Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: April 2005, 07

Thursday, April 7, 2005

01:42:18 am , 804 words, 6039 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Avant-Garde, Animator

The art of Takashi Ishida

Gestalt (1999, Takashi Ishida)

On the other side of the continent today starts Toronto's 18th annual Images Festival, which is devoted to independent and experimental film, video and installations from around the world. The filmmaker who won the Best International Film Award at the festival two years ago was Takashi Ishida, who on this side of the continent picked up the Award for Excellence four years earlier at the 1999 Vancouver International Film Festival. On the other side of the ocean last Friday a retrospective of his films was shown at the Uplink Factory in Tokyo (where a 7-program Stan Brakhage retrospective starts this Saturday).

Takashi Ishida's work is an example of the sort of animation we don't see often in Japan, if only because it understandably fails to reach our eyes because it doesn't get any sort of distribution beyond the festival circuit. Even most independent animation, if Digital Stadium is anything to go by, tends to fall back on story rather than trying to go back to the fundamentals and look for new expressive possibilities that truly exploit the unique nature of animation. Takashi Ishida's work seems to be one of the best recent examples of animation that does just that. What makes it exciting is that it offers a stimulating personal stab at the question: What is animation?

Spheres(Norman McLaren & René Jodoin, 1969)The Art of the Fugue(Takashi Ishida, 2001)

The simple answer is: Pictures in time. Takashi Ishida's work is about exploring the basic notions of time and space using sequential pictures. The film that first brought Ishida to the attention of a wider audience was probably the 7-minute Gestalt, from 1999, in which Ishida set up a camera in a Tokyo University dormitory a certain distance from a wall next to a window, and over the span of one year repeated the ritual of painting a picture on the wall, going to the camera to photograph the picture bathed in the unique play of light falling onto it from the window at that moment, then going back to the wall and painting the next picture, photographing it again, and so on at a pace of several seconds of footage a day, until in the end he had in effect captured on film the texture of the space of a year's passing.

In 2001, on a commission from the Aichi Culture Center for a video to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the death of J. S. Bach, Ishida created what, at 19 minutes, is his longest piece to date: The Art of the Fugue, a visual performance of Bach's late score famous for its lack of any indications about instrumentation. A white oval appears in the center of the screen, changing shape in response to the score throughout the piece, representing the cantus firmus. Around it bright lines representing the upper voices gradually creep into view from out of the darkness and go through their melodies before melting back into the darkness, converging and diverging to create a pulsating, everchanging audiovisual texture. By basing his animation closely on the actual score, he explores and bridges the space between the aural and visual dimensions and thus goes one step further than the free interpretations of Bach by famous predecessors like Norman McLaren.

Scroll (Takashi Ishida, 1995)Scroll 2 (Takashi Ishida, 1996)Darkness Scroll (Takashi Ishida, 1997)

Going opposite this procedure is the entirely improvised Darkness Scroll (1997), in which extemporaneously sketched drawings were thrown together and photographed using back-lighting and then improvised upon with music to create a linear audio-visual dimension out of randomness. Exploring the idea of the the forward march of time using the more traditional method of the animated transformation is his earliest film, Scroll (1995), which consists entirely of an upwards scrolling movement animated on the fly without a storyboard. Between these two came Scroll 2 (1996), in which he first used a procedure that would reappear in The Art of the Fugue -- namely, photocopying and then re-photographing each drawing to create a sort of reptition within progress -- and at the end of which he reversed the situation later seen in Gestalt by integrating actual photographs into the center of the two-dimensional drawing space.

In the last few years Ishida has completed a few more short films and put together a few installations and been shown at festivals around the world. Last August he held a four-day animation workshop at the Aichi Culture Center where he provided instruction in the basics of creating movement. He's the tip of the iceburg of the experimental cinema scene in Japan, but it's probably not going to get any easier to find his work or that of others of his ilk anytime soon.

~ Filmography ~

Scroll 絵巻 (1995, 8mm, 8 minutes)
Scroll 2 絵巻その2 (1996, 8mm, 5 minutes)
Darkness Scroll 闇の絵巻 (1997, video, 7 minutes)
Gestalt 部屋/形態 (1999, 16mm, 7 minutes)
The Art of the Fugue フーガの技法 (2001, 16mm, 19 minutes)
Fire/Extension 火/延長 (2002, 5 minutes)
Seat and Screen 椅子とスクリーン (2002, 8 minutes)