23rd Animation Division Critiques
Making Bold Advances into an Uncertain World Ahead
Despite the overall decline in the number of works submitted to the Japan Media Arts Festival this year, the Animation Division alone saw an increase in submissions, many of them truly outstanding films. Even among the works that were not selected for the Grand Prize and the Excellence Awards, there were films that would likely have won an award if submitted in a different year. They placed a heavy burden on the jury members and, in fact, instilled a fair share of anguish during the jury sessions. Any disparity in our evaluation of the works was miniscule and seemed to simply come down to differences in the preferences of the jury members. As for this year's trends, what stood out for me were the stories on the theme of forward movement, one's struggle to change, individually, the environment's status quo. There were also many works that conveyed a powerful message of accepting change, and striving to move forward to an imminent world, to an uncertain future. I have served as a jury member for three years now, and each year I come across this interesting phenomenon of a common trend in many of the works, regardless of whether they come from Japan or other countries. Among them, Children of the Sea was distinguished with the Grand Prize. The image work of this film, which faithfully brings to the screen the appeal of the original manga book drawings, can only be described as brilliant. A ten-minute section of the second half, in particular, was truly overwhelming. In the first half, there were somewhat redundant and lengthy scenes, but the film overall is so powerful that no one seems to remember them after watching it to the end. LONG WAY NORTH, which won an Excellence Award, immersed us in the vast, harsh nature of the North Pole. Despite the simple character design, I was fascinated as much as the sailors in the story were by the strong willpower exerted by the central character, Sasha. The Social Impact Award was newly established this year and its first recipient was Weathering With You. The purpose of this award is to distinguish a work that has made a deep and lasting impact on society. The reason for the prize being awarded to Weathering With You is the effect that the aesthetic screen art, created by SHINKAI Makoto, has had on numerous films and creators. This year, the awarded works included a large number of animated short films. Three of the four recipients of the Excellence Award, as well as all three winners of the New Face Award, were short films. When the jury evaluates the works that all fall under the common category of "animation films," inevitably the winners of the Grand Prize and the Excellence Award tend to be dramatic, feature-length movies. In a follow-up to last year, however, when the Grand Prize went to La Chute, this year, too, we saw a large number of outstanding works worthy of the Grand Prize, giving me a great deal of satisfaction. GON, THE LITTLE FOX is a puppet animation based on the beloved children's story with the same title. The authors have come up with creative ways to help viewers empathize with Gon, for instance by depicting the little fox realistically when seen from a human viewpoint, but also as a lovable character from an animal perspective. The story is set in expansive surroundings, enabling the viewer to smoothly blend into the worldview of the film. With its original drawings and unique perspective, Nettle Head could be described as an animated version of the American coming-of-age film Stand by Me. The rite of passage from childhood to adulthood is skillfully depicted from the viewpoint of the main characters, and I felt drawn in by their expression of anxiety and fear. As for A Japanese Boy Who Draws, I was fascinated by the creators' concept of conveying the story through the very drawings of the young protagonist. The careful attention to detail in depicting the main character's friends as "friends' drawings," as well as the idea of using live action images in parts of the story, establish it as an impressive piece of work. These three animated short films are delightful, high-quality works that rival any featurelength movies in terms of dramatic plot and storytelling, but in fact, there were many more films of the same quality among the works that missed winning an award by only a slim margin. We also saw some expansion this year in terms of the countries and regions from which works were submitted, which led to a large number that were based on a diverse range of cultures and values, creating a sense of the prospects for animation that is completely different from the Japanese style. I believe this trend will grow even more, and so my work on this jury has filled me with great expectations.