Netherlands’ annual celebration of Japanese film and culture, is back for its 9th year.   The organisers have selected 43 films from the past year’s bumper crop of Japanese films.  The films will be accompanied by lectures, exhibitions, live performances, a Film Brunch, a Kids’ Day and, of course, a range of Japanese delicacies for filmgoers to enjoy.

Most of the films are Dutch premieres and many have been the recipients of awards both in Japan and abroad. The thriller Forma by debut female filmmaker Ayumi Sakamoto received the FIPRESCI Prize at the Berlinale in February.  The lovely film The Tale of Iya by young director Tetsuichiro Tsuta won a Special Mention at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year and went on to win prizes at Tromsø, Pan Asia, and Hong Kong.   Azuma Morisaki’s Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days has been very popular with both audiences and critics. Many Japanese film critics named it the best film of 2013 and it went on to win Best Film at the the Kinema Junpo Awards and the Nippon Cinema Award for audience favourite at Nippon Connection 2014, among other plaudits.  Ken Ochiai’s nostalgic look back at the golden age of chanbara (sword-fighting dramas) Uzumasa Limelight recently won the Cheval Noir prize at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. 

The festival opens in Rotterdam on Thursday, October 2nd with Sang-il Lee’s jidaigeki remake of the Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven.  It stars Ken Watanabe as a former samurai on the run in the wilds of 19th century Hokkaido.  Under the heading of J-Dream, this year’s CAMERA JAPAN plans to “[shine] its light on all that is weird, wondrous and fantastic.  .  .  The theme programme is a wide and wild selection of exploitation, action, horror, fantasy and science fiction.”  The J-Dream programme includes 16 films such as the intimate documentary Love Hotel by Phil Cox and Hikaru Toda, the Midnight Madness winner Why Don’t You Play in Hell? by Sion Sono, and the much talked about The Apology King by Nobuo Mizuta, in which comedian Sadao Abe solves small and big problems as a specialist in the traditional act of apologising.

Other highlights of the festival include a live double-bill of performances by the young artists Cuushe and aus, as well as lectures by architecture historian and Japan specialist Dave van Eijnsbergen on ‘manga architecture’, by Japanologist and literary translator Luk van Haute on fantasy elements within the Japanese literary tradition.  Urban planner Rob van der Bijl will present an exhibit of urban photography converted into manga inspired images and artist Yoshiyuki Koinuma will present newly created work inspired by games, biology, science fiction and Japanese comics.

I highly recommend the animation programme, which features Katsuhiro Otomo’s award-winning Short Peace (ショート・ピース, 2013) – read my reviews of Shuhei Morita’s Possessions and Otomo’s Combustible to learn more.  There are also two programmes of Geidai (Tokyo University of the Arts) animation – one for kids (read about Mari Miyazawa’s Twins in the Bakery) and one is a must-see selection of their best works by students.  I have written reviews for many of these films, so click on the film titles to learn more:

In A Pig’s Eye, WADA Atsushi, Japan 2010, 11 min
A Gum Boy, OKUDA Masaki, Japan 2010, 4 min
Writings Fly Away, ORIKASA Ryo, Japan 2011, 14 min
A Wind Egg, OKAWARA Ryo, Japan 2012, 11 min
Sunset Flower Blooming, HU Yuanyuan, Japan 2012, 11 min
The Sakuramoto Broom Workshop, TSUGEHATA Aya, Japan 2012, 10 min
Maze King, KIM Hakyun, Japan 2013, 7 min
It’s Time For Supper, MURAMOTO Saki, Japan 2013, 9 min
00:08, KUBO Yutaro, Japan 2014, 6 min
My Milk Cup Cow, ZHU Yantong, Japan 2014, 11 min

Here is the full line-up of films to be screened:


Bayonetta: Bloody Fate (ベヨネッタ ブラッディフェイト, Fuminori KIZAKI, 2013)
Geidai Animation Kids Selection
Geidai Animation Best Selection
Roujin Z (老人Z, Hiroyuki KITAKUBO, 1991)
Short Peace (ショート・ピース, Katsuhiro OTOMO, Shuhei MORITA, Hiroaki ANDO, Hajime KATOKI, 2013) - read my reviews of Possessions and Combustible

