For my fifth Japan Cuts screening of 2019, I decided to be adventurous and see Experimental Spotlight: Palm of the Hand Cinema, an eclectic collection of quirky shorts and avant-garde oddities. Standouts include: Mountain, in which a bored mother-to-be enacts a fable about the importance of cooperation, empathy, and good will towards others via miniature animal figurines, with her own heavily-pregnant belly representing the eponymous peak; Living in the Story, a documentary exploring the life and work of photographer and anti-nuclear activist Patrick Nagatani; and The Dawn of Ape, a kaleidoscopic sensory assault intended to be viewed by chimpanzees.
The real gem of the bunch, though, was A Japanese Boy Who Draws, a cartoon that chronicles a man’s thirty-year-long struggle to achieve fame and fortune as a comic book artist. As the protagonist ages, the animation style gradually evolves, becoming more polished and professional; when financial difficulties force him to briefly abandon his dream, however, the medium shifts to live-action—dull, oppressive black-and-white footage that perfectly conveys his lack of hope and self-esteem. It’s a beautiful and emotionally nuanced story that is absolutely elevated by its unique and innovative visuals. The tongue-in-cheek “cameo appearances” by such industry legends as Osamu Tezuka and Akira Toriyama are also a nice treat.