Deanna Morse traveled to Japan and discovered a lot of love and peace at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival.
Greeted by the smiling faces at the information desk, you immediately feel the warmth, the energy of this amazing event. This festival just works on many levels. It is impeccably organized and well run. Dozens of cheerful and committed volunteers share their hospitality. Held in Hiroshima, Japan, just steps away from the Peace Park and the epicenter of the A-Bomb blast, the park resonates with reminders of why we need to work for peace.
Japan itself is a fabulous travel destination exotic, with fabulous food. Traditions are valued in Japanese culture, so that you get many opportunities to see beautiful gardens, temples and architecture. But the culture also embraces new technology. With probably the best train system in the world, Japan is easy to navigate and travel. Japan is one of the safest countries to travel in. People are polite, and if you look confused, someone will approach you and offer assistance. Hiroshima, although quite hot in August, is a walkable city. Pretty much laid out on a grid, it is easy to navigate, with street signs in Japanese Kanji and also in Roman characters.
In 1978, festival co-founders Sayoko and Renzo Kinoshita made a short independent film Picadon, the first animation to illustrate the day of the A-bomb. They found that there were very few venues for exhibiting animation shorts, and none in Asia at that time. Although they lived in Tokyo, the opted to organize a new animation festival in Hiroshima, with the theme love and peace. The first biennial fest was held in 1985, the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombing. This year celebrated the 11th edition of the festival.
Hiroshima Festival is one of a few long standing international festivals endorsed by ASIFA. ASIFA (Association International du Film dAnimation) is a non-commercial international association with the goal of promoting the art of animation and encouraging international understanding among animators. To keep the ASIFA endorsement, the festival must follow a number of rules and guidelines designed to protect the interests of animation artists. This festival has always been a model for respecting the rights of the filmmaker. With animation artist Sayoko Kinoshita at the helm, the festival is committed to honor the individual filmmaker. And it achieves those goals.
Educational Film Market
This year, the festival began a new program, the Hiroshima Educational Film Market (HEFM). Twenty-six colleges participated in the showcase during festival week in a bustling area adjacent to the registration desk. The night before the festival actually started, HEFM hosted a water forum on the banks of one of the rivers that runs through the Peace Park. Music, snacks and tea, and, across the bank, the A-Bomb dome, the building at the epicenter of the explosion, one of the few things that was left standing after the blast. Formerly an industrial promotion hall, today it is a twisted mass of iron girders, tumbling bricks and ruin. It is dramatically lit at night.
There were talks and screenings from international educators and computer graphics pioneer Yoichiro Kawaguchi, a familiar face to SIGGRAPH attendees. But for me, the most meaningful moment was the screening of Picadon, the film that inspired the founding of the festival. Projected on two large screens, in the twilight shadow of the A-Bomb dome, we are reminded, vividly, graphically, of the need to continue to work for world peace.
With 300 animation schools in Japan, this event will probably expand with future festivals. This first time, the HEFM was considered very successful.
In addition to the competition, the festival included many special programs and workshops. Three halls were programmed each day from about 9-5, and every night we saw the competition screenings in a comfortable, but packed theater. Eight programs of Swiss animation were curated by Otto Alder, there was a retrospective of Yoji Kuri films, a new feature by Michel Ocelot, a retrospective of Rene Laloux, screenings and seminars with Normand Roger, Marcy Page, Phil Mulloy and a screening of the Disney feature, Dumbo. There were 10 programs of new student animation, at least six panoramas with best of the world, two current Japanese animation, two of animation for peace, informal screenings by participants at the festival, and more. There were many opportunities to screen varied animation work!
One highlight was seeing Kihachiro Kawamoto new feature length puppet film The Book of the Dead. Based on a folk tale, the film has rich sets, costumes, and a very cinematic structure. Like many of Kawamotos earlier shorts, the wind is present blowing fabric, kimonos and hair as we experience the presence of the spirit world that cannot easily rest. It was a beautiful, complex animation.
