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Peace and Love in Hiroshima

With the release of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Taylor Jessen chronicles what happened to Stephen Hillenburg for him to give up being a marine scientist and create the ever-optimistic sponge, who lives in a pineapple under the sea.

69 films from 59 countries competed in this years Hiroshima International Animation Festival. All images courtesy of the International Animation Festival, Hiroshima 2004. Illustration by Seiichi Hayashi.

69 films from 59 countries competed in this years Hiroshima International Animation Festival. All images courtesy of the International Animation Festival, Hiroshima 2004. Illustration by Seiichi Hayashi.

Sunday, August 15

Perhaps it was the security at the airports with their yellow and orange razzmatazz that decided me to arrive at LAX hours before my plane was to leave for Tokyo. The shuttle collected me and my baggage at 8:00 am and with little or no traffic, dropped me off at 9:00 am. As usual the security buzz went off. Was it my bracelets or the metal in my left hip? After a body search, I reached my departing gate at 9:30. Yee Gods! My plane didnt leave until 1:45, a half-hour delay. I finished three Variety s, chatted with some Rocky the Squirrel fans and finally, finally boarded the plane. But not before I ingested two Sudafeds and sprayed those pesky nostrils. Years ago after a Zagreb Festival, my right ear ruptured on the plane to Frankfurt, so thanks to medication and my nose-and-throat doctor, I can fly without that ice pick pain in my head.

So, off to Hiroshima and the 2004 Animation Festival. It was thoughtful of Sayoko Kinoshita, the festival director, to think of me as a guest speaker. This time Im traveling in first class. Its the only way to fly. The food was alluring, and the chicken was well seasoned and hot. All during the 11-hour flight, I kept trying to think of the time difference and when I had to take my daily pills. If its 12 noon in L.A., its what? Its 4:00 am the next day in Japan. OK, so I kept my watch set at California time, easier that way. I tell you, it wasnt easy eating breakfast on the plane at 11:30 at night.

Monday, August 16

The plane arrived on time, long past a Los Angeles citizens bedtime. Like a jerk, I stood in the wrong immigration line until I was informed of that at the window. Another quarter-mile hike in the terminal to the next one. I was the last passenger to claim my baggage. But I was thankful for the patience of Masami, who greeted me, changed my money and brought me from the Narita Airport to the hotel for a nights stay in Tokyo. I had been up for 24 hours. It was beddy-bye time, but daytime for us Hollywoodians. So I couldnt sleep, all the Japanese night. But I had to take a 9:55 plane the next day to Hiroshima. Ever taken your bath at 2:30 am? As hot as the water was, it didnt encourage drowsiness, so an early 7:00 for breakfast was a joy.

Tuesday, August 17

Well, up to my room again to pack my toothbrush and makeup and roll my suitcase down to the lobby for Masami to take me to the airport for the last lap of my journey to Hiroshima. The plane was about 15 minutes late. But who cared? I was numb by this time. I grabbed my first class seat and put on the airline slippers and read the International Herald Tribune always a treat. Before I even finished the editorial, the plane to Hiroshima landed where I was greeted by the charming Myjri. Her given name was impossible. Even the locals found Miri easier to say. We picked up a Chinese animation teacher and his wife and off to the hotel, an hours drive from the airport. Masami dragged my luggage, and then took me to the festival office just a block away.

June Foray was honored for her contributions to animation at the Hiroshima festival.

June Foray was honored for her contributions to animation at the Hiroshima festival.

What a joy it was to see Sayoko Kinoshita after all these years, since the first festival in 1985. We embraced warmly and laughed about the time that she and her late husband, Rinso, had stayed at my home during the 1984 Olympics. Those potent margaritas I concocted made them quite ecstatic and giggly. At Sayokos side was her assistant of 20 years, the lovely Mikako. I certainly didnt ask nor need the 4,000 yen, which they generously gave me. However, they insisted, but then breakfast at the hotel was $10, so the yen did come in handy. I had been servitude with food, but fatigue did envelope my body so I went to my room for relaxation. That was

Wednesday, August 18

Today was preparation day. Sayoko and Mikako had arranged for my interview with LAPPY the daily festival newspaper. I never did inquire was LAPPY stood for. But no matter, it was conducted charming Japanese young ladies. Because of the language limitations on both our parts, a few misleading facts occurred, which were corrected the next day.

