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'Japanese Animation' Fest At The Goldwyn Theater

September 10, 1986|CHARLES SOLOMON

"Festival of Japanese Animation" (at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater of the Motion Picture Academy, Thursday and Friday nights) offers viewers a rare glimpse of the personal films of several independent Japanese animators and the U.S. premiere of a new feature from the mammoth Toie Studio. This uneven, two-part program demonstrates both the beauties of good animation and the dreariness of a bad cartoon.

The exquisite short films of puppet animator Kihachiro Kawamoto, eclipse the other works in the Thursday night show. Kawamoto adapts traditional costumes, make-up and gestures from Kabuki plays to his delicately expressive puppets, but uses stop-motion animation to create effects impossible to achieve on the stage. The audience sees a lust-crazed woman literally turn into a serpentine demon at the climax of his striking "Dojoji."

Like Kawamoto, Tatsuo Shimamura employs traditional Japanese imagery in new ways. "Four Seasons of Japan" (Friday) combines ink drawings on paper and silk with cel animation, live action and computer graphics, in a lovely evocation of the changing moods of nature.

But most of the artists ignore the splendid graphic traditions of Japanese art and ape Western animation--with decidedly mixed results. Yoji Kuri borrows the pacing and graphic style of occidental cartoons to express his own, often outrageous sense of humor in "Vanish" and "Manga" (Thursday). Osamu Tezuka also copies Western styles but offers minimal content in "Jumping" and "Broken Down Film" (Thursday). Isao Kota's technically sloppy exercise in mixing media, "Meridian Transit" (Friday), looks like bad student work.

"Night on the Galactic Express" (1985), a feature by Gisaboro Sugii based on a short story by the celebrated children's author, Kenji Miyazawa, screens Friday. A lonely boy goes to get milk for his ailing mother, and finds himself traversing the galaxy on a faster-than-light steam railway. Like the planets in St Exupery's "The Little Prince," the stations in various constellations offer the hero and his friend a chance for curious adventures. Reality and fantasy blur aboard the mysterious train, and its trip sometimes seems to represent the journey of life.

The animation in "Galactic Railroad" is very limited--the main characters are depicted as cats, to avoid the problems of drawing humans--but the film making is very skillful. The resulting feature is cool, elegiac and often intriguing.

"Festival of Japanese Animation" screens at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills. General admission is $3. Information: (213) 278-8990.

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