East Meets Too Much West?: A Chat with Sayoko Kinoshita

The Hiroshima Animation Festival has always seemed like a bastion of Western animation in the midst of animation rich Japan. Chris Robinson interviews festival director Sayoko Kinoshita regarding the festival's purpose and success.

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The Hiroshima 2000 festival catalog cover. The front entrance of Aster Plaza in Hiroshima, site of the 8th International Animation Festival.All images courtesy of the International Animation Festival, Hiroshima 2000.

Off the bat. Thanks to the Brazilians, I've never been to the Hiroshima Animation Festival. See back in '96 I decided to go at the last minute. My travel guru got me some bizarre connection through L.A. on a Brazilian airline...Vespa or something like that. Anyway, I get to L.A. and am told there is no room and there is no way in hell I'm getting on the flight. As I had some concerns about flying over the Pacific I took the free hotel and spent a day in L.A. So despite an honest attempt I've never been to Hiroshima. I just wanted to set the LP straight before proceeding.

I've heard many good things about the Hiroshima Animation Festival. It is of course, with Ottawa, Annecy and Zagreb, one of the elite animation festivals in the world thanks to its relationship with ASIFA. However, unlike Annecy or Ottawa, Hiroshima has truly remained a festival that lives by ASIFA's goal to "promote the art of animation." Thanks to strong state support and public participation, Hiroshima does not need the corporate support that Ottawa and Annecy rely on. With this comes the freedom to program more artistic or independent orientated work. Sounds like paradise, doesn't it?

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Well, it's not all heavenly. A number of Japanese independent animators have quietly complained that Hiroshima devotes too much attention to Western animation from Europe, the U.S. and Canada. In particular the Japan Animation Association (JAA) is, according to one animator, at the end of its rope with Hiroshima. This organization of independent animation artists has complained about the lack of an independent Japanese presence and that no special programs have focussed on the JAA animators. According to some in attendance, the president of JAA, Kichachiro Kawamoto, who was also the vice-president of the Hiroshima Festival, was quite critical of the festival during the 2000 closing ceremonies. In fact, Kawamoto announced this year that he would no longer cooperate with the festival as of 2002.

On the other hand, Animation World has heard from several of the Western participants who have nothing but exceptionally glowing reviews of the event -- stating the film selection was excellent and the workshops vital. With all this in mind, I was asked to sit down with Sayoko and talk about the goals of the Hiroshima Festival and her reaction to some of these complaints.

Chris Robinson:

What is the primary aim of the Hiroshima Festival?

Sayoko Kinoshita:

I am organizing the festival from an international standpoint, and moreover, as a festival held in Asia, I am aiming the development of not only Japanese animation but also of the Southern countries of our world.

The Hiroshima Festival has been the only place where Japanese and Asian people could appreciate foreign animation (from Europe, North America, etc.), synthetically and in volume, and continuously. Japanese producers and animation people participate to see the foreign animations, from the historical works to the latest. For the foreign participants, I have been trying to support them to facilitate their contacts with Japanese professionals.

A press conference conducted during the festival.

A press conference conducted during the festival.

CR:

What about the complaints that you don't devote enough attention to Japanese animators?

SK: My policy is that the chances must be given equally to every filmmaker and there should be no special consideration for countries and/or regions, including Japanese people.

CR:

This is true enough but do you not feel some responsibility given that your country produces a diverse and respected body of work? Animator Koji Yamamura notes that despite an increase in Japanese entries, there is a decrease in films being accepted. He wonders why the festival does not accept more Japanese works and suggests that you introduce a national competition or special program (like a Panorama) to introduce new works by Japanese animators at every festival.

Scene from the festival picnic.

Scene from the festival picnic.

SK:

We always hold the special programme(s) for Japanese animation. We show various titles ranging from independent works to theatrical features, TV programmes, commercials, etc., from the pioneers to the contemporary. Also, Japanese works are selected within several programmes which I curate under various themes (such as Best of the World, Animation for Peace, Animation for Children, Asian Collections, etc.).

Moreover, we have a space named "Frame-In" which the participants could use freely to present their works, to hold symposiums, lectures, etc. Throughout the festival period, we place 5 staff members as well as interpreters for "Frame-In," and the facilities include high quality projectors for 16mm, VHS (NTSC, PAL), Betacam (NTSC). Any participants can book the space, and all the programmes are announced in advance through the daily bulletins. Japanese students and young filmmakers enjoy using this space to show their own works as well as to exchange ideas and information. Also, the festival side uses this space to organize "questions & answers corners" between our guests and the participants, and such programmes are well received by Japanese young filmmakers as they can talk and discuss more closely and frankly with the guests from abroad. Especially, since HIROSHIMA2000, "Frame-In" moved to a larger hall, next to our main theatre (within the same complex).

The crowd inside the festival hall.

The crowd inside the festival hall.

Also, since HIROSHIMA2000, I initiated a workshop space named "Kid's Clips" where children can enjoy animation freely throughout the festival. Most of the participants are Japanese children. I invited a professional instructor from France, and also, Elena Barinova, one of the AWG members from Russia, joined us with her 6 workshop children. Japanese children were enjoying animation as well as the international exchange. We showed the cameraless animation (about 2 minutes) made by our "Young Directors, at the very end of our Closing Ceremony, and the audience could feel our future full of hope and happiness!

By viewing many foreign quality works, young Japanese filmmakers are enjoying the benefits of having the opportunities to be inspired by and to study these foreign animations. And, our festival has been well recognized, among the Japanese young filmmakers, as a "gateway" to become the professionals. In proof of this, all the Japanese filmmakers whose work was selected for our competition are now working at the front line of our field, especially where they can make full use of their creativity and originality.

CR:

Some International guests have expressed frustration because they don't see more Japanese animation at the festival.

SK:

We have always been making up special programme(s) to introduce the animation scene to those countries which have had less opportunities to be presented internationally. In the past, we introduced Republic of Korea, D.P.R. of Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, The Philippines, Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Turkey, etc. In order to make up such programmes, I myself always visit each country to research and exchange with their animation people in person. This way, I could present their situation widely, including workshops, students, TV programmes, commercials, promotional works, features, independent works.

CR:

Who is your audience?

SK:

Our audience consists of: 45% are from Hiroshima City, 40% from other cities in Japan, and 15% from abroad.

CR:

There seems to be some contradictions here. You are providing a list of evidence saying that in fact you do support Japanese and Asian animation, while others speak to the contrary.

SK:

I am quite confident that Japanese animators are receiving much benefit from our festival. Speaking of myself, also being one of the "independent Japanese animators," I have been doing all the hard work as the festival director, for the artists of Japan and of the world, for more than 16 years gratuitously, devoting my life. I do not complain about the situation, but I do my best to practice the art movement myself for the betterment. As you may understand, it is always difficult to satisfy all and every people.

CR:

Tell me about it. Well thanks for your time.

SK: Thank you.

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