[Anime] A note of nostalgia: Satoshi Kon, Kunio Kato, ga-nime etc

'The Diary of Tortov Roddle' (2003) by Kunio Kato (1977 - present)

‘The Diary of Tortov Roddle’ (2003) by Kunio Kato (1977 – present)

The Agency for Cultural Affairs [文化庁] is a semi-governmental body in Japan, and every year they host the Japan Media Arts Festival, which gives out awards to, among other things, animation. In the past, they had given the Grand Prize to well-deserving masterpieces such as Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) and Summer Wars (2009), Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress (2001), and Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke (1997) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2001).

However, it has been 3 whole consecutive years since 2012 when a Japanese anime last took the Grand Prize. The last three winners were Laurent Boileau Jung’s Couleur de peau: miel (2013), Anna Budanova’s The Wound (2014), and Boris Labbé’s Rhizome (2015).

Whether you accept this as evidence that Japanese animation has been showing signs of decline is up to you. In the past few years, many “must-see” films such as Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013), Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises (2013), Mamoru Hosoda’s  The Boy and the Beast (2015) and Keiichi Hara’s Miss Hokusai (2015) have come and gone, but for me personally they were decent but not Great with a capital G.

Kunio Kato's 'The Diary of Tortov Roddle' (2003)

Kunio Kato’s ‘The Diary of Tortov Roddle’ (2003)

In a spell of nostalgia, I began to rewatch older masterpieces. There is everything by Satoshi Kon (1963 – 2010), for example. While I cannot complain that a dead master can no longer make new films, what I found saddening is that even those alive seem to have been inactive for many years. I mean masters like Kunio Kato [加藤久仁生] (1977 – present) and his unforgettable works The Diary of Tortov Roddle (2003) and La maison en petits cubes (2008).

His works just defy analysis and should simply be enjoyed as a dreamlike experience. The only thing I will say here is that the last story arc of The Diary of Tortov Roddle where the protagonist falls in love with the flower lady is simply magical. The passage of time is signalled by the blossoming and withering of flowers, and when the love is no more, he puts away the (now dried-up) flower she gave him into his diary, which the title explicitly refers to and which we see only for the first time after almost the entirety of the film. I think this is the thing he has been searching for to fill his diary with. The irony is that by the time the experience of love (fresh flower) is crystalized into a more or less durable form (dried flower) for the record, the romance is no more.

Kunio Kato's 'La maison en petits cubes' (2008)

Kunio Kato’s ‘La maison en petits cubes’ (2008)

Kunio Kato has been inactive since 2008. He should be 39 years old this year, and at around this age the other masters were working on arguably the best works of their lives – Satoshi Kon with his Millennium Actress, Hayao Miyazaki with his Castle in the Sky. Where could Kunio Kato be hiding all this time?

I also find myself feeling nostalgic for ga-nime [画ニメ], a series of artistically animated stories composed of still pictures and poetic lines. They were active between 2006 and 2009 but have fallen silent since. Their most representative works included Neko-machi [猫町] and Fantascope ~tylostoma~.

Nekomachi

Nekomachi

So these are my notes of nostalgia and thank you very much for indulging me thus far. I am pinning my hopes on Makoto Shinkai’s [新海誠] Your Name. [君の名は。] this summer. Production I.G.’s 2017 remake of The Legend of Galactic Heroes [銀河英雄伝説] should also be interesting. What else am I missing?

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4 thoughts on “[Anime] A note of nostalgia: Satoshi Kon, Kunio Kato, ga-nime etc

  1. Ah, Kunio Kato and Satoshi Kon 🙁 Memories and dreams. I’m not into very bizarre stuff but their work made at least emotional sense to me. I love them to bits. In contrast Yoshitaka’s short animations aren’t memorable for me. I haven’t watched Nekomachi and I should correct this mistake.

    There’s an honest effort by Japan Animators expo. I’m pretty sure you might find something of your taste there. The piece I fell in love with is a promotional trailer of Anno Moyoco’s Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen. It’s got this old paper filter and discusses the nature of perverts as well as the affairs of the protagonist who works in a Parisian brothel.

    You should try Kyousogiga if you want something colourful and a bit bizarre and probably the only anime family story I’ll ever love.

    Look out for the return of Sayo Yamamoto with Yuri on Ice, a series about Russian iceskaters.

  2. @ Ayame

    Thanks for suggesting Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen – it’s a decent attempt. Just trying to embed it here from Youtube for the benefit of others who may be reading this:

    Kyousogiga I saw already and it’s somewhere on my to-do list in terms of blogging.

    I didn’t know that Sayo Yamamoto is working on a new project. The storyboarding in the trailer is amazing – they surely must have put in a lot of effort to get the skating human body right and interesting to watch. This is certainly something to watch out for after The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (which I am in the middle of watching). Really grateful for the heads up!

  3. vv

    How about the Noitamina movies of Project Itoh? The stories may be average but the art direction is quite something. I am curious what you thought about them.

  4. vv:

    I think you have summed up Project Itoh well already – good art direction but average stories.

    Some people delight in bashing something but I am not the bashing type. I have only so much time to blog, and when I do blog I would rather use my time to focus on something I would recommend to others more or less without reservation. I have too many reservations about Project Itoh to actually do a post on it.

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