(This article will likely undergo several revisions over the next couple weeks as I add more entries for individual artists and more information to the artists already covered. Since I wanted to get this out before GEIDAI 07 starts later this week, I was willing to sacrifice some level of polish and detail for topicality’s sake)
GEIDAI Animation, the Tokyo University of the Art’s Animation Masters program, is the most prestigious animation school in Japan. Around a dozen students are admitted each year and the core teaching staff includes independent animators Koji Yamamura (professor of 2D animation), Yuichi Ito (stop motion), and Taruto Fuyama (replacing film critic Takehito Deguchi for research and theory after the second year), and former NHK producer Mitsuko Okamoto (business/production). It’s a two year track with students required to produce a short film for each year. Starting in 2010 the University has held a public screening of these student films in March. For most animation schools, student films are glorified technical exercises without room for much individual expression; the student films at Gobelins, for instance, generally have half a dozen directors and artists working on them with no single dominating voice. However at GEIDAI these student films are the entire purpose of the program. Rather than take newbie animators and teach them the basics of technique, GEIDAI focuses on giving established artists the opportunity to make a couple short films with complete creative freedom.
It’s a remarkable program in a lot of ways. The student body is extremely diverse: majority of graduates are women and there’s a large number of ethnic minorities (Chinese, Korean, Thai, French) as well. The school emphasizes the critical dimension of animation in a way very few animation schools attempt, with regular lectures by scholars Ilan Nguyen and Eiji Otsuka, as well as their Contemporary Animation series which has featured guest lectures and retrospectives by Priit Parn, Caroline Leaf, Georges Schwizgebel, Clare Kitson, Lei Lei, Ruth Lingford, Igor Kovalyov, Co Hoedeman, Gil Alkabetz, and Tadanari Okamoto. Most significantly, the program is conversant with the larger Japanese tradition of animation. Industry vets Masaaki Yuasa, Rintaro, Gisaburo Sugii, Yasuhiro Yoshiura, and Sunao Katabuchi have all attended the March screening, as have non-affiliated independents like Tomoyasu Murata and Nobuhiro Aihara. This year Taiyo Matsumoto is giving a talk to the students.
But most remarkable are the films themselves. Independent animation can be as aesthetically incestuous as the worst commercial product, and many independent animators willingly squander the opportunities of creative freedom, but in nearly every one of their graduates GEIDAI manages to avoid such problems. Forget Gobelins, CalArts, or even Japanese animation in general – GEIDAI warrants comparison to the best of auteur-driven animation from around the world. It’s closest points of reference are the Canadian National Film Board, Zagreb Film, and the Pannonia Film Studio more than any existing animation school. Many of the student films are strange and inscrutable but they’re very rarely cliched, rote, or inauthentic. This is because seriousness is never a posture at GEIDAI; it comes naturally from the animators remaining true to themselves and their art. It’s not often that I’m unreservedly positive about a development in the world of Japanese animation but GEIDAI passes the test.
For the longest time the only way to see the GEIDAI films outside of the festival was to import their yearly anthology DVD or otherwise wait for individual artists to upload their own films on a Vimeo account. This might have something to do with GEIDAI sharing legal ownership of the films with their students so that they can promote them in film festivals overseas, but something must have changed over the last few months as GEIDAI has uploaded nearly every student film from the last 6 years onto their Vimeo and YouTube accounts.
Unfortunately GEIDAI still remains largely unknown in the anime community. Some of the best Japanese animation in years, freely available to anyone with an internet connection, fully subbed in English, and yet most it languishes in double digit views. With the 7th GEIDAI festival approaching us, I’ve written an introductory guide to these films in order to help spread the word. I hope to eventually have every artist represented here and will edit to keep up with new information and releases but for the time being I’ve played a bit of favoritism in my choices. Nevertheless, the vast, vast majority of their films are worth at least a viewing. If you want a synoptic rundown of everything included on the DVDs, Cathy Munroe Hotes of Nishikata Eiga has written blogposts covering every year so far.
GEIDAI 01+ (2010) [trailer]
Saori Shiroki (銀木沙織)
Graduated from Tama Arts University with a degree in oil painting. A paint-on-glass animator in the vein of Aleksandr Petrov. Her color palette rarely strays from sepia tones and muddy browns, and her use of sound is always sparse (2007’s MAGGOT is completely silent). After graduation she joined independent animation outfit CALF, doing commissioned work for a while. Unfortunately she hasn’t done much of note in the last 5 years, though last year she went on a tour of the US animation industry with some fellow indie animators.
