Břetislav Pojar and Miroslav Štěpánek #1: Pojar’s “Hey Mister, Let’s Play!” entries (1965)

vlcsnap-2020-12-23-16h07m18s672

Watch the films discussed in this article with English subtitles on YouTube!

…or, download files of them for personal viewing here!

In the years since I initially spoke at length about the multi-talented animator Břetislav Pojar, and his important collaborations with artist Miroslav Štěpánek, I have learned some valuable things about them and their working relationship and how it regrettably deteriorated over time, not least because of disputes over who deserved more credit for the success of their works together—in particular, their beloved series of shorts featuring the two bears who met at Kolín, known as Pojďte pane, budeme si hrát (Hey Mister, Let’s Play) and Kdo to hodil, pánové? (Who Threw That, Gentlemen?). During this period, I also discovered that Pojar and Štěpánek actually made a TV series after The Garden ended, Dášeňka, based on Karel Čapek’s dog-rearing novel of the same name, and it was a treat to see more Pojar films that I had not known even existed at the time I wrote my original articles. And this past February, I discovered that Czech Television has made several episodes of their old multi-installment television anthology, Mistři českého animovaného filmu (Masters of Czech Animated Film), available for free viewing on their website; to my elation, they included four of the Hey Mister, Let’s Play shorts with original credits, and they even came with subtitles transcribing all the dialogue in the short films themselves.

Things progressed even further in March, when I somehow discovered that subtitles for all episodes of Mistři českého animovaného filmu, and all of the Hey Mister and Who Threw That shorts individually, were available online; even when the episodes themselves weren’t viewable, the subtitles for them were strangely buried within the HTML code of their individual pages on Czech Television’s website. Around this same time, I also realized that most of the narration in Dášeňka was taken straight from the original book; altogether, this meant that all three of the major Pojar-Štěpánek series (Hey Mister/Who Threw That, The Garden, Dášeňka) already had more-or-less complete written transcriptions in Czech, and were just waiting to translated by someone who had enough time and knowledge.

html

A transcript for “Princesses are Not to Be Sniffed At”…buried inside HTML code on Czech Television’s website!

I quickly realized this would be a great opportunity to do a huge service to those animation fans out there who love Pojar and his works, especially the Hey Mister series, but have been unable to fully appreciate them owing to the language barrier, as well as to further publicize what I have learned about his career and collaboration with Štěpánek; while I must openly admit to not being a Czech speaker, I have nevertheless made a painstaking attempt to translate these shorts using the subtitles provided by Czech Television, with the help of numerous online resources and pages (not least of which was this dictionary, aha). The results are not quite perfect, and I welcome corrections from any Czech speakers who notice any mistakes I may have made; still, it’s nice to finally be able to revisit these wonderful shorts with at least a little bit of extra knowledge and insight.

This planned series of articles, as it stands, would not be possible without the immense support of Marin Pažanin, whose Ajetology blog is a valuable resource on Czech animation in its own right; it was his interest in the artists behind Pat & Mat that led to him interviewing, among others, the great ex-Pojar animator Jan Klos, whose anecdotes were crucial to a further understanding of these series and the personalities behind them. Marin is also responsible for providing me with several of the images that will be used to illustrate these articleseither by pointing me to certain resources or by scanning them himself from his copy of the book Zlatý věk české loutkové animace—as well as correcting or suggesting changes to my translations of the shorts themselves, and most importantly he even pointed me to the existence of the Japanese DVD of The Garden, which featured those films in vastly superior quality to the versions that have circulated online for years. (You can watch these Japanese versions with my subtitles here!) I will always be grateful to him. (more…)

The 11 Cats (11ぴきのねこ) and Other Tales (1976, 1980)

11 and others

At long last, a certain dream of mine for almost four years now has come true—namely, for Group TAC’s long-forgotten classic film The 11 Cats, which was originally released on this very day 40 years ago, to receive English subtitles! Even better, the film is now available for viewing in a better-quality version that was previously online, and best of all, it even comes with English-subtitled versions of director Shirō Fujimoto’s three best episodes for TAC’s legendary anthology series, Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, which showcase his unique talent as an illustrator and even painter in his own right.

Download these films directly from Google Drive!

…or, watch them on Youtube!

Had I been told back in the late summer of 2016 that I, and two other friends I’ve made since then (Meizhan and Kenji, the latter of whom contributed a guest article to this very blog last year), would ultimately be the ones to undertake this project, I would not have believed it. Yet so much has changed since then, and I like to think I’ve grown immensely as a person and writer, so here we are…

Ben Ettinger has already written a nice primer on The 11 Cats and the creative figures behind it, so for this article, I would like to delve even further into the historical context behind the film’s making and what said creative figures were up to at the time, as well as offer certain insights on the film and the MNMB episodes—and Fujimoto’s own directorial vision, for that matter—that have hitherto not been brought up in a public space. Additionally, I would like to recount the tumultuous events that led up to this very day, including a look at the enormous difficulties I encountered in creating at least a semi-restored version of the film. (more…)

Scattered Impressions of Zagreb Film’s Early Years: Dušan Vukotić, Vatroslav Mimica, Vlado Kristl

zagreb 3x3

Last year marked the 65th anniversary of the founding of Zagreb Film, which for a few decades was home to one of the premiere animation studios on the international scene. The Zagreb School of Animation was distinguished by its emphasis on an artist’s unique vision, its variety of approaches to filmmaking and design, its deliberate use of stylized animation, its experimentation with unconventional soundtracks, and, perhaps most crucially, its focus on making fun of the absurdities, foibles, and cruel realities of life from the little man’s perspective.