Thursday, August 19

Its now the opening of the Hiroshima Animation 2004. Hooray! It was easy arriving at 5:00 am for a 7:00 am breakfast. I even felt guilty eating with a fork. On went the hiking shoes and out the hotel doors. Hitting the outdoors from air-conditioned quarters was almost heart stopping. The heat and humidity one can only attribute to a fire-breathing dragon. And youd think automobiles on the 101 freeway are hazards! Try walking on the sidewalk with racing bicycles. Phew, pay up on your health insurance!

It was the last moment arrival international artists. For a lot of us who still recognized each other after 10 or 15 years, it was kissy/huggie time. And how great to see dear friends again. Clare Kitson, Richard Williams, Jimmy Mirakami, Yoji Kuri, Kihachiro Kayamoto, Nicole Solamon and Maureen Jankovich. And, I met for the first time, Vivian Halas, the daughter of John and Joy Batchelor.

Attendees lined up for the competition screenings. Films were shown in three theatres every day throughout the festival.

Attendees lined up for the competition screenings. Films were shown in three theatres every day throughout the festival.

But lets get down to business. It was almost incomprehensible to imagine that there were 1,539 films submitted by 59 countries for consideration, out of which only 69 were to be chosen for competition. The selection committee met through the 24th of May. Clare Kitson from England was the chairman of the other three, being IGor Volger from Belarus, Solweig von Kleist from France, Yuichi Ito from Japan. It was an exciting but exhilarating task according to Kitson who said, Although perhaps with slightly different priorities, we agreed on the criteria. A strong idea, skill in communicating this idea and clearly, the pacing to carry an audience along, design talent, technical virtuosity and the desire to innovate.

The international jury consisted of Monique Renault from France; Marcell Jankovics, Hungary, Michael Dudak de Wit, The Netherlands and Paul Bush from the U.K. and, of course, Jimmy Murakami U.S./Ireland with Richard Williams as the honorary president. These members had to evaluate, grade and discuss the 69 works entered into the competition to determine the Grand Prix. I really cant equate the buck vs. the yen, but the Grand Prix award was one million yen, the same for the Hiroshima prize one million yen, the Debut prize, 500,000 yen, Ranko Hiroshima prize, 250,000 yen, the audience prize, 100,000 yen. You figure out how many dollars in the yen were awarded. I couldnt.

The festival building, the Ester Plaza, was seven floors high, the second being the major one with three theaters, the Grand, the Medium and the Small, where films in competition, major seminars and retrospectives were exhibited. At 9:15, as was every day, all three theaters started with retrospectives. The Grand Hall with Fantasia, Winter Days and Michael Dudok de Wits films. The Small Hall, at the same time, shown Hiroshima awarded films. It was a joy seeing Borge Rings Anna & Bella again, as well as Sylvan Chomets the Lady and the Pigeon and Frederic Backs superb, The Man Who Planted Trees.

I must admit from the 19th of August to the 23rd it was impossible to see all the films, those in competition, Hiroshima awards, best of the world, childrens Japanese, today animation for peace and of course those in competition, which were shown over a four-day period. I found myself running back and forth across the hall all day and evening attempting to see what I could of different categories that were screened. At the same time in different theaters.

Richard Williams signs his book The Animators Survival Kit, which was recently published in Japanese.

Richard Williams signs his book The Animators Survival Kit, which was recently published in Japanese.

Leaving the Hiroshima special awards in the Small Hall, I bounded over to the Grand Hall to catch producer Kihachiro Kawamotos feature, Winter Days. His astonishing puppet films have garnered awards all over the world. He had brought me to NHK in Tokyo many years ago when he was filming a puppet show about China. Winter Days is an anthology of short animated films based upon the style of poetry unique to Japan called renku, which consists of a series of linked haiku poems, In this style, a poet must use the last sentence of the previous poem composed by its previous poet. Thirty-five animators gathered to make this film, including Kawamoto, genius Yuri Noortstein from Russia, Bretislav Pojor, Czech animator and Koji Yamaura, an Annecy festival winner of the Grand Prize. Each artist portrays one of the haiku poems from the Basho Shichi Busho collection, composed by Basho Natsuo, a historic Japanese poet.

