Fresh From the Festivals: November 1999's Film Reviews
© National Film Board of Canada.
CG images are used very differently in Stephen Arthur's painterly 2D film, Transfigured, which was made as an homage to Canadian artist Jack Shadbolt. Arthur metamorphoses among eighty-two of Shadbolt's paintings, slightly reminiscent of Joan Gratz's Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase. However, the effect is entirely different, as the camera seems to follow a butterfly from place to place. At times the butterfly seems crushed and destroyed by the matter around him, but ultimately it flies into the distance with a multitude of others. Other dominant visuals are suggestive of aboriginal art and nature in a broader sense, two major influences on the painter.
Transfigured seems interesting both from the standpoint of an art historical study of Shadbolt's work and as an example of the adaptation of painting to film, in general. Vancouver artist Stephen Arthur created the film at the Pacific Centre of the National Film Board of Canada. Arthur describes his technique as being similar to a combination of traditional cut-outs, painting-on-glass, and cel animation; it was all completed on a PC computer over a five-year period. The film contains no dialogue.
"The Shikato don't think they just walk." That is how the film is described in the 1999 Annecy Animation Festival catalog, and that pretty much sums it up. For fourteen minutes, the viewer is shown ten to twenty second sequences in which tiny Shikato (reindeer-like animals) walk across the screen accompanied by enthusiastic yodeling. Still haven't hooked you on this one? Well, as the saying goes, "Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong" . . . the Annecy audience loved it and I am betting that you will too. I think the film is destined for cult classic-dom.
This animated short, starring the epitome of cute Japanese characters, is a masterpiece of gag humor. Subtle, yet surprising, this film is one you will love to hate to watch -- or maybe just love. Between every sequence of walking Shikato is a close shot of one of the creatures; over the visual, Japanese children shout "Shi-ka-to!" That's a lot of cute. Yet something about the film compels you to watch. Ideas are repeated and built upon, so that the audience builds expectations that sometimes are fulfilled but often are subverted. Shikato develops its humor through repetition, without being loud or particularly violent (unless you count a few smashed noses). It is also an incredible example of the effectiveness of limited animation. The characters were created by two artists, Uruma and Delvi, for a children's television program in Japan. Aside from yodeling, there is no dialogue.
Maureen Furniss, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor and Program Director of Film Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. She is the Founding Editor of Animation Journal(John Libbey, 1998).