To continue this blog’s previous ill-fated format of Capsule Reviews, I will try to discuss the films of the studio’s most visionary artists over a few articles. For this first entry, I will focus on the three great directors who defined the studio’s early years, namely creative leader Dušan Vukotić, live-action filmmaker Vatroslav Mimica, and modern artist Vlado Kristl. Owing to the sheer volume of films, I may not go quite as in-depth as I have in previous articles; nevertheless, I would like to shed some light on an important corner of animation and film history that is, alas, largely neglected among general audiences nowadays. A few reviews, labeled with [popka], have been written by my dear friend Benjamin Wang; additionally, in a change from this blog’s previously-exclusive focus on animation, we have discussed some of Vukotić’s and Mimica’s live-action films, as they were very much a continuation of their work in animation. (more…)

An Honorary Compendium of Writings on Toshio Hirata (平田敏夫) and His Collaborators

February 16th, 2018 marked what would have been the 80th birthday of the late but great Japanese animator Toshio Hirata, and today marks four years since his death. To commemorate these occasions, I’d like to discuss several of his most personal films as a director, … Continue reading An Honorary Compendium of Writings on Toshio Hirata (平田敏夫) and His Collaborators

Ishu Patel, A Truly International Animator

patel.png

The Indian-Canadian animator Ishu Patel is emblematic of the spirit of pioneering, unconventional, and personal animated filmmaking that characterized the most brilliant talents at the National Film Board of Canada, through which he created six films over a period of two decades. In each of those six films, Patel adopts a novel visual style and storytelling mode to express his vision, often drawing not from other animators but from his own ingenuity, resourcefulness, and experiences growing up in rural India and afterwards. Even now, his works are easily among the most inspired in animation, with their beautiful artistry typically backed up by equally powerful, allegorical, universally-appealing stories and compellingly offbeat soundtracks.

Patel had no intention of becoming an animator from a young age; indeed, not until he had begun a career at the National Institute of Design at Ahmedabad was he first exposed to international animation, particularly the short films of the NFBC. Realizing that animated films could be the work of a single visionary, and that his own interests and skills (particularly in illustration, photography, and design) were all involved in making animation, Patel began devoting his time and energy to using the materials and equipment at the NID to learn animation, often by experimenting, shooting tests, and watching other animators’ films; his being self-taught in this manner undoubtedly accounts for the singular quality of his work once he established himself as a director at the NFBC in the mid-1970s. (more…)

Witold Giersz: Poland’s Animator-Painter (Part 1)

vlcsnap-2017-10-16-10h32m20s570.png

Among the most prolific Polish animators of the past century, and certainly one of the most accessible, is Witold Giersz. His defining trait, in several of his more ambitious films, is his painterly, visuals-focused approach to animation: his characters are unabashedly the medium with which they were created, whether paint or crayon or even tissue, brought to vivid life. He moreover instills a gentle, biting humanism into several of his films: he depicts how people can be idiotic, imprudent, and spiteful, if not downright malicious, but does so with such warmth and humor that it’s clear he does not think humans as a whole are irredeemable so much as they are well-meaning, if ultimately flawed in a variety of ways and often prone to being doomed by their own vanities and those of others. (more…)

Tadanari Okamoto in 1971: Moving into 2D with “Chikotan, My Bride” and Two Other Melancholy Musicals

collage

For the first few years of his independent career, Tadanari Okamoto largely stuck with stop-motion; even during this early period, however, he already had a penchant for experimenting with different materials and designs. In his first three films alone, based on stories by science fiction writer Shinichi Hoshi, the rather pedestrian puppets of his Noburō Ōfuji Award-winning A Wonderful Medicine, which nevertheless featured delightfully sloppy-looking, mostly hand-drawn FX animation, gave way to the plastic toy-like puppets of its follow-up Welcome, Aliens and then the low-relief wooden puppets of Operation Woodpecker. His desire to try different forms of animation and subject matter became more apparent in the three animated music videos he created for the Song Series from 1968 to 1970, as evidenced by the rugged, wooden aesthetic of Back When Grandpa Was a Pirate and the unabashedly paper-constructed (and also Ōfuji Award-winning) Home, My Home, and said videos reflected the increasing importance of music in his films; his sleek Ōfuji Award-winning 1970 film The Flower and the Mole, meanwhile, featured brief sequences of 2D hand-drawn animation, indicating a willingness to extend into different animated mediums.

1971 would be a landmark for Okamoto in that regard. All three of his works that yearChikotan, My Bride and two more music videoswere his first to be produced entirely in drawn animation, and Chikotan would be the first of his extended films in which the music was truly on an equal footing with the animation. Moreover, these musical works were the first in which a pronounced melancholic tone was prominent, with Chikotan, in particular, becoming outright tragic at its climax, in contrast to the relative lightheartedness of his earlier films. These works remain among the most unappreciated of Okamoto’s early career, with memorable scores, a heartfelt atmosphere, and beautifully-crafted art design and animation that, over 45 years later, continue to impress in their vitality. (more…)

Kōji Nanke (南家こうじ): Anime’s Eclectic Musical Poet

vlcsnap-2017-05-27-12h15m37s395

Animation and music, when crafted and combined well, make for an exhilarating duo. Innumerable cartoons from the Golden Age of American animation, in particular, relied on the visuals working in tandem with the music. Animation itself is a wide-ranging medium, capable of several different modes of expression, and a particularly intrepid filmmaker can spend an entire career experimenting with a variety of forms and styles.

Perhaps the greatest living representative of both these ideas is the Japanese independent animator Kōji Nanke. Almost all of his work has been music videos, particularly for NHK’s Minna no Uta, and within these confines he has often created beautiful gems that not only try out different animated mediums and artistic styles with utmost craftsmanship, but do so with the relationship between the visuals and the music in mind. In Nanke’s best work, the animation and the music are inseparable from each other even as the former is recognizable as his vision, to riveting effect. (more…)