Tale of a Butcher Shop (ある精肉店のはなし, Aya HANABUSA, Japan, 2013)

Beyond Metabolism (Stefanie Gaus/Volker Sattel, Germany, 2014)
Get Action!! (Junya KONDO, Japan, 2014)
Hybrid (MMAドキュメンタリー HYBRID, Japan, Daishi MATSUNAGA, 2013)
Love Hotel (Phil COX / Hikaru TODA, UK/France, 2014)
Super local hero (スーパーローカルヒーロー, Toshinori TANAKA, Japan, 2014)
Tale of a Butcher Shop (ある精肉店のはなし, Aya HANABUSA, Japan, 2013)

feature film
Friendship (友達, Mikihiro ENDO, 2013)

And the Mud Ship Sails Away (そして泥船はゆく, Hirobumi WATANABE, 2013)
The Apology King (謝罪の王様, Nobuo MIZUTA, 2013)
Broken Pieces (こっぱみじん, Yuji TAJIRI, 2014)
Capturing Dad (チチを撮りに, Ryota NAKANO, 2012)
The Crazy tune for Maria (マリア狂騒曲, Kishu IZUCHI, 2013)
Dancing Karate Kid (琉球バトルロワイアル, Tsukasa KISHIMOTO, 2013)
Danger Dolls (少女は異世界で戦った, Shusuke KANEKO, 2014)
Forma (Ayumi SAKAMOTO, 2013)
Friendship (友達, Mikihiro ENDO, 2013)
Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats (福福荘の福ちゃん, Yosuke FUJITA, Japan/UK/Italy/Taiwan/Germany , 2014)
Greatful Dead (グレイトフルデッド, Eiji UCHIDA, 2013)
High Kick Angels (ハイキック・エンジェルス, Kazuhiro YOKOYAMA, 2014)
Jossy’s (女子ーズ, Yuichi FUKUDA, 2014)
Kanagawa University of Fine Arts: Office of Film Research (神奈川芸術大学映像学科研究室, Yuichiro SAKASHITA, 2013)
Kept (, Maki MIZUI, 2013)
Kids Return: The Reunion (キッズ・リターン 再会の時, Hiroshi SHIMIZU, 2013)
Leaving on the 15th Spring (旅立ちの島唄~十五の春~, Yasuhiro YOSHIDA, 2012)
The Little House (小さいおうち, Yoji YAMADA, 2014)
Live (ライヴ, Noboru IGUCHI, 2014)
Ningen (Guillaume GIOVANNETTI / Çağla ZENCIRCI, Japan/Turkey/France, 2013)
Pecoross' mother and her days (ペコロスの母に会いに行く, Azuma MORISAKI, 2013)
Short Hope (ショートホープ, Masaki HORIGUCHI, 2014)
The Snow White Murder Case (白ゆき姫殺人事件, Yoshihiro NAKAMURA, 2014)
Still the Water (2つ目の窓, Naomi KAWASE, 2014)
The Tale of Iya (祖谷物語 -おくのひと, Tetsuichiro TSUTA, 2013)
Unforgiven (許されざる者, Sang-Il LEE, 2013)
Uzumasa Limelight (太秦ライムライト, Ken OCHIAI, 2013)
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (地獄でなぜ悪い, Sion SONO, 2013)
Zentai (ゼンタイ, Ryosuke HASHIGUCHI, 2013)

short film

Fantastic Shorts
- The Lust of Angels, a take on 1960s political exploitation films, Ninja Theory (Extended Edition), a puppet animation about the daily life of ninjas in a peaceful world, and At the Last Stop Called Ghost Chimney, about a girl taking the on her last day of school.
Keblujara (ケブルジャラ, 2013/14)
- 4 experimental shorts by Akihito NONOWE, Isao SANO, and Konoka TAKASHIRO
New Directions in Japanese Cinema: NDJC shorts
Serori (Pedro COLLANTES, The Netherlands/Spain/Japan, 2014)
Short Shorts Film Festival (a selection from SSFF)

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014


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