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: August 2009, 01

Saturday, August 1, 2009

11:23:23 pm , 819 words, 1175 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

Kamiya's Correspondence

The Bunkacho's Media Arts Festival is generally pretty good at rewarding interesting animation artists in Japan, and their awardees are worth tracking down. I just had the chance to see the 'recommended work' film from the 8th annual Bunkacho Media Arts Festival in 2004, Sumito Sakakibara's Kamiya's Correspondence, which was originally made as his graduation film for the Royal College of Art in 2004. Indeed, this was a wonderful film, and I'm glad I was able to postpone enjoying it until now. Watching it was a delectable experience I'd like to repeat in the coming days.

Sakakibara is an international creator, having been born in Japan and raised there until, after graduating from middle school in Urahoro city in Hokkaido, he left to go study in Europe, where he stayed for for 9 years, eventually undertaking studies in animation and a variety of the other visual arts. He then apparently returned to his home town in 2007, where he settled into helping on the family dairy farm. I'm not sure what happened to him afterwards, but at the time he was working on a manga project to document his grandfather's experiences working on his dairy farm in rural Hokkaido. The world would still be a richer place even if Sakakibara had only left behind Kamiya's Correspondence, but a it happens, he made another film entitled Flow that won the grand prize at the Media Arts Festival the next year in 2005, and later he was reported to be working on a third film entitled A Drop of Vermillion Ink as an artist in residence in France, although I don't know what came of that project, which may have been completed in 2007. I would like to find out if he has made any other animated films since then. He is also active as a manga artist and illustrator.

Kamiya's Correspondence feels decidedly Japanese in its delicate sensibility and realistic, detail-oriented approach to the animation - which is not to say it feels like anime, which is doesn't in the slightest. The washed out color palette feels somewhat similar to what Satoru Utsunomiya did in his last few projects, and the lovely rendering of the figures with a minimum of clean lines, formalist layout and lush but delicate full animation remind of Seiichi Hayashi, but both of these are creators with an entirely personal approach that isn't representative of the industry at large. I think this is an excellent example of international experience enriching a creator's work with a certain perspective or aesthetic range that would otherwise be lacking, and is lacking in most domestic creators. It feels international, yet very Japanese.

The first thing that struck me was the superb visual layout sense that Sakakakibara exhibits throughout the entire piece. Everything feels extremely refined and elegant and formal. As if to drive the point home, there are even floor shots in traditional Japanese homes, straight out of Ozu. Every one of the shots in the film is like a gorgeous, tasteful postcard. There are even references to the Choju Giga, and some of the shots of the engawa have a certain angle that seems to reference some of the old Genji Monogatari paintings.

The animation is really wonderful, reined in and elegant but rich and nuanced, and very precise in its detail, without being maniacal or overanimated. It's very spare, but every movement feels magnificent and is exciting to see unfold in its calm beauty. The characters slide through these formal compositions slowly and delicately, their movements rendered with the utmost care and grace, as they were an extension of the serene environs. The animation technique changes a few times to narrate past events, and this is done convincingly. The story told by the visuals is compelling but told in an understated way. The film is filled with moments of warm humor that are well handled. The conclusion is moving, giving this small film a considerable narrative heft for a 7-minute film. For a graduation film, this film feels accomplished and assured, as if it were from the hand of a veteran artist.

I love Sumito Sakakibara's style of animation, so I hope to be able to see his other films some time. I also dearly hope he continues to make films with this sensibility in the future, as Kamiya's Correspondence is a film of rare tenderness and honesty, and stands quite apart from most of the rest of Japanese production in its depiction of real life that is simultaneously more stylized yet more real and authentic feeling. I saw the film on a DVD print on the Best of the British Animation Awards Vol. 6, and this is a film that should definitely only be seen in DVD quality to appreciate the delicate drawings properly. I don't know if the film is available on any other DVDs out there, but I recommend the DVD overall anyway, as it's a great set even besides this film.