19th Animation Division Critiques

The Japan Media Arts Festival – Approaching it’s 20th Anniversary

This year, we have received a record high of 823 entries in the Animation Division, and in particular, short films showed a marked rise reaching 756. Also, entries from 62 countries and regions marked the largest number among the four divisions. This shows the worldwide popularity of animated short films. Animation is one of the four divisions in the Japan Media Arts Festival, but the words in the title, namely "Japan", "Media Arts", and "Festival", made it difficult to cowey the inclusive nature to foreign animators. Due to these reasons, it was difficult to bring attention to parties overseas in animation industries and have them apply until recently, compared with other international animation film festivals. However, for these three years, works from overseas have received the Grand Prize of the Animation Division, and short films have won the Grand Prize over long films. The increasing presence and popularity of the Japan Media Arts Festival in the international animation scene can also be one of the factors.
In contrast, 67 pieces of animated feature films and animated series entered. Not so many considering the number of domestic and international productions in this category. It can be said that the difference in quantity of both categories leads to the difference in the number of awards received, two for animated feature films (zero for animated series) versus six for short films out of eight awards, including three types of awards, Grand Prize, Excellence Awards, and New Face Awards, however, at the jury, a member who knows the field well also pointed out that new and provocative Japanese commercial animations are decreasing. Such tendency may be apparent in the breakdown of 23 Jury Selections, which is 19 short films, three animated feature films, and one animated series. The Japan Media Arts Festival is an open competition, and not all animations made in Japan are automatically considered for the competition. We, therefore, cannot categorically claim that selected works always reflect the state of Japanese animation totally. Despite the large number of production★1, including 232 new works in the genre of animated series and 73 new works in the genre of animated feature film in 2014, the current decrease of momentum in the Japanese animation industry is a matter of great concern. Judging from Award-winning Works or Jury Selections, one might point out we tend to focus on or value works from overseas. Needless to say, we committed to judge them without any prejudgement and bias.
Considering the purpose of the Japan Media Arts Festival, which is to honor and introduce superior works of high artisty and creativity, we have our own criteria, different from general standards such as popularity or commercially great hits. In this sense, Rhizome can be really considered an appropriate selection for this festival. It neither depends on story nor characters, of course, neither an abstract animation nor a CG simulation. Starting from analog drawings, a certain "ecological" animation with revolutionary expressions, techniques, and formats is created by making use of the digital filming techniques. Although it may appear suitable for the Art Division, this work is superbly created as a straightforward film animation. The Case of Hana & Alice, which won an Excellence Award, is the first animation film by an experienced movie director. His harmonious, skillful use of cell-like 3DCG, rotoscope, and analog drawing animations are innovative. It is a work that provides a critical view of the formats or the concepts of genres in films. All chosen works were meaningful and significant, and we can say the purpose of recognizing and introducing superior works was achieved.
However, it doesn't mean that there was't any problem. To judge all animation works in one category - such as long and short films, which have different playing times, works one episode long or TV series episode - is a characteristic feature of this festival, but at the same time it makes the decision difficult. There are many works which include animation expression or techniques in the Art Division as well as the Entertainment Division, and there are some "moving images" using digital media even in the Manga Division. Next year, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Festival. Now, I suppose, is the time to review and rebuild the divisions or categories, as well as the methods and system of judgement.

★1─ Edited by The Association of Japanese Animation database working group, Anime Industry Report 2015, The Association of Japanese Animation, 2015

KOIDE Masashi
Animation Researcher and Professor, Tokyo Zokei University
Born in 1957 in Aichi Prefecture. Graduated from Tokyo Zokei University’s Department of Design with a major in film. He became a professor at Tokyo Zokei University in 1988. Specializing in communication design, film and animation studies, he is involved in education and research in the area of communication design, research in animation theory, as well as planning and organizing activities including study sessions, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, and film festivals. KOIDE is the chair of the Japan Society for Animation Studies, the executive chairman of New Chitose Airport International Animation Festival, an executive committee member of the Inter College Animation Festival (ICAF), a member of the Japan Society of Image Arts & Sciences (JASIAS), the Association Internationale du Film d’Animation (ASIFA), and other organizations. He has recently published as a co-author and editor: Eiga hyakka daijiten (Film Encyclopedia) [Nihon Tosho Center, 2008], Anime-shon no jiten (Animation Encyclopedia) [Asakura Shoten, 2012] and Gendai dezain jiten (Contemporary Design Encyclopedia) [Heibonsha, 2014].