When Chiro joined me for breakfast the next day, he promised to send me the English language version of Winter Days. As we chatted over coffee, I asked, Chiro, are you married? No, Im divorced, he replied. Lets get married, I suggested. We both had a good laugh, but now that I think back on it, its not such a bad idea. It was an amazing coincidence when I went to breakfast one morning, I found it difficult to understand and be understood by the local Japanese.

Thus, when I went to the restaurant I saw a young man at another table. My frustration gave me the fortitude to ask if he spoke English. Of course, he replied. He was Disneys Baker Bloodworth. He was here to show his wonderful short, Destino. He was joined a few minutes later but Mike Gabriel, who was to participate in the same discussion and show his new film, Lorenzo. Of course I attended the seminar in the small hall later that morning. World animation and Hiroshima awards were screened all day. Rooms on floor one, four, five and seven showed the art of Solweig Von Kleist, commemorative exhibitions of festivals, Macintosh Animation Making World, Kids Clips, Paul Bushs Haunted House installation and Frame In.

Michael Dudok de Wit answers questions at the Frame-In after his retrospective program.

Michael Dudok de Wit answers questions at the Frame-In after his retrospective program.

Then, oh then, came the opening ceremony at 5:30. The usher seated me in the front row of the Grand Hall. How come? Its easer to watch films from the center of the theater? The young usher said I would find out why when they start showing the films. Sayoko welcomed the couple thousand people in Japanese with an interpreter. She repeated my name several times. Why? I couldnt quite hear the interpreter and didnt understand why the ushers kept reiterating, Get up on the stage. Get up there!

Yoji Kuri, a most famous film artist in Japan, followed me with a framed picture. Naturally I thought I was just being thanked for my work. Yoji handed me his painting and of course, I thanked him profusely. I was told to talk into the mike. I mentioned that Bill Littlejohn and I had tried to bestow an Oscar on animated features about 15 years ago and that it was finally realized over three years ago.

I asked Clare Kitson later why I was given the honor. It was an international award given by ASIFA for the art of animation. I hoped that I was gracious enough in expressing my gratitude. And now what that animation artists and fans came to see the first 19 films in competition. Hadnt I seen one of these films before? Nibbles by Christopher Hinton. It had been nominated by our short branch of the Motion Picture Academy. Well, it was a special prize this time in Hiroshima. After the ceremony, a huge party with an elegant Japanese womens dance group and tables filled with sumptuous food, Japanese and European, sake, whiskey, soft drinks. We mingled with friends, animators, filmmakers from around the world, even the mayor of Hiroshima. A spectacular occasion.

Then off to bed for the next days screenings.

Friday, August 20

At 9:15, The Grand Hall featured Marcell Jankovics Songs of a Miraculous Hind, followed by Richard Williams Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and various shorts and commercials. Odd that I played Lena Hyena and one of the weasels in Roger Rabbit, that it should be shown the same day of my seminar. Unfortunately, in the medium hall, Paul Bush from the U.K. was having his retrospective at the same time. There I go again, running from hall to hall, also trying to see stars of students in the small theater.

At 12:15 came my seminar. Sander Schwartz from Warner Bros. was generous in sending shorts, Broomstick Bunny by Chuck Jones, Friz Ferlengs Honeys Money, Tugboat Granny, Robert McKimsons The Honeymousers and Baby Looney Toons. Of course, they screened Rocky and Bullwinkle episodes. Many of the young Japanese women and men were not fluent in English but they knew and loved all animation. My lady interpreter possessed a terrific sense of humor. It was the most rewarding seminar that I can remember having given.

Koji Yamamura wins Grand Prize for Mt. Head/Atamayama.

Koji Yamamura wins Grand Prize for Mt. Head/Atamayama.

The afternoon screening in the Small Hall started at 9:15 with the latest starting at 4:00 pm. Competition 2, with 15 shorts, commenced at 6:30 pm. I should have but I didnt fill out the audience voting form. I know better, because every vote counts.