Selection of Competition Films
I was fortunate to be invited to serve on the selection committee in 1998. It was an intense experience that I will never forget. I asked independent animator Karen Aqua to describe her experience on the committee this year. She said, Well you certainly were right... what an amazing and memorable experience. I cant believe what a treat it was to be invited for this. My fellow committee members were wonderful, and that fest staff of worker bees is such a delightful bunch. And oh that Sayoko... what a crazy and wonderful human being! There was a great spirit and sense of humor, and despite the rigors of the work we all had a great time.
For weeks afterwards, I was dreaming about the films. There were a record number of 1764 entries, from 58 countries and we only selected 53. It should be an interesting and thought-provoking batch of films.
I asked Karen about trends she saw in the entries. There was lots of work with a darker view of things. There were not many overtly political films, only a handful of straight anti-war films. The politics tends to come out through a side door, as personal stories. For instance, there were lots of films about childhood, seeing life through the eyes of a child. I said in the press conference that, as an American, I had been worried about the state of animation, that perhaps there was less art in animation today, and more of an emphasis on things that are commercial. I was wrong. I was heartened to see so many people making heartfelt and soulful films. You know, as an independent animator, festivals are a big part of my education. Sometimes you have to get away from home to see some of this work. Getting a view of the world from a foreign festival is a valuable experience.
Highlights of Screenings
Several of us noted that the audio was particularly rich in many of the animations this year. The projection was great, and hearing the multi-layered soundtracks in the theater was a treat.
I noted that several of the competition films seemed to be vignettes about environments, about nature, a trend I hadnt noticed before. And, looking at the credits, many of the films were heavily produced with large teams of collaborators and supporters, not the individual artistic productions that were so common in past decades.
Some of my favorite films received awards from the jury. The Hiroshima Prize went to Wolf Daddy (Hyung-yun Chang, Korea), which I had seen before, but never in an audience where it got such great laughs, as the wolf father comes to grips with his new life as an unconventional daddy. The Debut Prize was given to the quirky Bird Calls (Malcom Sutherland, Canada), a playful graphic notation of various messages left on an answering machine by birds. And the Renzo Kinoshita Prize was awarded to Simoni Massi (Italy/France) for his Memories of Dogs, which had a deeply evocative soundtrack, and a wonderfully surprising mise-en-scene.
The Grand Prize winner, Milch, by Igor Kovalov, has been honored in several other festivals, and is a surreal dark and dreamlike exploration of adolescence and family. Other awards can be seen on the festival site www.urban.ne.jp/home/hiroanim/e/menu/Efront.html along with images from the films and insightful summary comments from Marcy Paige, chairperson of the jury. Over $30,000 was awarded to films this year.
ASIFA Prize 2006
At the opening ceremonies, honorary president Normand Roger was surprised to be called back up to the stage and selected as the recipient of the ASIFA Prize. A musician and sound designer from Canada, he has collaborated on films that have won nearly two hundred prizes at international festivals, including 12 nominations for Academy Awards, and six Oscars.
Normand told us how honored he was to join the esteemed group of animators who have received the prize in the past, and thanked everyone for keeping the secret so well. He said what an joy it was to work in the animation community, which is a great brotherhood of creative artists, and also that he must share the prize with all the artists and technicians who he had had the pleasure to work with.
Festival Picnic and Parties
Midweek brought the traditional festival picnic. Three busses were loaded up, and we were counted several times to make sure that no filmmakers were left astray. We took a ferry to have a traditional Japanese lunch on the island of Miyajima, and to see the Itsukushima shrine with the trademark floating O-torii gate. A World Heritage site, first built in 593, the shrine and gate appear to float each day, as the tide comes in.
This island is considered one of Japans 3 most beautiful spots. Wild but somewhat tame deer nuzzle up to tourists, looking for cookies or other handouts. The deer love to chomp on paper, and there were many comical moments as the deer attempted to nose into bags or chased retreating tourists who try to protect their maps, camera manuals, and tickets from eager deer teeth.
