18th Animation Division Critiques
Towards a New Era
This is my second year serving on the Jury for the Japan Media Arts Festival's Animation Division. This year I was the main judge and I feel I got a good sense of the judging process. In this division we judge, appraise, and decide the awards for all the entries that fall under the banner of "animation" - animated short films and animated feature films, independent works and commercial releases, general work and student work, computer graphic animation and hand-drawn animation, and from Japan and overseas. While I could sense the downside to this, I once again recognized the merits and excitement of this method.
There are issues with what is good too. For example, the applicants are the ones who decide their classification - "animated feature film/animated TV series/original video animation", or "animated short film" - so while the Jury may well think something is more valid as an animated short, it may actually be entered as an animated feature film, TV series, or original video animation. Although the division is very broad, on the other hand, there are animation entries that are sent into the Art or Entertainment Divisions. To borrow the words of TSUTSUI Yasutaka on science fiction, this is probably revealing of the permeation and proliferation of "animation", or, to borrow next from Walter PATER on music, it might well be that all art constantly aspires towards the condition of animation. Be that as it may, being involved with the judging for the Animation Division gives you a deep sense of the diversity and possibilities of animation, while also leaving you with the impression that as its social approval and territorial independence rises, the animation in film festivals and arts festivals is being driven into a single framework.
At any rate, in the Animation Division for this festival we can certainly see an increase, quantitatively and qualitatively, in the spread and diversity of animation. Last year it was an overseas work that won the Grand Prize - not only a feature film but a documentary animation at that - while the New Face Awards were monopolized by young Japanese animators. This year, though, it was another overseas artist who won the Grand Prize, and with a short film. Moreover, she is an artist so young she could even be called a New Face. The judging is comprehensive and cross-category, and while the prizes are established by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan, entries are accepted regardless of country or region. We might then think of this year's result as part of the natural course, and yet we might also say that a win once again for an overseas work, an animated short undeniably with disadvantages compared to longer works made by multiple people and with larger budgets, demonstrates the distinctive character of the festival's judging and its international growth. And that the prize was won by an artist so young is testament to how fresh talent is truly coming to the fore in this field. There were certainly rare examples where you can sense the patina of a master far removed from the newcomers. The digitalization of animation, touched upon in last year's critique, has matured, which has arguably been supported by the expansion of high school education in this area.
The Excellence and New Face Awards showed how Japanese commercial animation is alive and kicking. Crayon Shin-chan: Serious Battle! Robot Dad Strikes Back is a symbolic piece of the Japanese animation scene, which produces numerous gems among all the works made yearly as part of long-running series. Giovanni's Island showed the raw capability of Japanese animation to make something of quality as works that reflect deeply on society. New Face Award-winner YAMADA Naoko has already been picked by many as a director of note. Her work represents the everyday story style - one of several genres showing the unique and multifaceted nature of Japanese animation - while she is also a symbol of the progress female artists have made. For the animated shorts, overseas entries dominated both the Excellence and New Face Awards, but all were masterful works and in particular the New Face Awardwinners demonstrated the level of quality among student and young artists' work today.
Of special mention is that WATANABE Yasushi was given the Special Achievement Award in the animation field. Until now numerous artists have been cited through this award and in recent years technical staff have also started to receive recognition, but it is virtually unheard of in this field for a critic or researcher to be rewarded like this. Looking over the Grand Prize, Excellence Awards, New Face Awards, and Special Achievement Award, we can perhaps say that both the Japan Media Arts Festival and the animation world have entered a new era.