Saturday, August 21

At 9:15 animation for children began in the Grand Hall. Of the 21 films from all over the world, only two emanated from the U.S., The Birdcage King by Christopher McGee and the Velveteen Rabbit by Lindsay Van Blerk. At the same, time, 9:15, in the Medium Hall showed four features, French Raining Cats and Frogs, the Persian Work & Thought, the French Black Mors Island and the Italian Kate The Taming of the Shrew. Again at 9:15, 46 Stars of Students shorts, followed by 16 Japanese Animation Today shorts.

Back to the Grand Hall at 3:40 pm, the Best of the World with 18 shorts. Fortunately the hallways had booths selling not only DVDs, but also packaged food. Hey I kinda got used to eating Asian food with chopsticks. Then off at 6:30 to see the 7:15 Films in Competition 3. The only American film, The Simpsons Three House of Horror XIV. As I said before, it was impossible to see everything.

Festival director and Junes old friend, Sayoko Kinoshita.

Festival director and Junes old friend, Sayoko Kinoshita.

Sunday, August 22

OK, in the Grand hall at 9:15 am Animal Farm, by Halas & Batchelor. How nostalgic seeing it again. It brought back memories of and chatting with John and Joy Batchelor at the London, Zagreb and Annecy festivals. It was followed by Korean Empress Chung, subtitled in English and Japanese. What an odd coincidence, I chatted with the producer, Nelson Shin, who worked at Hanna-Barbera Studio and lives in Thousand Oaks, California.

Japanese Pom Poco was the next feature, however I left to start watching Animation for Peace in the next hall. The first, touching film, a world premiere, Ryukyu Okaku Made in Okinawa by Renzo Kinoshita. It gives one chance to think about peace. I quote from Sayokos feelings about the making of the film, Renzo and I rented a flat in Okinawa for three months. We went to the library, museums and interviewed people and from this we put together this story. Renzo made the storyboards but before he made the film, he passed away in 1997. That year I did the storyboard exhibition in Annecy. Power to make the film was rage. To finish it was always hanging over me. At the time, the Iraq war started. I had no reason to procrastinate any more. I started completing it so that it would be in time for this festival. I want to show my feeling of rage to as many people as possible.

The 17-minute film shows a man leisurely lying on the beach under a palm tree, watching boats go by. Within a few minutes, we see warships replacing pleasure boats, artillery trucks rumbling by. Chaos ensues of course. I guess the world is destroyed while a lone man relaxes on the beach. The second film, The Train, was produced by Babak Nazari from Iran, a devastating discourse war and it was chilling to hear over the credits the voice of George W. Bush saying, and God Bless America.

Of the 14 Animation for Peace films, four came from the U.S. The Epitaph Tree by ByoungJik Lee, Bid `em In by Neal Sopata, Rock the World by Sukwon Shin and Henrys Garden by Moon Seun, All of the films for peace were haunting indeed and makes one ponder mankinds future on this planet.

One short that impressed me in the Best of the World screening was one from Juan Solanas of France. It was called The Man Without a Head. A well-dressed man seeing a beautiful girl lord only knows how he can see her without a head or eyes. No matter. He not only buys flowers to give her, he enters a shop that sells heads. He tries on heads that are black, white, and evil and smiling, none of which he likes. So he what does he do? Without a head, he presents the flowers to girls of his dreams, she accepts happily and they walk hand-and-hand into the sunset.

The presentation of Animal Farm and a Halas & Batchelor retrospective brought back dear memories to June. © The Halas & Batchelor Collection Limited. Courtesy of the Animation Research Centre Archive.

The presentation of Animal Farm and a Halas & Batchelor retrospective brought back dear memories to June. © The Halas & Batchelor Collection Limited. Courtesy of the Animation Research Centre Archive.

It was helpful to have met Bakhtier Kakarov from Tajikistan who spoke an accented but articulate English. His film The Donkey, had been shown in the World Animation class. It was my hope to meet and converse with Abolfazi Rasani, the Iranian puppet filmmaker. His film, Work & Thought, is a curious but fascinating, almost unfathomable, philosophical film based on two aspects of ones personality that are complements of each other. One is useless without the other. Abolfazi could not speak English. Thus his friend and becoming mine Bakhtier did the interpreting. Thus we had a lively conversation.

