26th November (Tuesday)
Kunio Kato (born 1977) is a Japanese animator with a modest filmography, who gained the world’s attention by winning the Oscar Award for The House of Small Cubes (Tsumiki no le), in 2009. He graduated from Tama Art University, and in 2001 joined the crew of animators at Robot studio where his Oscar film was later made.
Despite Kato’s small number of films we may still notice that they are pervaded by surrealism, which can be already sensed in his first a few minute long animation The Apple Incident (2009). The plot takes place in an anonymous city where, at some point, gigantic apples start falling from the sky. The city-dwellers attempt to cope with the unusual situation in every possible way, also by eating the enormous fruits. The Apple Incident is, in fact, just the exercise and a small foretaste of what the director would store for us in his next film, Fantasy (2003), which was well received at the Ottawa Film Festival. Fantasy consists of five episodes tied by a small girl protagonist. The animation style resembles book illustrations, as the frame composition aesthetically match the one of the illustrated pages. The film as a whole is a series of visual haiku, a play with the imagination and the child’s fantasy.
Kato marked his style and the ease of navigating in surreal animated worlds in The Diary of Tortov Roddle (Aru tabibito no nikki, 2004), which was distinguished with a special mention at the Annecy festival. A sixteen-minute story yields a good opportunity to plunge into a fascinating, oneiric world, dipped in green and blue tones. In the film its main character, Tortov, roams on the back of a horse resembling a pig, fish swim in the coffee served at the tavern, rabbits fly to the moon, and the tavern itself eventually rides away on the back of the gigantic toad. Although Kato while working on this film was greatly inspired by the classic illustrated children books, The Diary of Tortov Roddle is without doubt uniquely auteurist. Similarly to Fantasy, it exposes an episodic form so characteristic of haiku – fleeting thoughts of the main character appearing on the screen in subsequent titles. The film is a journey’s diary where fresh thoughts are systematically noted. Kato’s imagination appears to have no boundaries, yet his style is marked by the charming economy of animated lines and colour palette.
The House of Small Cubes (Tsumiki no le, 2008), which won the Oscar Award and the Grand Prix in Annecy, seems to be another natural step in Kato’s artistic growth, especially when compared to his earlier films. It has so far been undoubtedly the most mature work in his career, perfected both in its artistic form and the plot. The film is again an invitation to a journey. This time, however, it is not only a journey through a surreal-oneiric world created by Kato, but also a trip into the main character’s inner self. In the film we are witnesses to an enduring flood steadily devastating the houses built on top of the already flooded ones. Under the water surface exists an old world of the past. One morning, an old man is forced again to build another floor of his house as the water starts to overflow. When he’s finished moving he realizes that he had forgotten to collect his favourite pipe at his old apartment. He rents diving equipment, opens the latch in the floor and dives in through his former apartments, where he meets his deceased wife, daughter, and his past. Outwardly surreal, the story is a metaphor of one’s life, growing old, and an undying memory.
Kunio Kato unquestionably belongs to the group of the most talented contemporary middle-aged animators. His career should be followed with an attentive eye as he’s got a potential to become one of the most interesting artists, capable of pulling an audience into his dreamy, surreal universe.
LA MAISON EN PETITS CUBES / DOM Z MAŁYCH KOSTEK/HOUSE OF SMALL CUBES, reż./dir.: Kunio Katō, muz./music: Kenji Kondo, prod.: ROBOT COMMUNICATIONS INC, Japonia/Japan, 2008, 12‘04“, anim.
The house is almost like “blocks”. A grandpa who lived in the house has been constantly building houses on top, as water level rises. This is the story about his memories related to his family.
SEKISUI HEIM / TO, CO CIĘ CZEKA (WIOSNA, LATO, JESIEŃ, ZIMA) / FOR WHAT WAITS AHEAD (SPRING, SUMMER, AUTUMN, WINTER), reż./dir.: Kunio Katō, prod.: Shinya Kishiro, Japonia/Japan, 2010, 6’, anim.
A series of animated commercial films for a producer of ecological house Sekisui Heim – the company selling building blocks used for construction of houses which can be disassembled, renewed and used again. Each of the four animations illustrates four seasons of the year representing life one of the families.
JOKEI, reż./dir.: Kunio Katō, Japonia/Japan, 2012, 7’, anim.
Seven films made in various techniques which were shown at the exhibition presenting the director’s artistic output. Holidays, snow, soup, friends, morning, nap, call upon the stage.