Each night brought a party opportunity. There were the lavish opening and closing parties, and ASIFA Japan hosted their traditional rooftop party. The Lappy Friendship club offered a few optional traditionally Japanese activities such a Zen meditation, tour of a sake factory and Japanese garden tour. I have never participated in these outside activities, but those who have are very enthusiastic about this side note of the festival, the chance to meet locals, and to experience Japanese culture.
Filmmakers at Hiroshima
According to the festival, since the founding, almost 2500 filmmakers have participated in Hiroshima Festival. The festival environment is casual, friendly, and there are many opportunities to meet new folks. On the ferry to Miyajima, I overheard a conversation where a producer approached a filmmaker saying that he was a distributor for a European television station, and did this filmmaker bring a DVD?
At the last festival, when I was traveling home, I was standing in the train station in Osaka, looking a bit confused, trying to find my assigned car. A young woman approached me to help. She was returning home, too, and suddenly recognized me from SIGGRAPH, where I had presented a program a few months before. Of course, we struck up a conversation, and I met Aya Suzuki, a Japanese student studying animation at The Arts Institute at Bournemouth near London.
I saw her again this year, and she told me a great story. At Hiroshima 2004, she met Sylvan Chomet, director of Triplets of Belleville. She began a correspondence with him after the festival, and now works in his studio, on the new Chomet feature The Illusionist, based on an unproduced Jacques Tati script. Like me, she feels great affection for this festival.
The Sounds of Animation: ASIFA Animation Workshop Group
This year, I participated in a unique animation project, The Sounds of Animation, which premiered at the festival. The project, organized by the ASIFA Animation Workshop Group (AWG), involved 11 countries and over 100 children creating animation inspired by a piece of original music donated by Normand Roger, the honorary president for this festival.
I was thrilled to be part of this workshop. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, co-teacher Melissa Bouwman and I worked with eight teens in an after school program to create our interpretation of the music. Our musical cut was a little over two minutes, the next to the last cut in the film. We loved it. The students decided the music had three parts. First, it was scary, then there would be people fleeing and, finally, there would be some calm, a resolution.
Participants from other workshops interpreted the music in different ways some with stories, some with animated play. The musical bed helped tie it all together. It was difficult sometime to recognize the cuts, to realize that you were seeing work from a workshop in a totally different continent!
Lappy the Mascot
The festival mascot is named Lappy. OK, I never really understood Lappy. Is it a flying dog? An oversized bird? In Japan you see cartoon comic characters as mascots for banks, air conditioners, and other serious adult commodities and institutions Lappy has a big red nose, wears a bow tie, and can fly. He is very cuddly, and when the mascot walks around the lobby, filmmakers and children are drawn to him.
Several festival activities are named for him: The Lappy Friendship club, the daily Lappy News, and he adorns the website and the signal films. Really, Lappy is a bit of an enigma to me!
But the daily Lappy News is a treat. Every day at the festival, there is a multi-lingual paper with interviews with filmmakers, highlights of the previous day, and previews of events to come. I worked a little with the staff, and saw their tireless dedication, working all day, and through the night, to publish the informative and upbeat newspaper. It will be available for download from the festival website.
In a few words, I love the Hiroshima International Animation Festival. I am a cheerleader for this festival, and cannot say enough positive things. How does the festival draw so many energetic and friendly festival volunteers? Along with others, I attribute this energy to the dynamic spirit of the festival director, Sayoko Kinoshita. This tiny and vibrant woman exudes a positive spirit that draws you to her. I am one of those who is drawn back. A biennial festival, the next event will be in 2008. Hope to see you there!
Deanna Morse is an animator and a professor of film and video in The School of Communications at Grand Valley State University, Michigan. She has been invited to be a judge at several international festivals, and serves on the advisory board for the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) and the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International (KAFI). Her award-winning DVD, Move-Click-Move, is available at http://faculty.gvsu.edu/morsed.