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).

Isamu Hirabayashi

Yasuo Fukuro

Drawing & Animation:
Isamu Hirabayashi


Graphic Artist:
Katsuya Terada

Art Director:
Ken Murakami

Animation Assistant:
Mina Yonezawa

Voice Actors:
Reigo Mizoguchi
Shion Noda

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

Tamaki Okamoto (CaRTe bLaNChe)

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014

07 October 2014

A Visit to Tochka’s Studio in Kyoto

After Hiroshima 2014, I jumped on the Shinkansen to Kyoto to meet up with my family and some of the researchers headed to the Satoyama Concept gathering with us in Fukui Prefecture.  Of course, I could not stop in Kyoto without paying a visit to one of my favourite animation teams: TOCHKA.  I have been following their projects for many years (see: Tochka Works 2001-2010) and had the chance of participating in one of their PiKA PiKA Workshops at Nippon Connection 2011.

Tochka (トーチカ) is a collaborative art team led by Takeshi Nagata (ナガタタケシ, b. 1978) and Kazue Monno (モンノカヅエ, b. 1978).  The couple met as art students at Kyoto College of Art where they were mentored by the late experimental animator Nobuhiro Aihara (相原信洋, 1944-2011).  Tochka are renowned stop motion animators who have won acclaim at international festivals including Ottawa (Honorable Mention, 2006), the Japan Media Arts Festival (Excellence Award, 2006), and Clermont-Ferrand (Grand Prix, 2008).  Nagata also works in the Moving Image Lab at the Osaka Electro-Communication University.  They are best known for their innovative PiKA PiKA (Lightning Doodle) animation technique. 

Tochka has recently moved to new studios in a former elementary school which the local government has converted into studio spaces for artists.  With its high ceilings, oversized windows and beautiful hardwood floors, it is the perfect location for artists to work.  There are a number of other artists working in the building including sculptors and painters. 

Takeshi Nagata showed me some of their recent work including a stop motion using objects they had around their studio for a collaborative work for the Korean Indie-Anifest and the trailer for the Nara Arts Festival (奈良県大芸術祭, Sept 1 – November 30), which has been playing on video screens throughout Nara Prefecture’s transportation system since August.  The trailer features three dimensional PiKA PiKA animation dancing around some of Nara’s most famous historical and cultural sites starting with a beautiful pixillation sequence of the sun setting on the legendary Ishibutai Tomb (石舞台古墳), one of the ancient stone monuments in Asuka.    The sun appears to light a flame inside the tomb, which gives birth to a PiKA PiKA animation of the Chinese character (big), which features in the title of the festival (the literal translation of the festival name is Nara Prefecture Big Arts Festival).  This character has a lot of significance in Nara because it is home to the oldest Daibutsu (大仏/ “Big Buddha”) statue at Asuka-dera and the most famous Daibutsu at Tōdai-ji.

There a glorious pixilation sequence of the Daibutsu at Tōdai-ji in which PiKA PiKA Lightning Doodles appear to dance around the Buddha as the camera sweeps in a 180° rotation around the pedestal and wood beams housing the statue.  Colourful PiKA PiKA characters also swirl around the spiral in Muro Sanjo Park Art Forest.  No advertisement for a festival in Nara would be complete without an appearance of the mascot Sento-kun (せんとくん ), designed by Nara City Office to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the completion of Nara Heijō-kyō (the ancient capital of Japan) in 2010.  The character looks like an infant Buddha with antler representing the deer for which Nara is famous. 

Tochka were a great choice for this trailer, because the collaborative nature of PiKA PiKA animation – as demonstrated in the sequences showing participants of all ages – really captures the kind of inclusive atmosphere one expects at a festival.  It certainly made me wish I was in Nara to enjoy the sights and festival events.

At Tochka’s studios we also saw footage from a recent installation project they did near their Kyoto Studios which allowed children to experience a Mission Impossible style space.  Using movement sensitive lights, they rigged up a room with “laser beams” that the children had to try to navigate without toughing the beams of light.  It looked like a lot of fun for the participants.

Nagata-san gave me a copy of his feature film Okappa-chan Travels Abroad (おかっぱちゃん旅に出る/ Okappa-chan Tabi ni Deru, 2011).  This a feature film adaptation of the autobiographical illustrated book of the same name by the writer/artist Boojil (ブージル, b. 1984).  Boojil stars as her quirky self as she recreates her journey of self-discovery in Thailand and Laos.  The film is in Thai, Japanese, and English and the Japanese DVD release comes with subtitles in all three languages plus Korean and Chinese.   The DVD includes a postcard featuring art by Boojil, Boojil stickers, and a detailed booklet.  You can order a copy through cdjapan.

After our studio tour, Tochka took us to the Kyoto International Manga Museum where we could browse their extensive collection of manga, learn about the history of manga, and explore the fascinating exhibit of 43 Years, 18,000 Pages – The Complete Works of Tsuchida Seiki (土田世紀全原画展――43年、18,000).  Seiki (土田世紀, 1969-2012) was a highly respected manga-ka who won the Excellent Prize at the Media Arts Festival in 1999 for Under the Same Moon (同じ月を見ている) which was adapted into a film of the same name by Kenta Fukusaku in 2005.  Seiki was due to contribute to Shueisha’s new Grand Jump Premium magazine in 2012 when he died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of only 43 (Source: ANN).  The Manga Museum’s exhibit demonstrated the astounding output of this artist who was cut short at the height of his powers.  The most moving sections for me were the room with a glass floor where you could walk over scattered pages of his work, and Seiki’s plain, empty desk covered in scratch marks and ink spills. 