Atsushi Wada (和田淳)
A self-taught animator, though he enrolled in Image Forum’s animation school before attending GEIDAI. Arguably the defining graduate of the first few years. Wada was a promising up-and-comer even before he applied to the program, appearing in the indie animation omnibus Tokyo Loop. After graduating he’s enjoyed success at numerous international film festivals, including winning the Silver Bear at the Berlinale in 2012. Wada’s films are drawn exclusively with 0.3mm and 0.5mm mechanical pencils on regular copying paper and calligraphy paper (ie not on cels) with color done digitally. His drawings have delicate lineart and distinctive “tatami mat” hatching. He describes his work in terms of ma (間), the negative space between movements. He was a founding member of CALF studio with Mirai Mizue and Kei Oyama though he has since left the group. Influenced by Igor Kovalyov, Priit Parn, Koji Yamamura, Nobuhiro Aihara, and Jan Svankmajer’s early features.
Akifumi Nonaka (野中晶史)
Graduated from Nagoya City University with a degree in architecture. Of the 01 class Nonaka has best grasp of traditional 2D animation: the figures in CLIMBER are anatomically complex and adhere to linear perspective, yet move freely with tons of smears and deformations. After graduation he’s done freelance gigs and worked part-time as an instructor at Shouhoku College for a few years. According to his blog he might have a new film out soon.
Akiko Omi (大見明子)
Graduated from Wimbledon College of Art with a degree in set design. Omi’s claymation film Gathering fuses 2D projection and 3D claymation, combining her experience in theater with her experience as an animation modeler. Omi has made a few films after her stint at GEIDAI though she’s devoted her energies to set design just as frequently. Winner of the Yoji Kuri award at the ASK? art space kimura festival.
Student films: Gathering
GEIDAI 02 SOURCE (2011) [trailer]
Wataru Uekusa (植草航)
Graduated from Tokyo Polytechnic University with a degree in animation. His style is similar to Yoh Yoshinari in that he combines traditional Western principles (follow through, squash and stretch, anticipation) with Japanese-style FX. His animation is lively, colorful, and unabashedly fun. He prefers animating music video. Currently a freelancer, he was responsible for Punchline’s ED.
Masaki Okuda (奥田昌輝)
Took up animation as a hobby while studying graphic design at Tama Arts University. As an undergrad he often collaborated with future GEIDAI grad Ryo Okawara. His film A Gum Boy made waves on the festival circuit and his graduate film Uncapturable Ideas is reportedly just as good (unfortunately as of this writing it’s one of the few GEIDAI films not available online). His work is strongly indebted to the jittery, cycled movement and roughly painted surfaces of instructor Yamamura’s own films. After graduation he’s done freelance work here and there.
Toshiko Hata (秦俊子)
Graduated from GEIDAI’s undergrad Crafts program. Hata’s films utilize traditional model animation with plainly styled wooden dolls and are generally wordless. She has a fondness for uncanny horror. Currently a freelance animator and illustrator. She hosts her oldest films on her website.
GEIDAI 03 TALK (2012) [trailer]
Ryo Okawara (大川原亮)
Graduated from Tama Arts University with a degree in graphic design. As an undergrad Okawara collaborated with Masaki Okuda on a few films, notably Orchestra. His films generally have a clean, hard-edged aesthetic with no outlines. Yamamura’s 2011 film Muybridge’s Strings left a strong impression on him during his time at the university, something reflected in his graduation film A Wind Egg, widely acclaimed as the best of its year. Okawara is currently a member of CALF and last year debuted his crowdfunded project Sugar Lump which was built around an unusual system of Bobe Cannon-esque smears.
Masanori Okamoto (岡本将徳)
Was enrolled in Musashino Art University as a student in design before turning his attention to animation. A fan of Yuri Norstein, Okamoto’s paper cutout films are done with a similar degree of fastidiousness and close observation of human behavior. His graduation film I am alone, walking on the straight road. is a real cinematic UFO, depicting the poet Santoka Taneda in a moment of contemplation as he drinks and scans his surroundings. Several of his other films are made on-location in busy urban areas. After graduation he’s done some commissioned work like this music video.
Taught himself animation while working as a medical cameraman in India. ALIMO’s films are usually done in oil paints, their palimpsestic texture conveying the weight of memory. Most of his work skews more towards installation and fine art than conventional animation. Considers himself an old-school Surrealist; his 2nd year film Open play, Forgetting eye was an extended riff on the exquisite corpse. After graduating he worked at the Estonian Academy of Arts for a couple years before moving back to Japan.
Sonomi Takada (高田苑実)
Graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in the UK with a degree in fine art. Takada shares more in common with the so-called mythopoetic tradition of experimental cinema like Stan Brakhage and Nathaniel Dorsky than what’s commonly associated with independent animation, though she credits Nobuhiro Aihara as one of her main inspirations. Takada’s films make use of multiple exposure, time lapse, stop motion, pixilation, and an assortment of other tricks to create a dynamic and unusual surface. Her own hands, interacting with the material directly, are a recurring motif. Her graduation film The Surface of the Earth was made in response to the Tohoku earthquake.
