I love Japanese cinema. I love stop motion animation. So you can imagine how delighted I was when Japan Society announced Tomoyasu Murata: Stop Motion Master, a special showcase of short films that represent the very best of both worlds.
Claymation artists tend to quickly develop an easily recognizable visual style (see: Rankin/Bass, Laika), and Murata is no exception: his puppets exhibit a charmingly rough, hand-crafted quality, and both his characters and the spaces they inhabit overflow with personality: an aging widower’s bedroom is realistically cluttered, an avalanche of stuffed toys is unleashed when a young girl kicks off her bedsheets, an unfinished puzzle symbolizes the regrets of a pair of twins separated by death before they could resolve their final argument, and so on. Thematically, each movie is profoundly rich and compelling, meditating on such topics as memory, mortality, and the afterlife. Best of all, the stories are generally told without any spoken dialogue (meaning is instead conveyed through music, sound design, and editing), making them universally comprehensible and enjoyable across cultural boundaries.
Murata’s body of work remains relatively modest (this 85-minute screening was the product of seventeen years’ worth of labor), but it is breathtakingly beautiful despite its brevity. Hopefully, this North American premiere will earn it enough attention to warrant a home video release; I’d relish the opportunity to revisit these bite-sized masterpieces.