Yamamura’s innovative works may be anime’s future

Courtesy of Koji Yamamura

A scene from “Satie’s Parade,” which won awards at 13 international film festivals

By Katsuo Kokaji / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKoji Yamamura, an anime creator known for his experimental approach, has released a new collection of short films, in which he seeks new potential in the genre by distancing himself from cinematic conventions.

“Migime to Hidarime de Miru Yume” (Dreams for Right Eye/Left Eye), a set of nine short films by the internationally acclaimed animator, is being shown at Eurospace in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. It is the first release of his works at a Japanese movie theater in six years.

Yamamura is one of the most prominent animation creators today, and the first Japanese to be nominated for an Academy Award in the animated short film category with his 2002 work “Atama yama” (Mt. Head). The 53-year-old is also the first person to win the grand prize at the four major international animation festivals — in Hiroshima, Ottawa, Zagreb and Annecy, France — with either “Atama yama” or “Kafka Inaka Isha” (Franz Kafka’s a Country Doctor).

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Koji Yamamura speaks at his studio.

“My works are getting more personal,” Yamamura said.

“Satie’s Parade,” the longest of the nine films at 14 minutes 12 seconds, attempts to re-create the ballet “Parade,” composed by Erik Satie (1866-1925), which premiered 100 years ago. Satie himself appears in Yamamura’s animation alongside characters in the ballet, such as street performers, magicians and a girl in a sailor suit.

“I was drawn to the personality of Satie, who was lonely, humorous and sarcastic,” Yamamura said. “I wanted to depict him together with the ballet.”

Yamamura uses either 12 or 24 images per second in his works. Apart from some exceptional cases, he draws all the images himself, with his wife helping with coloring. The animation creator did not change that style in “Satie’s Parade,” although this time he did not make a storyboard or decide layouts beforehand, but created each image without any preliminary sketch. He put random images to the music of “Parade” in a jazz arrangement by Willem Breuker.

“I didn’t make a storyboard because I wanted to add aleatoric and subconscious elements to the work,” Yamamura said. “By doing so, the synchronization between the images and the sounds become deeper than just moving the characters to the music. I think I could make something better than what I intended.”

Furthermore, the creator deliberately chose not to add depth to the images and made them look more flat, while there is almost no camera movement, such as zooming in.

“When we watch a film, we are in fact watching a flat screen,” Yamamura said. “So I thought the images could stay flat as well.”

Another work in the collection, “Kaibutsugakusho” (Notes on Monstropedia), which runs for 6 minutes 10 seconds, is like a pictorial book of monsters the creator has sketched in notebooks since his student days, with the creatures accompanied by bizarre phrases, such as strange translations and misheard words.

“Those monsters in rough sketches and the strange phrases that have no meanings are not things I intended to create,” Yamamura said. “They lose their interesting qualities once you make a story out of them. It’s a new challenge for me to see whether the audience will accept the format in which the images are juxtaposed.”

Other works are also experimental, from one made for projection mapping to another produced with an iPad app.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first commercial animation work being shown in Japan.

“Commercial animation is thriving now, but I find many are about similar things,” Yamamura said. “I believe we should do away with the conventional production process and start again from scratch.”

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