26 March 2015

Between Showers (2009)



The rainy season in central Japan is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever lived before.  Unlike the dreary endless rain of a winter in central Germany where I currently live, or the dramatic thunder and lightning storms of a summer in southwestern Ontario where I grew up, the Japanese rainy season or “tsuyu”, is quite refreshing.  It is a steady rain that can last all day long, but the weather is warm enough to make it bearable.  Armed with a large umbrella and water resistant shoes, one can go about one’s day-to-day life with ease. 



Hirotoshi Iwasaki (岩崎宏俊, b. 1981), uses rain as the central motif in his 2009 animated short Between Showers.  It opens with the sound of a steady downpour.  A young woman in a sleeveless dress pauses, then opens her umbrella.  After the title, there is a lovely sequence of umbrellas opening like butterflies spreading their wings.  Using what appears to be charcoal on paper, Iwasaki draws a series of typical vignettes of the season: salarymen with their jackets off with one man holding the umbrella for two, crowds of men rushing through the streets, an umbrella-less woman pulling a suitcase wraps her scarf around her head to protect her hair from the onslaught, a man walks at a leisurely pace with his umbrella chatting on a keiai denwa (cellphone), a man struggles to get his umbrella to open properly, and a police officer dressed in a long raincoat keeps an eye on the traffic.   In an abstract sequence, people get swallowed up into a swirl of water. The film ends with a single umbrella.

Iwasaki moves in and out of vignettes with ease, managing to convey the essence of spring / early summer rains with his spare lines.  Between Showers won the Jury Prize at the ASK? Film Festival at Art Space Kimura in 2009 (Japan) and the Grand Prix at the Image Forum Festival 2010.  Watch it on Vimeo.

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2015


Mutoscope (ミュートスコープ, 2011)



Many animators take an interest in early cinema technologies and often experiment with them.  In fact, their first “animations” are often flip books drawn on the corners of school workbooks.  References to early technologies can be found in many animated films, from Taku Furukawa and Kōji Yamamura’s  experiments with the Phenakistoscope (see: Odorokiban and Omake) to Toshio Iwai’s 3D Zoetropes of Toy Story (made with Gregory Barsamian, who does a lot of art inspired by early animation/cinema) and Bouncing Totoro at the Ghibli Museum Mitaka. 

The animator / artist Hirotoshi Iwasaki (岩崎宏俊, b. 1981), who just this week won the Grand Prix for Non-Narrative Short at HAFF for his latest work Dark Mixer (2014), built a Mutoscope out of iron in 2011.  The Mutoscope is an early cinema device which was patented in 1894 by the American inventor Herman Casler (1867-1939).  Instead of projecting on a screen, the Mutoscope creates the perception of movement in the same way that a flip book does except, rather than being bound like a book, the large cards (7 x 4.75cm) are attached to a circular core.  These were coin operated machines that could be viewed by an individual through a single lens, as the poet Jared Carter describes in his 1993 poem “Penny Arcade”: “The light goes out, the ratchet handle stops, / along the tightrope stretched across the falls / the cards collapse.  Another penny crawls / into the slot.  The light blinks on.  She hops, / she keeps her balance with a parasol /and strikes an hourglass pose.” (read the whole poem)


Iwasaki’s Mutoscope is a pared down version of the original – just the mechanical structure of the device without it being encased in a coin-operated viewing device.  Instead of the approximately 850 cards used in the original machines, Iwasaki made just 16 images that repeat.  Interestingly, 16 frames per second is the minimum frame rate needed for the phenomenon of persistence of vision to work.  With projected film, anything slower would cause a flicker that soul be distracting to the spectator.  I don’t know if this is why Iwasaki chose 16 frames, but it seems likely. 

According to his official website, he made four sets of 16 images for the device: Phantom, Wave, Moon and Bottom.   The Mutoscope was exhibited as part of his exhibition Invisible Time at Gallery Terra Tokyo from 6 June – 23 July 2011.  The event description reads:

Iwasaki constantly tries to turn invisible existence - time, space and memory - into perceivable objects. He uses moving images to make palpable what was formerly invisible, transcending language barriers and producing a poetic atmosphere. This exhibition showcases works that focus on the theme of “time” - in our memory, in a mirror, at the bottom of a well.”  (Source: TAB)  Footage of Phantom and Wave in action can be seen on Iwasaki’s Vimeo and Youtube channels.


