Japanese animations to haunt your dreams
// Michael Bastien

Animation has the ability to be a window into the animator’s mind, however dark it may be. On Oct. 28 in celebration of Halloween, Blim, in conjunction with the Powell Street Festival Society, put on an animation screening called Cute to Kill 2, a showcase of Japanese animators who explore morbid subject matter through deceptively cute animations.

Cute to Kill 2 was put together by animator Asa Mori and Yuriko Iga of Blim. Asa Mori was born in Nagano, Japan and obtained a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and works on media installation and animation. Her animation was a surreal claymation about bunny men, inspired by her rabbit who died a week after she got him. Yuriko Iga is a graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design and her current project is called Blim. Blim is a community-based art resource center and retail space located in the heart of Chinatown, which provides studio space, supplies, and workshops.

The submissions for Cute to Kill 2 come from local, national, and international artists of Japanese descent. The short films used minimal dialogue, and instead tell their stories through action.

Among the collection of adorably depraved shorts was Mirai Mizue’s JAM and MODERN, which use minimalist abstract animation using linear figures.

Hand Soap by Kei Oyama is a story about a family of social outcasts that climaxes with a dancing frog. Oyama uses a realistic style by using a collage of photographs shot in close-up to form his characters.

The most unique short was Dark Matter by Sachiyo Takahashi. She tells the story of a lost lamb through microscopic live cinema-theatre. This style is presented live by using a video camera to record miniatures on a set. The story is told through paper speech bubbles, filters, ambient music, and the use of zoom to establish a shot.

Yuriko Iga considers the event to be a success: “I was happy with the turnout and the programming. I love this genre.”

This event was just one of many that celebrate Japanese culture in Vancouver. The Sakura Days Japan Fair celebrates the blooming of cherry blossoms with tea ceremonies, sake tasting, and performances. The Powell Street Festival is the largest event of its kind in Canada and the longest running community arts festival in the Lower Mainland.

Yuriko Iga states, “Vancouver is the closest city to Asia across the water. I think that needs to be recognized. We are neighbours to Asia. Also, there is a large population of Japanese who have been living in BC for a long time now and are certified Canadians.”

“Cuteness” has been a staple in Japanese pop culture since the 70s, replacing the traditional aesthetic of beauty and refinement. One of the most evident examples of cuteness, or kawaii, as it’s known in Japan, is the popularity of Hello Kitty. Founded in 1974, Hello Kitty has become an international phenomenon and can be found on school supplies, plushies, video games, and more.

Another common use of kawaii is the art style of super-deformed characters, commonly known as chibi.

The term moe is used to describe a specific kind of kawaii, usually associated with fictional characters. The show Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an example of combining moe with dark subject matter. It tells the story of a group of magical girls, much like Sailor Moon, that have to battle murderous witches.

The animations featured in Cute to Kill 2, however, are a little more experimental. For example, the most compelling short of the night was Mizue’s JAM. It started off simple, linear, slow, and monochromatic, and slowly evolved into aesthetic chaos.

All of the shorts revelled in the surreal and provoked thought. If you missed this showing, then don’t worry: according to Iga there will be a Cute to Kill 3. “We are hoping to make this an annual event in conjunction with the Powell Street Festival,” she exaplains. The screening is a unique event that blurs the line between cute and scary, or kawaii and kowaii.

// Michael Bastien, Writer
// Illustration by Jason Jeon

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