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.
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 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～.
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?