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Shuhei Morita talks ‘Possessions’

A weary traveler finds shelter in a shrine for old tools, appeasing angry spirits with his expert repairs.

One of four animated short films in Katsuhiro Otomo’s Short Peace compilation, director Shuhei Morita’s Possessions is a sometimes somber, sometimes frantic but ultimately rewarding story about a weary traveler seeking shelter from a storm, who happens upon an old shrine filled with a host of broken tools in various states of disrepair. He shows tremendous skill as he sets about repairing all manner of items, whose spirits harbor old grudges that are not easily appeased. The film’s visually stunning fantasy sequences and clever ending are both poignant and well designed.

The director shared his insights on how his film came to be and why he chose to tell a story about “things.”

Dan Sarto: How did this film come about? What is the genesis of the story?

Shuhei Morita: I was coming up with a concept for a movie about “lost things…thrown away things” and a character that is connected to things. However, this was never picked up and it was a difficult time. Luckily it was included in Short Peace.  I coincidently met with Sculpture artist Keisuke Kishi and we decided to work together on this project.

The concept for the project is to feature “things” and even though it is animation, our goal was to have a 3D feel to it. One day as I came home, my child was playing with traditional Japanese craft paper Chiyogami and I thought it would be perfect to use for the character. Then as I was checking the artwork for the main character, there was a mole on his face. I asked the staff what it was and after checking, it turned out to be a blotch on the craft paper. The whole staff was surprised about the mistake in a good way. I believe by using the traditional craft paper the colors and patterns came out in a very beautiful way.

DS: Why make this film now as opposed to any other stories you were developing or considering?

SM: When imagining a Yokai (traditional Japanese ghosts), the first images I think of are of Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s art work or Hyakki Yagyo type humorous ghosts. However, as I was to make a 10 minute short animation, I wanted to create a program that featured more of a Yokai theme. I wanted to feature a Yokai from Japanese Folklore and create an interesting character not just with its appearance but with a simple story that is scary and chilling at times

DS: What is the film about? How do you hope it resonates most with audiences?

SM: The film is about the idea that, “everything has a soul.” It is kind of scary when you think about it but I feel that there is a fun side to it and hope the audience will understand and enjoy the film.   

DS: How long did it take to produce? Tell us a little about how you made the film.   

SM: I believe the total production took roughly five months to complete. Pre-production was done very quickly. I felt we had a great first draft scenario and when I took it to the producer, he gave me the go ahead. Animation production took four months, It was a really small team with me, character design Daisuke Sajiki, CGI director Ryusuke Sakamoto, CG staff Kodai Sato, art director Hideki Nakamura and key animation Hiroyuki Horiuchi. Also, there were the music and sound production teams. Thank you everybody for your hard work!

DS: What were the main creative or production challenges you faced making this film?

SM: The main challenge to create this film was to leave out the entertainment factor. As I mentioned before, Yokais are generally humorous characters that rampage around, so it is hard to create a simple yet enjoyable Yokai. I wanted to have the Yokai rampage around but it wouldn’t fit into the within the time frame. However, since I did not have to think about it, I was able to create the simple Yokai that I was striving for.  

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.

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