2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

17 March 2015

Ningyōgeki Sangokushi 4: The Rebel Heroes Head to the Capital


Ningyōgeki Sangokushi 4: The Rebel Heroes Head to the Capital / 英雄 動乱の都へ

Puppet Theatre Romance of the Three Kingdoms
(人形劇 三国志 / Ningyōgeki Sangokushi, 1982-4, 45’x 68, TV)

Episode 4: The Rebel Heroes Head to the Capital

英雄 動乱の都へ / Eiyū dōran no Miyako e (23 October 1982)


Available on DVD: Ningyou geki Sangokushi zenshuu 2 


 Central Characters in Order of Appearance:

Shin-Shin  紳々 しんしん
Ron-Ron  竜々 ろんろん
White Dragon 白竜 はく りゅう (horse)
Liu Bei   劉備玄徳 りゅうび げんとく
Guan Yu 関羽雲長 かんう うんちょう
Zhang Fei 張飛翌徳 ちょうひ よくとく

Liu Xie  協皇子 (future Emperor Xian of Han)
Liu Xie’s Mother: “Ō-bijin”, The Beautiful Ruler, killed by poison
協皇子の母 きょうおうじの母  / 王美人 おうびじん / 毒殺さる どくきつさる 
Liu Xie, is the child of Emperor Ling of Han and his concubine, Consort Wang.   Emperor Ling is dying and has only two surviving sons: Liu Xie and Liu Ban, his son by his wife Empress He.  As the boys are just children, the people who control them are desperate to come to power.  Things come to a head in this episode with Empress He arranging to have Liu Xie’s mother poisoned.    



The Ten Attendants, also known as the Ten Eunuchs  十常侍 じゅうじょうじ
This is an influential group of eunuchs from the Eunuch Faction of the Han Imperial Court.  The most powerful of these is Jian Shuo   碩 けんせ, who wants Liu Xie to inherit the throne.  Jian Shuo’s adversaries are:

Empress He  何皇后 かこうごう, Emperor Ling’s second wife
He Jin   何進 かしん, elder half-brother of Empress He, consort to Emperor Ling




Cao Cao  曹操孟徳 そうそう もうとく  

(Commander in Chief  大将軍 だいしょうぐん)
Inspector of the Imperial Court  視察官 しさつかん 
(Superintendent  督郵  とくゆう)


Sūrin  淑玲 すうりん
Mei Fan 美芳 めいふぁん
Wang Yun   王允     おういん : Situ 司徙(大臣)/ しと(だいじん)/ Cabinet Minister
Lu Zhi    廬植     ろしょく, politician, militarist and scholar, teacher of Liu Bei and Gongsun Zan



Settings:

This is the first episode to note the place names as well as the names of characters.  I wonder if this was added due to the feedback of viewers.  It is such an epic production that it is not always easy to follow where we are and with whom.  Also in this episode they visually reintroduced characters' names in the second half for the first time.  

Settings named on screen:
Someplace in Qian’an 喜県の広場 あんきけんのひろば
Luoyang, capital of the Eastern Han Dynasty  洛陽の都 らくようのみやこ
Baby Prince Liu Bian’s Room べん皇子の部屋 べんおうじのへや
He Jin’s Residence  何進の屋敷 かしんのやしき  
Outskirts of Qian’an 安喜県の町はずれ  あんきけんのまちはずれ
Mei Fan’s Store   美芳の店 めいふぁんのみせ 
Wang Yun’s Residence  王允の屋敷      おういんのやしき
Lu Zhi’s Residence  廬植の屋敷              ろしょくのやしき

Episode 4, Part 1

History Interlude

Our hosts, Shinsuke Shimada and Ryūsuke Matsumoto, are still dressed in their striped sweaters.  I would have suspected they had shot the first few episodes all on the same day except that Shimada seems to have come down with a severe cold this week.  I am curious to see whether or not they wear the same sweaters for the whole series. 