Monday, August 23

This final day films started at 9:15 in the morning. I had to make the decision of watching Belleville Rendez-Vous, the French film by Sylvan Chomet and When the Winds Blows by Jimmy Murakami or 13 more Animation for Peace films. Being so intrigued, I saw Belleville Rendez-Vous.

I had heard about it and never seen Jimmy Murakamis When the Wind Blows a wonderful commentary on peace produced decades ago, just as à propos now. Jimmy, Marcell Jankovics and Nelson Shin conducted a seminar later that day on how to make feature animation, an enlightening and interesting afternoon. Preceding that was a Halas & Batchelor retrospective culminating in a question-and-answer period with Vivian Halas. With conflicting programs in three theaters, I was unable to watch Best of the World and Hiroshima Awarded Films.

Besides, the closing ceremony was scheduled for 6:00. Hey, I was getting used to Japanese food. So I paid for a packed dinner in the hall, and beat it to my room to eat and dress more elegantly for the denouement of the festival. After greeting friends and judges, I entered the Grand Hall with Bakhtier by my side. Filmmakers from all over the world, students, fans of animation settled in their seats with great anticipation. Which of the 69 films will be the winners? The lights lowered, it became very quiet and on they came:

Jimmy Murakami served on the International Jury and presented his film When the Winds Blows. Photo courtesy of Jimmy T. Murakamis private collection.

Jimmy Murakami served on the International Jury and presented his film When the Winds Blows. Photo courtesy of Jimmy T. Murakamis private collection.

The Grand Prix, Mt. Head, by Koji Yamamura Hiroshima Prize, Louise, by Anita Lebeau Debut Prize, The Demon, by Shin Hosokawa Renzo Kinoshita Prize, Ryan by Chris Landreth Audience Prize, South of the North, by Andrey Sokolov

Special International Jury Prizes Notice by Roelof van den Bergh LHomme Sans Ombre by Georges Schwizgebel Stormy Night by Michaele Lemieux Loop Pool by Daiki Aizawa No Limit by Hieidi Wittlinger, Anja Perl & Max Stolzenberg Fish Never Sleep by Gaelle Denis

Special Prize Quiet Story by Alexei Demin Nibbles by Christopher Hinton The Tram No. 9 Goes On by Stepan Koval Instinct by Rao Heidmets Picore by Francois Bertin Guard Dog by Bill Plympton Legend of the Origin of Crawfish by Valentin Olshvang

The winners walked jubilantly on stage to accept their awards, which we in the audience felt, were well deserved. It was five full days of watching, walking, partying, picnicking, reminiscing. And as we gathered at the huge farewell reception, we all agreed that Hiroshima Animation Festival 2004 was indeed predicated on love and peace. Sayoko Kinoshita, for the fifth time, created one of the most exuberant, exhilarating festivals in many a year and we demonstrated our love for her as we bade goodbye.

We became reacquainted with friends with whom we communicate only at Christmas and expressed joy at meeting new famous friends who produced so many films weve seen and judged. Many of us would have taxis waiting for us at 6:30 and 7:00 in the morning, so after choking down the gorgeous food, we headed for our rooms to finish packing and get a little sleep. Since I find it impossible to even nap on a plane, Jimmy Murakami said that he had some sleeping pills in his room and hed get some for me. But I couldnt bother him because he was having good time, as we all were.

So, I packed, read all night and dragged my luggage and tired body to the lobby and limo for my trip home. Here I am back in my nest but lamenting that I shant see again my intercontinental friends for years or maybe never. But my memories will always make me smile. Hiroshima 2004 truly epitomized and resonated with love and peace. Thank you Sayoko Kinoshita!

June Foray has provided memorable voices for many cartoon characters including Granny in Warner Bros. theatrical shorts and TV series, Rocket J. Squirrel and Natasha for The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, and even a doll for the classic Twilight Zone episode, Living Doll, with Telly Savalas.