YungSong Sung (宋永盛/ヨンソン・ソン)
Born in South Korea and graduated from Musashino Art University. Sung’s work belongs to the visual music genre, with his intent to “draw rhythm.” Influences on his student films include Lucie Rie, Otar Iosseliani, and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Cafe Lumiere. In 2015 he finished his first entirely self-produced project Moonlight Gravity.
GEIDAI 04 SAIL (2013) [trailer]
Tatsuhiro Ariyoshi (有吉達宏)
Graduated from the Musashiro Art University’s Department of Arts and Sciences where he was mentored by Keita Kurosaka. The intense expressionism of Kurosaka’s work left an impact on him but Ariyoshi’s own films are more animistic and abstract in nature. American animator Caleb Wood has praise Ariyoshi, saying that he focuses “on revealing the hidden movements in the foundations of our world.” He’s recently worked on converting his existing films into a live installation piece.
Eri Kawaguchi (川口恵里)
Graduated from Tama Arts University with a degree in graphic design. Physical sensation is at the heart of Kawaguchi’s work; she strives to see the world through ‘flesh’. Her films use tactile, multi-plane stop motion, depicting bodies in close-up. She’s a partner at CALF and in recent years has focused on 2D animation and illustration.
Asami Ike (池亜佐美)
As an undergraduate she attended GEIDAI’s graphic design program. Ike’s art is based on cutesy mascot characters but her films are often ethereal in tone. She pushed those qualities to their limit in her graduation film USALULLABY, produced using an unusual lighting method and accompanied by the music of Yuichi Kishino. In the last few years Ike has been producing Manga Nihon Mukashi Banashi-like shorts for NHK.
Yumi Kawai (河井ゆう美)
Graduated from Tokyo Zokei University’s animation program. Kawai’s films have a baroque shoujo quality borrowed from Moto Hagio and Seiichi Hayashi, particularly the latter’s Demon Love Song. Her graduation film 2 PM at the Glass House was made primarily through rotoscope and dissolves. Currently at Studio WIT.
Satomi Usui (臼井聡美)
Got her undergrad at GEIDAI. Her father was involved in forestry, inspiring a love of nature in her from an early age. Though most of her work is 2D, her graduation film was stop motion with replacement parts designed in Adobe Illustrator. Influenced by My Nieghbor Totoro, Belladonna of Sadness, Ranma 1/2, Dragon Ball, Pinocchio, and Takashi Nakamura’s Peter Pan no Bouken. Currently at Nintendo where she’s worked as a CG artist on Splatoon and Super Mario 3D World.
GEIDAI 05GO (2014) [trailer]
Yantong Zhu (朱彦潼/シュ・ゲンドウ)
Graduated with a degree in advertising from Nanjing University of Finance and Economics. Her film My Milk Cow Cup, which used her childhood relationship with her father as its basis, was the most praised of the graduating class due to its unorthodox combination of cold impartiality and childlike wonder. Her visual style is heavily influenced by Koji Yamamura. She recently animated a promo for the TV spy thriller X Company.
Yutaro Kubo (久保雄太郎)
Graduated with a degree in animation from Tokyo Polytechnic University. A wild and expressive animator who funnels his creativity through rigorous constraints and patterns. He’s cited Ryan Larkin as his main influence and he was an assistant animator on Yamamura’s Hyuga episode of Kojiki. He’s recently done the LOVE&GIFT promotional series for H.P. France.
Yewon Kim (キム・イェオン)
Graduated from Tokyo Polytechnic University with a degree in animation. Kim’s work is more about design than motion, reminiscent of the best parts of Ward Kimball’s Melody and Toot Whistle Plunk Boom in that every shot has an entirely different color scheme and character design. Most of Kim’s films have a slice of life charm to them. Along with fellow GEIDAI grads Ai Sugaya and Toshikazu Tamura she founded OnionSkin, an animator collective specializing in music videos.
Moe Koyano (小谷野萌)
Graduated from Tokyo Polytechnic University with a degree in animation. Koyano’s films are moody and depressive in character but surprisingly rich in color, even when bathed in darker hues. Her thin scribbly lineart helps emphasize the bold approach to color. After graduation, she’s attended The Animation Workshop in Denmark.
Graduated from Iwate University with a degree in art culture. The second woman to ever win the Noburo Ofuji award, Onohana’s Crazy Little Thing is probably the most acclaimed film of this class besides Zhu’s. Unlike most GEIDAI grads, Onohana has thus far been able to keep up a steady pace of production after graduation (her two newest films are such a good place to die and Ouch, Chou Chou). Her blog interview mentions Igor Kovalyov and Atsuko Fukushima as inspirations.