Our Kansai-ben speaking comedians remind us that the Yellow Turbans have finally been defeated and Liu Bei is on the move.  They display a map behind them with key cities on it: Peking (aka Beijing /北京 / ぺきん), Zhouzhou   (琢郡/たくぐん), a place the Japanese call Takūken (琢県/たくうけん), Qian’an (喜県/あんきけん) and Luoyang  (洛陽 / らくよう).  Peking is the capital in the north and Luoyang is the capital in the south in the Kingdom of Wei. 
 
After this historical geography lesson, Shimada and Matsumoto bring out the puppet versions of themselves, Shin-Shin and Ron-Ron, and transition into the drama.

Story

Setting: Someplace in Qian’an  喜県の広場 あんきけんのひろば

Shin-Shin and Ron-Ron are singing the praises of the horse White Dragon (白竜/はくりゅう/Haku-ryū).  Not all the onlookers are convinced by their hyperbole, in the end they just laugh at them and leave.  Ron-Ron moans that they will never succeed in selling the horse.    The young men are tired from their long walk and their stomachs are growling.  In their desperation, they approach White Dragon with their knives drawn, contemplating slaughtering the horse for food.  Liu Bei (Gentoku) appears silently out of nowhere and tosses the men to the ground.  He opines that it is immoral to kill an innocent horse. 

Liu Bei seems quite taken by White Dragon and gives Shin-Shin and Ron-Ron money for the blue-eyed, white-haired horse.  Shin-Shin and Ron-Ron are delighted by their change of luck.   They head off before Liu Bei can change his mind about buying the horse.  Liu Bei observes that White Dragon has been badly treated, but thinks that he can heal him.  Guan Yu (Kan-ū) and Zhang Fei (Chōhi) arrive.  They admonish Liu Bei for wandering off on his own when there are still Yellow Turbans lurking around.  Zhang Fei remarks upon how malnourished and wounded the horse is.  White Dragon reacts badly to Zhang Fei’s criticisms, causing Liu Bei and Guan Yu to laugh. 

Guan Yu and Zhang Fei have heard that things are not good in Luoyang because two groups are vying for superiority.  Zhang Fei remarks that the peasants suffer when the well-to-do are in conflict.  Liu Bei worries about the fate of his sensei (Lu Zhi, who we last saw being taken off imprisoned in a cage in Episode 2) in the capital. 

New location: Luoyang, capital of the Eastern Han Dynasty  洛陽の都 らくようのみやこ

Liu Xie (the future Emperor Xian of Han) cries in despair, his mother, the beautiful Consort Wang, has been poisoned by Empress He (Liu Xie’s father’s wife).  Jian Shuo (aka Kenseki), the leader of the influential Ten Attendants, also known as the Ten Eunuchs, enters the room.  He is shaking with rage at this turn of events. 



Cut to the bedroom of the baby Prince Liu Bian (later Prince of Hongnong).  Empress He (aka Kakōgō) is laughing evilly: if the beautiful Consort Wang dies, she’ll have all the power.  Her brother He Jin (aka Kashin) says that what he has done for her was quite dangerous.  She laughs and points out that the consequences will be beneficial for him as well.  They both laugh at their cunning evilness. 

Location: A Dark Riverbank. 

Shin-Shin and Ron-Ron, in straw peasants’ hats, cut off men approaching on horseback.  They warn that the road ahead is a dangerous one.  It is Cao Cao and He Jin.  Shin-Shin and Ron-Ron tell them that they have heard that Jian Shuo is planning an assassination.  He Jin doesn’t believe them but Cao Cao thinks there may be a grain of truth to what the boys are telling them. 

Men hidden in blankets ride horseback through the town.  They are struck by arrows. Jian Shuo lifts the blankets and discovers bales of hay: his plot to assassinate He Jin and Cao Cao has been thwarted. 