By this time, our tummies were growling, so Tochka took us out to Kyoto’s unofficial "Ramen Street" – the approximately 30+ ramen restaurants on and around Hagishi Oji Dori.  The reason for the congregation of reasonably priced Chinese noodles is the proximity to Kyoto’s university campuses.  As the more popular spots had giant line ups, we went for a simple family run place that really hit the spot.  

After lunch, we popped around the corner to Keibunsha Ichijoji (恵文社一乗寺店) Bookstore, Gift Shop, and Art Gallery.  We could have easily dropped a fortune on lovely things at this amazing shop.  They even had unusual works like Kōji Yamamura’s Muybridge’s Strings Flip Books (a tie in to his NFB co-production) and pins of Uncle Torys  (トリスおじさん) – the animated character designed by indie animation pioneer Ryōhei Yanagihara to advertise Suntory’s Torys Whisky.  I got a pin, while the kids bought books about Kaiju. 

We concluded our day with Tochka with Nagata-san taking us to the Sagano Romantic Train (嵯峨野観光鉄道).  Particularly popular in autumn, the train took us along the Hozu River with views of the gorge and a glimpse of Satoyama at the end before we headed back.  It was a wonderful day and Tochka’s hospitality is hard to beat.  I hope we can return the favour by having them as our guests in Germany in the near future.  

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2014

Pecora’ped (ペコラペッド)

Pecora’ped (ペコラペッド)
I was quite taken by the enthusiasm of two young animation entrepreneurs, Miyako Nishio (西尾都) and Ikue Sugidono (杉殿育恵) at Hiroshima 2014.  Working as an animation team since 2006, Nishio and Sugidono use the name Pecora’ped (ペコラペッド / Pekorapeddo). 

I should point out that the apostrophe in their official name has been inserted by me to aid English speakers with pronunciation of their unusual name.  As is often the case with Japanese artists, their use of English can sometimes lead to unfortunate choices in names and titles.  As it seemed unlikely that these two bright-eyed women with such a kawaii aesthetic intended to use a violent word like “raped” in their name, I dug a little deeper and found that the name Pecora’ped is the result of bringing together the words “Pecora” and “moped”.  “Pecora” is from the Latin (and modern Italian) for sheep (in English it is also used by scientists for the infraorder of mammals to which sheep belong).   Apparently, Nishio and Sugidono wanted their name to bring together the fluffiness of sheep and the rapid movements they associate with mopeds.  I am not sure how effective the name is in Japanese, but if they want to market themselves abroad with their cheerful and fluffy image, they may want to consider re-branding their romaji name. 

Nishio and Sugidono met as students at Hiroshima City University’s Department of Design and Applied Arts.  Since graduating in 2006, Nishio worked as a designer for five years for Nintendo, while Sugidono has worked as a freelance animator and artist.  Sugidono’s indie work Madly in Love (メロメロ, 2013) has screened widely at international festivals from ASK? Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prize, to Tricky Women, Image Forum Festival, and most recently Fantoche.  

According to their official website, Pecora’ped aim to provide their viewers with “ukki-uki and wakku-waku experiences” (うっきうき!わっくわく).  I am not exactly sure why they have altered the spelling slightly, but uki-uki (うきうき) and waku-waku (わくわく) are common onomatopoeia in Japanese meaning “cheerful / lighthearted” and “exciting / thrilling”.

Their DVD The Films of Pecoraped 2007-2014.7 starts off with their earliest film together, Straying Little Red Riding Hood (迷走赤ずきん, 2007), an amusing over-the-top retelling of the classic fairy-tale done in a cutout-style with simple animation movements. SPONCHOI Pispochoi (2010) is a colourful little film featuring cheerful humanoid insect-like creatures who giggle and chat.  When they start growing moles on their faces they start to sing about this, determined to remain cheerful about this potential flaw in their otherwise perfect lives.  More and more disturbing things happen to these poor creatures but they remain resolute in their determination to remain cheerful.

In conclusion, the DVD features four short-shorts completed by Pecorap’ed this year: Baking Mochito (ぷぅっと もち彦, 2014), an animated haiku dedicated to the New Year’s tradition of roasting mochi (rice cakes), Evolutionary Tree (進化の樹2014), a cutout celebration of the natural world, Human Gene Pool (人間の遺伝子プール, 2014) an unusual take on humanity with some very unexpected twists, and Model Organisms Collection (モデルの生物コレクション,2014) a fashion show featuring various organisms, real and imaginary, with Darwin himself taking the stage as if he were the designer.

The DVD is not a complete works.  For a taste of their work so far, check out their Show Reel and other films on Vimeo.  You can also check out their contribution to the award-winning NHK omnibus Shinichi Hoshi Short-Shorts (星新一ショートショート調査, 2008) by ordering the DVD.

What really impressed me at Hiroshima was Nishio and Sugidono's entrepreneurial spirit.  In addition to the DVD, they had made beautiful jewelry, stationery, and other lovely gift ideas using characters from their animations.  They also make picture books and illustrations and are enthusiastic about collaborating with other artists and running animation / art workshops.  The tree-shaped brooch that I bought made a lovely souvenir of the animation festival and tied in well to the Satoyama Concept workshop that I attended in Fukui Prefecture after the festival.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...