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 year—Chikotan, My Bride and two more music videos—were 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…)