At He Jin’s Residence:  

He Jin paces back and forth, angered by the attempt on his life.  He wants to hunt Jian Shuo down and have him killed, but Cao Cao doesn’t think that would be a strategically wise move.  Jian Shuo is a very powerful figure with many followers, so they have to be cautious in how they deal with him.  He Jin is steaming with anger, he wants to act immediately, but Cao Cao counsels patience.   

On the Outskirts of Qian’an: 

The Chief Inspector of the Imperial Court arrives on horseback, he appears to be drinking and his character can be deduced by the pig-like face puppet master Kihachirō Kawamoto has given him.  The music and his behaviour suggests that he is meant to be a bit of comic relief after all this talk about assassination. 

Meanwhile, our three heroes are dressed in matching blue kimono.  They've gotten word that the Chief Inspector is on his way to check up on things.  Liu Bei doesn’t think they have anything to worry about but Zhang Fei is suspicious of pencil-pushing administrators.  Zhang Fei takes off in the hopes of avoiding the official.  Guan Yu tries to calm him down, but Zhang Fei is as impetuous as ever and cannot be halted.  Guan Yu curses Zhang Fei under his breath, causing Liu Bei to laugh in amusement. 

Liu Bei and Guan Yu greet the Chief Inspector by respectfully bowing.  Zhang Fei is nowhere to be seen.  The Chief Inspector says that he is in no hurry to do his inspection and suggests to Liu Bei that he is hoping to be bribed with saké and women.    Liu Bei seems flustered – the Chief Inspector clearly doesn’t know that Liu Bei is a gentleman of the Sir Lancelot variety.   


Guan Yu shows the Chief Inspector inside, but the Chief Inspector is disappointed to not find saké and women awaiting him inside.  Guan Yu says that saké will be served with the meal.  The Chief Inspector seems to have been expected a massage, and Guan Yu offers to do it himself – this is not, however, what the Chief Inspector had in mind.  Seriously displeased, the Chief Inspector warns Guan Yu that he has the influence to get Liu Bei removed from his current position.

Cut to White Dragon and Liu Bei in the horse stall.  Guan Yu is filling Liu Bei in on what the Chief Inspector did.  It reminds Liu Bei of all the things he hates about life in the capital city.  Liu Bei and the horse have clearly become fond of each other.  He tells the horse that he will set him free when he has healed and warns him to keep his distance from people, as they will only do him harm.  A face appears in the window – it is a spy for the Chief Inspector.  The inspector is disgruntled to learn that Liu Bei and Guan Yu have no plans to bribe him. 

The next day, Zhang Fei returns with prisoners in tow.  As he approaches the guards he brags loudly about his easy successes but is shocked to be greeted with violence.  Cut inside to the Chief Inspector with a whip.  Under threat of violence he is trying to illicit information about Liu Bei from a local man.  The local man praises the improved circumstances of the town under Liu Bei’s leadership.  This is not what the corrupt inspector wants to hear, so he whips the man.  Zhang Fei appears in the window and overhears what’s going on.  The inspector and his men are trying to force the local man to sign a document.  He refuses and is whipped further.  Zhang Fei grabs the man’s arm to stop him.  The inspector’s men try to stop Zhang Fei but to no avail.  He ties the inspector to a post and gives him a taste of his own medicine, whipping him senseless.  The Chief Inspector tries to calm Zhang Fei down by singing Liu Bei’s praises but his words fall on deaf ears.  Liu Bei and Guan Yu interrupt the whipping.  Zhang Fei is in a rage and they try to restrain him and calm him down. 

Liu Bei faces the Chief Inspector and apologizes for Zhang Fei’s behaviour while Guan Yu unties him.  The inspector is unrepentant.  He declares that he is the representative of the Mikado (Emperor) and as such any action against him is in effect also against the Mikado.  Liu Bei declares that if people like the Chief Inspector represent the Mikado then he has lost respect for the Mikado.  The Chief Inspector screams like a banshee causing Liu Bei to lose his usual cool and slap him across the face.  The inspector’s men intervene, but they are no match for our three heroes.  As the inspector trembles with fear and horror, they tie up all his accomplices. 



