One of the highlights of Kōji Yamamura’s Retrospective at Nippon Connection 2014 was the rare opportunity to see his short-short animation Anthology with Cranes (鶴下絵和歌巻/Tsuru shitae waka kan, 2011). During our Filmmaker’s Talk, I learned that Yamamura did not come up with the concept for this piece. It was commissioned by a television series in which the producers were looking for artists to make works inspired by famous pieces of art. Although the initial concept was not his own, Yamamura told us that he enjoyed the project very much.
The inspiration for this film is the celebrated early Edo period (17th century) scroll painting of the same name, Anthology with Cranes (鶴下絵和歌巻/Tsuru shitae waka kan). The hand scroll has been designated an Important Cultural Property of Japan ((重要文化財 / Jūyō Bunkazai) and can be found in the Kyoto National Museum. An online scrollable version of the work with a description can be found on their website Kyohaku.
The scroll is 34 cm tall and 1,356 cm wide and features fine calligraphy by Honami Kōetsu (本阿弥 光悦, 1558-1637), with decorative paintings Tawaraya Sōtatsu (俵屋 宗達, c. early 17th century, active as a painter 1602-35). The motif of cranes is painted in silver and gold behind the calligraphy. The slender forms of these graceful birds are delicately depicted in a variety of poses from standing to flying.
In our chat, Yamamura said that it was not always clear in what direction the birds are moving, so he had to rely upon his own instincts in his interpretation of this experimental work. Instead of silver and gold paint he has used watercolour. The camera mimics the gaze of the reader of the scroll by “tracking” slowly from right to left (in the direction in which one would read a scroll in Japanese). While screening the film, I was reminded of animation director Isao Takahata’s art book 12th Century Animation (十二世紀のアニメーション―, 1999), in which suggests that ancient scrolls are the ancestors of contemporary manga and anime.
Yamamura’s interpretation of this elegant scroll is beautiful and entrancing. The added touch of the natural sounds of cranes and lapping water recall the shallow bays where cranes might be found looking for food. My only criticism was that the commission called for such a short film, for I could have watched it for many minutes more.
HD / 2011 /Japan / 1’55”/ Colour
Direction, Animation and Painting
Koji Yamamura, Ayaka Nakata, Miki Tanaka
Erika Hashiguchi, Chiyoda Raft
review by: Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014
This work screened at Nippon Connection 2014 #nc14 :