Prof. Hirokazu Miyazaki urged scholars to pay more attention to the importance of international relations “within the act of gift giving,” exploring the example of a friendship doll exchange between the U.S. and Japan.
Marty Gross is a man of many hats in the film world. Coming to Japanese cinema in the ’70s after spending years studying pottery, Marty has written and directed documentaries, restored and licensed films and archival footage with his company Marty Gross Film Productions, conducted interviews and served as consulting producer on many projects, including Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film Dreams. All the while, Marty has continued to teach art classes in Toronto, teaching creativity to future generations of students (including myself). More recently, Marty has worked as a freelance consulting producer with the legendary arthouse distributor Janus Films, the parent company of the Criterion collection. If you pick up a Criterion release of a Japanese film, there’s a good chance you’ll see Marty’s name in the credits. In 2005, Marty’s work for Janus brought him into contact with Seijun Suzuki, one of the most eccentric figures of Japanese film.
First things first, I absolutely adore animation. In my eyes, it’s the most creative and culturally diverse medium in the film industry today, and if 2016 has proven anything to us, it’s that animated films are on a roll with hits like Zootopia, Finding Dory, Sausage Party and the upcoming Moana. Animation works so well for fictional stories because it’s able to make anything believable. It takes just as much time and money for an animator to draw a man walking down the street as it does for them to draw a dragon fighting a giant octopus. The only limits are the filmmakers’ imaginations.
Animation has always held a distinct position within the realm of film, enchanting viewers with its unique advantages. One of its most powerful capabilities is its ability to infuse fantastical elements into otherwise totally realistic settings. Before the advent of CGI, animation was pretty much the only way to create convincing epic fantasy worlds such as those we see in contemporary blockbusters like Avengers or Lord of the Rings. When it comes to the history of western animation, Disney towers above almost everyone else. Virtually every American child in the 20th century has come into contact with the ideals expressed in films like The Lion King.
To many, animated movies seem like a medium for children: pretty, colorful and reassuring, with straight edges and corners, gaudy colors that fit just inside the lines, and a lack of the moral ambiguity that cannot help but enter a film when the characters are played by actual humans. The work of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio best known for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, has proved again and again that animated films can be complex, provocative and even disturbing, and remain enthralling for children. However, the intrigue of Studio Ghibli’s films hardly expires at a young age. I’ve only recently come to them (I haven’t even seen the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away yet), but I have been captivated by the few I’ve seen so far. The 1991 Studio Ghibli film Only Yesterday, directed by Isao Takahata, has only just been given a United States release with an English dub, 24 years later.
When considering artwork from Japan, one often thinks of the traditional ukiyo-e woodblock prints that made their way to Europe to inspire the Impressionists. After Hiroshige: A Century of Modern Japanese Prints demonstrates the growing influence in the other direction during the twentieth century — that of West on East. This exhibition at the Johnson Museum emphasizes the push during the Meiji period in Japan for modernization and industrialization, a move reflected in the shin hanga (new prints) and sosaku hanga (creative prints) that became popular during this time. With this new modernization, artists reflected a nostalgia for the past, as well as the growing influence of the West.