Night has fallen.  Our three heroes are on the run.  They only have two horses, but somehow White Dragon frees himself and joins them.  It is a stormy night.  White Dragon is slowing them down because of his injuries.  Zhang Fei thinks they should get a new horse in the next village, but White Dragon shows his displeasure.  White Dragon then takes Liu Bei off somewhere, the others decide to hide. 

The sounds of their horses are heard by passing soldiers, but due to the storm they think it’s unlikely that the men would be hanging about here so they continue on their way.  Lightning strikes an outcrop of rocks causing a landslide that buries the soldiers and their horses.  The three heroes believe that White Dragon must have magical powers because his actions kept them safe from the rocks. 

This incident convinces Liu Bei that he should not run away but instead go to the capital city where he can confront the root of the corruption that is infecting the kingdom.  It is nobler to die doing the right thing than to live with injustice.  Zhang Fei says that Mei Fan and Sūrin are likely also in the capital and he is concerned about their welfare.  The three plan to go to the capital together, pledging their continued fealty one another.  A title card tells us that the men will go to the capital under cover.

Episode 4, Part 2

History Interlude

Shinsuke Shimada introduces a video of the streets of modern China.  Ryūsuke Matsumoto thinks they might have the wrong footage, but Shimada laughs and says that the footage is of modern day Luoyang.  In the time of the Three Kingdoms, Luoyang was the capital in the south and Peking (today’s Beijing) was the capital in the north.  Approximately 170km southwest of Beijing is the “furosato” (homeland) of Liu Bei.  [In this region (today’s Mancheng County), the tombs of Liu Sheng, Prince Jing of Zhongshan (劉勝 りゅうしょう / 中山靖王 ちゅうさんせいおう) and his wife Dou Wan were found in 1968.  Both Liu Sheng and Dou Wan were found in well preserved Jade Burial Suits (金縷玉衣/きんるぎょうくい).  These ceremonial suits, used for the burial of royal members of the Han Dynasty, and were believed to bestow immortality on the wearer. Liu Sheng’s suit is made of 2498 pieces of jade that were sewn together with gold wire.]  Shimada jokingly reprimands Matsumoto for his ignorance as he explains how the Jade Suits were built.


He points out that Liu Bei is a descendent (子孫/shison) of Liu Sheng. [It is said that Liu Bei was a descendant of Liu Sheng by his son Liu Zhen.  Others claim that him as a descendent of the Marquis Linyi, who was also a descendent of Emperor Jing (Liu Sheng’s father).  This distinguished lineage may explain why he commands the respect of many influential people such as Cao Cao, despite the fact that he grew up in impoverished circumstances.]

Story

“As we speak,” says Shimada, “Liu Bei is entering Luoyang (Rakuyō).  .  .”  Our three heroes enter the capital in disguise – they seem to be dressed in peasant costumes, with wide-brimmed straw hats resembling sombreros (perhaps it is the spaghetti-western style music that suggests this association for us).  They discover wanted posters of themselves outside a local watering hole.  Zhang Fei complains that the likeness is not as handsome as himself.  They decide to split up and find accommodation separately so as not to draw attention to themselves. 


Our comic relief, Shin-Shin and Ron-Ron, are walking down the street with soldiers in tow.  They speculate on what great futures are open to them in the capital – “At thing rate, I could even become Shōgun” says Shin-Shin.  Ron-Ron responds by affectionately calling him an idiot and slapping him in jest.  Their banter about their growing connections / influence is interrupted by Liu Bei on White Dragon pushing past them.  They recognise the horse immediately and deduce that the rider must be Liu Bei “Gentoku”.  Chasing after him, they shout excitedly “If we catch him, we will be rewarded!”  They catch up and try to hold him down, but White Dragon kicks them away.  Liu Bei manages to outwit them until he gets stuck in a dead end.  But who should open the garden gate to provide him with an escape?  The lovely Sūrin (electric guitar riff!).  She hurries them into a hiding spot.  Shin-Shin and Ron-Ron bang on the garden door, Sūrin answers and pretends she hasn’t seen Liu Bei.  They believe her and leave. 

