August 1, 2006
This year's Computer Animation Festival is crammed to the hilt with material—a nearly two-hour Electronic Theater (which premiered last night and featured, among other things, a giant game of Pong controlled in real-time by the entire audience), and three hours of the Animation Theater. Unfortunately, the Japan Media Arts Festival's annual presentation of award-winning works from the previous year's fest was, as usual, about 75 minutes. I say "unfortunately" because some works that deserved to be seen in full (chief among them Koji Yamamura's The Old Crocodile) were edited down to provide a mere taste, or (like The Consultation Room) weren't shown at all. But what was shown was generally strong.
The Animation Division segment led off with Sumito Sakakibara's Flow (pictured above), in which we see one woman's life in eight phases, from baby to obaasan (grandmother). However, the entire journey takes place in one frame, and the phases all occur simultaneously, sometimes interacting with each other. I've always been a fan of shorts that bring the mechanical aspects of the craft to the fore, where the director has to plan how the various pieces will interconnect. Usually, the method is used when you want to show how seemingly distinct events are interconnected; in Flow, it can be seen as illustrating how we interact with our descendants, or how we interact with different generations in general.
Kazuhiro Hotchi's Anima, which took the Excellence Prize in the Art Division, features a nude woman dancing, her moves as wild, raw and physical as the music—it almost perfectly matches how I've always imagined the orgiastic Maenads dancing. As the woman leaps, twists, and writhes, the camera follows her with just as much energy, sometimes coming to rest on its side or even upside down. Animated dance is, at its best, as enthralling as live dance performances, but even the best of them tend to emphasize only grace (I'm thinking of Erica Russell's Feet of Song, and even Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood), and rarely explore its raw physicality. I also commented that it looks completely unlike what most people perceive as "the Japanese animation style."
Wamono, the music video for breakbeat duo Hifana's track of the same name, took the Excellence Prize in the Entertainment Division. Directed by +cruz (how do you pronounce that?), it has two fishermens' animated alter egos out navigating the waves, spinning tunes, riding inside giant fishes and hanging out with mermaids—all in the ukiyo-e style. We're featuring the clip in its entirety in this week's Flicker newsletter, so you can see it with your own eyes.
Bip & Bap tells the story of a boy and his dog, pint-sized adventurers who are always ready to grab trouble by the tail. Imagine Hergé mashed up with Hayao Miyazaki and Osamu Tezuka, rendered to look like cutouts that flip 180 degrees when someone looks the other way or changes expression. Pretty neat stuff that completely captures the boy's adventure vibe of decades past.
Finally, in the Art Division, the only short I'll mention here that can only be done on a computer: Yoshinao Sato's desktop is entirely animated using screen shots of a computer's desktop. Sato moves, resizes, and scrolls through the contents of a multitude of windows, creating dizzying mosaics, optical illusions and assorted visual tricks, all set to music. desktop goes on just a little too long, but it's forgivable as Sato wants to show off every last trick he could think of. (One of my favourites was when he made the windows shimmy when the music was it its most rump-shaking. André also pointed out that you should pay attention to the clock in the corner to get an idea of how much time it took to make each sequence.) At last, a film where "made on a computer" has a different meaning.