25th Animation Division Critiques

Life Becomes Visible Today after Transformation by the Pandemic

The Animation Division received a total of 565 entries
this year. Amid the unceasing COVID-19 pandemic,
production in a restrictive environment must have been
harder than expected. Therefore, getting a greater number of entries than last year was a joyful surprise for
the jury.
My overall impression was that there were many entries with “death” for a theme or motif. This may have
something to do with both physical and visual experiences of “death,” literally, in our everyday life through
the news about the world-shaking pandemic and political unrest. However, outstanding works tended to be
highly critical in nature, such as reinterpreting humanism and “life” through the image of “death,” rather than
portraying “death” itself.
Among such diverse works, the Grand Prize winner,
The Fourth Wall, stood out not only for its unique motif,
but also for its totally unexpected visual aspect. “The
fourth wall” is a theatrical term meaning the boundary
between fiction (story) and the audience. It is interesting that a microcosm representing a relationship within
a family invades the audience’s world through pointof-view shots and whirlpool-like spinning images. The
mother becomes a washing machine, and the father
becomes a refrigerator viewed from the child’s point of
view. The expression of dripping water is also excellent.
A wide variety of works won the Excellence Awards: the
animated feature film Dozens of Norths, the animated
short film Letter to a Pig, the animated feature film
TV series Sonny Boy. The former two works demonstrate a willingness to move forward while struggling,
even though their major themes are negative, such
as human suffering, death, and anxiety. The latter two
are entertaining, yet I think they address the major
themes for young people: What is life and how to
perceive the world?
The Social Impact Award went to PUI PUI MOLCAR,
which is a stop-motion animation featuring unique puppet characters, guinea pigs with wheels. Loaded with
funny jokes, the series deals with topics that make both
children and adults think, “This happens in real life.
” The
work is befitting the Social Impact Award, in the sense
of being the first three-minute animated short series
featuring puppets that went so viral.
The New Face Award went to the animated TV series
ODDTAXI, animated short films A Bite of Bone, and Yallah! All of them encompass “death,” but their outputs
vary. ODDTAXI can be classified as a mystery entertainment film that associates issues in modern society
with the accidental deaths of the protagonist’s parents
and the mysterious death of a prospective pop star. Terrors hidden in a convenient and familiar world—online
auctions, in-game purchases, and social networking
services—also startled me. A Bite of Bone depicts the
inner world of a child (the artist), inspired by the custom of chewing bones of the dead after cremation. I
was engrossed in the film, as the impressive pointillist
technique and expression of light ingeniously make the
story of death and trauma fantastical. Yallah! is a 3D
CG film inspired by the 1982 civil war in Beirut. The
contrast between a boy who is determined to go to a
swimming pool and a frustrated grownup is interesting,
even though it takes place in a war-torn world where
“death” is close at hand. Even a child’s modest wish
for swimming can be a major issue; the film shows us
such absurdity.
In my three years of serving on the jury, it has been a
great honor and joy to glimpse the transition of various
animation techniques and expressions in such a short
period of time. There were many excellent works that
missed awards but were comparable to the award-winners. In addition to the Award-winning Works mentioned
here, there were 32 Jury Selections. I hope that you will
enjoy them firsthand and find your own “favorite.”

Professor, Institute of Urban Innovation Yokohama National University
SUGAWA completed her Ph.D. in the Department of Film and Television Studies at the Graduate School of the University of Warwick in the UK. Her focus of study was animation, 2.5D theater and other elements of popular culture theory, as well as audience and fan research. She is the vice chair of the Japan Society for Animation Studies. Her research focuses on audiences and representations of young girls in television animation in terms of gender. Recently, she has been engaged in researching female fans in 2.5D culture. Author of Shojo to maho: Ga-ru hi-ro ha ikani juyo sareta no ka (Girls and Magic: How have girl heroes been accepted?) (NTT Publishing, 2013), she received the 2014 Japan Society for Animation Studies Award. Co-author of works such as Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives (University Press of Mississippi, 2013), Teaching Japanese Popular Culture (AAS, 2016), Shōjo Across Media (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), and Women's Manga in Asia and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). Co-editor of works such as Anime kenkyu nyumon: Oyohen (Introduction to Animation Studies: Practical Version) (Gendai Shokan, 2018) and Anime-shon bunka 55 no ki-wa-do (55 Keywords of Animation Culture) (Minerva Shobo, 2019).