Sūrin is apparently living with a distant relative.  She says they will welcome Liu Bei as a guest, but he tells her that he is undercover.  He asks her to help him in concealing his identity.  Meanwhile, at the saké shop, Zhang Fei surprises Mei Fan.  She is shocked to see him:  “You've gotten yourself into trouble again, haven’t you?” she banters with him, “I've seen the wanted posters.”  Zhang Fei praises Mei Fan for choosing a location that is perfect for him to spy on the goings-on and she tells him to bugger off in no uncertain terms.   Their bickering is interrupted by the arrival of soldiers.  They greet her by name, and she returns their greeting, pretending that nothing is going on.  Zhang Fei is hiding under her skirts and praises her. 

Outside Lu Zhi’s Residence:

Guan Yu is chopping wood.  The elderly Wang Yun comes outside to talk to him, but gets called away by the arrival of a guest.  Guan Yu seems suspicious about the goings on inside the house.

The next morning, Sūrin and Liu Bei are in the stables with the horses.  They discuss the fact that the Emperor is sick and has apparently has written his intentions for the succession.  The two rival factions are desperate to know who he has chosen as his heir.  The document is being held by Lu Zhi, Liu Bei’s mentor (aka Roshoku Sensei).  Cut to a brief scene that shows the political pressure Lu Zhi is under from Jian Shuo and He Jin.

Later, our three heroes are boldly walking through town again, albeit in their disguises.  Liu Bei tells his “brothers” about what he has learned and his fears for Lu Zhi’s safety.  We soon see, that his fears are valid when the top powerful eunuch Jian Shuo bluntly tells Lu Zhi that if he doesn’t hand over the testament, that his life will be in danger.  Jian Shuo clearly has no fear of reprisals as he openly threatens Lu Zhi, but the learned man refuses to bow to pressure.  Just as they begin to threaten violence, they are interrupted by someone telling him that his presence is needed elsewhere.  Jian Shuo is shaking with rage as they leave.  Lu Zhi realises that the person who has come to his rescue is a woman, she turns and we see that it is Sūrin.  He wonders why she would risk her safety for him.    


Lu Zhi returns home to find He Jin searching his property for the document.  They threaten to torture him to get what they want.  The proceedings are interrupted by the gate being blasted open.  Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, their heads wrapped in white turbans to conceal their identities, ride into the rescue.  A battle ensures in the garden between the soldiers and our two heroes.  He Jin and his second in command grab Lu Zhi to take him hostage, but before they can act further, White Dragon, with a white-turbaned Liu Bei on his back, magically jump the fence.  Liu Bei throws a dagger into He Jin’s shoulder, grabs Lu Zhi and they return from whence they came.  He Jin shouts “Kill them! Kill them!” (Korose! Korose!) to his soldiers, but our three heroes have vanished. 

Lu Zhi is relieved to see his student again.  He realises that Liu Bei was the one who sent Sūrin to his rescue earlier and is overjoyed.  Liu Bei tells him that he is not currently using his own name.  Lu Zhi tells him that life in the capital had become a living hell with all the evil-doings going on.  Seeing Liu Bei and his comrades standing up for what is right has given him hope.   White Dragon interrupts their discussion with a neigh to warn them that danger is approaching.  Liu Bei puts Lu Zhi in a boat and sends him up river to safety.  Lu Zhi has a place to hide, he tells Liu Bei not to worry about him anymore.


He Jin arrives with Cao Cao at his side.  They are trying to figure out who is responsible for whisking Lu Zhi away.  Cao Cao doesn’t think the eunuchs are skilled enough to have pulled it off.   They spot Liu Bei next to the river with his large straw hat hiding his identity.  He Jin demands that Liu Bei look at him directly.  He raises his head and Cao Cao recognises him immediately.  He Jin asks Cao Cao if he knows this man.  Cao Cao lies and says “no”.  They move on.  Liu Bei wonders why Cao Cao has decided to hide help him. 

Up Next: 
Episode 5: A Storm Wind Blows in the Capital / 都に嵐吹く 

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2015

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