Gigi Hu reviews Asia's premiere animation festival, the 7th Hiroshima International Animation Festival, held August 20-24, 1998.
Attending the Hiroshima Animation Festival is probably one of the most sought-after goals of many independent animators around the world. A biennial event since its inception in 1985, it has become Asia's premier animation festival officially supported by ASIFA, an organization which is devoted to the promotion of animation art.
A Friendly, if Fierce, Competition
The main focus of the festival is the competition. The number of entries has increased from 451 at the first festival to 1,127 at this most recent one. 64 of those entries were then preliminarily selected and screened three consecutive nights before an enthusiastic audience and a panel of international jurors. Because of its competitive streak, festival director Sayoko Kinoshita appealed for understanding and 'no hard feelings' at the press conference. She was concerned that when the results were announced at the end of the five-day festival, 'friends' could become 'hostile;' some negative feelings she has experienced in the past.
A total of 16 awards were given out this year. Leading the list was Sylvain Chomet's comic-like The Old Lady and the Pigeons, which won the Grand Prize of the festival. Alexander Petrov's poetic entry, The Mermaid, was a close fight. However, due to its themes of love and revenge, the film was awarded the equally prestigious Hiroshima Prize which honors outstanding animation that contains subject matter related to love, peace and friendship. The Debut Prize was Anna Henckel-Donners-Marck's nostalgic black and white Busby.
To honor the late Renzo Kinoshita, a new prize was inaugurated in his name and the winner was Nicolas Jacquet's bouncy L'Aréne (Série Vermillon). Two International Jury prizes were awarded: one to Jan Pinkava's slick computer animation film, Geri's Game, and the other to Solweig Von Kleist's delightful Romance of the Heart. In all, ten other films were honored under the Special Prize Category. Indeed, these winners are in a special class of their own. They are all remarkable pieces.
Throughout the festival, even while the competitive films were reserved for evening screenings, Aster Plaza, the main venue of the festival, was a hive of cheerful activity in the day. Special screenings, workshops, exhibitions and guest appearance discussions brought hordes of spectators to the plaza.
The festival organizers worked hard to promote a special program by Ray Harryhausen, the award-winning Dynamation director whose famous works include The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953),The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1977) and Clash of the Titans (1981). Because of his grandfather-like figure, and unassuming personality that is always ready for a laugh or two, one young Japanese animator felt comfortable enough to ask him about his general living habits--including the kind of food he ate!
Other foreign presenters included Normand Roger and Judith Gruber-Stitzer. Both did presentations on the topic of music and animation, sharing their knowledge patiently through translators.
Most surprising of all, was a presentation by local-born Toshio Iwai. An interactive media artist, he seems like a child prodigy, a 21st century Japanese animator, in sharp contrast to veteran classic animators like Kihachiro Kawamoto and Yoji Kuri, who were in the audience attending his presentation. Toshio Iwai showed us his seemingly endless range of multi-media works which graduated from hand-operated flipbooks to zoetropes, and included sets of virtual television, video and computer-generated graphics and piano media performances, such as his high-tech collaborative concert with Ryuichi Sakamoto in Tokyo, 1996. Improvisation and experimentation are his forte. His futuristic works not only dazed but held the audience spellbound to near numbness.
As it was an Asian animation festival, I was keen to meet up with Asian animators. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of India's independence, a record number of Indian animation films were shown under the sponsorship of the Japan Foundation Asia Center. Four Indian animators flew in to grace the occasion: eminent pioneer animator Ram Mohan, and three other younger animators, Prakash Moorthy, Suddhasattwa Basu and Jayanti Sen, who added an exotic touch with her sari outfits.
The late Renzo Kinoshita and his wife, Sayoko, are well-known for their detective-like searching out of Asian animators and films. Thus, I was looking forward to `The Asian Animation Collection.' It included works from Malaysia, The Philippines, Mongolia, Thailand, Iran, Republic of Korea, and the much awaited animation series, Kampung Boy, based on comics created by Lat. Shanghai Animation Film Studio directors, Jing Qing Hu and Yun Chu Wu, were also present at the festival. Their film, Snow Fox, was among the 64 selections. Sounds of eagerness were heard from the floor when the entry's screening was announced. Perhaps, it was because it was the only other Asian competitive entry besides Japan's four national entries. Shanghai Animation Film Studio is famous for its painted water-color animation films. This distinctive tradition was reflected in the foxes' resplendent golden hues, so rich that it had the effect of a child's pop-out book. But somehow that magic animated touch, that breathless grasping quality that we encountered in the past, was missing.
"We last participated seven years ago. China has been in a flux of change. Many talented animators left for the lucrative commercial sector," said director Hu. They were glad that they had come and been exposed to the international animation community.
The amount of cultural exchange at the festival was tremendous and it would not have been possible if not for the generous support of the city of Hiroshima and her people. The exuberant participation of hundreds of volunteers was the envy of any festival organizer. It is remarkable that a city that has suffered so much, now gives so much in return, especially in terms of hospitality toward animators worldwide. One hopes that in years to come, Hiroshima will have her own home-grown animation schools and animators and that more foreign media will cover this unique festival, lending it the exposure it deserves.
A complete list of Hiroshima 1998 winners is available in this issue's Animation World News.
Gigi T.Y. Hu is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Hong Kong, Department of Comparative Literature. She is currently a visiting researcher at Sophia University, Institute of Comparative Culture. In 1996, she co-founded the First Singapore Animation Fiesta.