Manami Wakai (若井麻奈美)
Graduated Tama Art University with a degree in oil painting. Wakai’s animation has a clean, naive simplicity and she often makes use of mixed media. Her films are restrained, contemplative, and a tad melancholic. Currently a manager for ANIME SAKKA ZAKKA, a relatively new independent animation festival that has featured several ex-GEIDAI students. Fan of Pom Poko and Amelie.
GEIDAI 06 DAWN (2015) [trailer]
Yoko Yuki (幸洋子)
A graduate from Nagoya University of the Arts and Sciences with a degree in visual media. Yuki mixes a number of radically different styles and materials together – 2D, 3D, digital, analog, claymation, rotoscope, paper cutouts – all unified by her exuberantly crude draftsmanship. There’s a documentary undercurrent to her work as well, particularly Zdravstvuite! which used on-location sound. Despite their cheery exterior her films have an ambiguous tone that’s difficult to decipher at first. Animated a music video for OnionSkin that riffed on BL manga.
Yukie Nakauchi (中内友紀恵)
Graduated from Tama Arts University with a degree in graphic design. Early in her career she collaborated with Mirai Mizue on Poker. Probably one of the year’s best in terms of technical skill, Nakauchi likes to combine the structure of abstract animation with solid, weighty forms. Due to her background in music, Nakauchi’s films emphasize aural qualities within the animation itself.
Takashi Shibuya (澁谷岳志)
Graduated Shinshu University with a degree in geology. Shibuya uses charcoal, thick pastels, and pencil for his animation. His films are bleak and grotesque. His influences include Egon Schiele and linguist Akira Mikami. Often confused for being a woman due to his feminine appearance.
Megumi Ishitani (石谷恵)
Got her undergraduate degree in visual media from GEIDAI. An animator squarely in the Milt Kahl tradition of perspectival accuracy and balanced composition (she mentioned Otomo on Twitter). A traditionalist, Ishitani’s films wouldn’t be out of place next to something like Takashi Nakamura’s Shashinkan. Currently at Toei.
Graduate of Musashiro Art University, where he was exposed to the works of Keita Kurosaka. As an animator he combines professional grade sakuga action with baldfaced amateurism, resulting in a kind of highly refined heta-uma. These qualities made him a perfect fit for adapting web comic artist ONE’s style in the Mob Psycho 100 manga commercials. He’s recently founded his own video/animation group called KENJA.
ShiShi Yamazaki (シシヤマザキ)
Got her undergraduate degree in graphic design from GEIDAI. Yamazaki specializes in rotoscope, usually starring herself as the main subject. She’s done a number of videos with bright pastel coloring but her GEIDAI films are monochrome and passed through a staticky VHS filter. Yamazaki has done a number of side gigs in addition to her directorial work like animating on music videos for Zedd’s Papercut and Pharrell Williams’s It Girl as well as her lifelong project to create a new face mask every single day.
Tsumugi Harunari (春成つむぎ)
Graduate of the International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences with a degree in CGI animation, though her own films are 2D (TVPaint). Her work is marked by its sensual, quasi-abstract texture and ambient sound design. Before attending GEIDAI, she animated a promotional video for the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media.
GEIDAI 07 YELL (2016) [trailer]
Graduate of Tokyo Zokei University. Since she took a gap year her first year film GYRØ is already available. MADOKA’s works draws influence from Michelangelo Antonioni, Ruth Lingford, Luis Bunuel, Michaela Pavlatova, feminism, and the occult. While GYRØ was made with paint, her graduate film TO HEEL will utilized a 2D/3D hybrid system partly inspired by the bizarre ‘Superlivemation’ of Mamoru Oshii’s Tachiguishi-Retsuden.
Student films: GYRØ, TO HEEL
Mio Yamanaka (山中澪)
Graduate of Kobe University. Yamanaka’s films feature diminutive characters, a sparse color palette, constant line boil, and a design sensibility based around implied lines. Unusual for Japanese animation, her GEIDAI films are prescored. She’s a fan of contemporary Japanese fiction, Don Hertzfeldt, and PriPara.
Takuto Katayama (片山拓人)
Graduated from the design program at Nihon University. Worked in graphic design for two years before returning to animation. Katayama says his animation is based around bodily discomfort. He draws in TVPaint but does the actual photography on paper printouts in order to maintain the texture of analog animation. His graduation film In Inertia complicates this back-and-forth process between digital and analog via After Effects, penciled shading, and extensive use of animatics.
Student films: In Inertia, Melting Down
Other: Dissimilated Vision
Chayanit K. (K・チャヤーニット)
Real name Chayanit Kiatchokechaikul. GEIDAI’s first Thai graduate. Her drawings are understated and charming. Equally desirous of becoming a mangaka as becoming an animator. Fan of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Charles Schultz’s Peanuts, and Tove Jansson’s Moomin.
Student films: Dear Little Tim, Will Hatching Day Come?
Yikun Wang (王祎坤/オウ・イコン)
Chinese expat. As with MADOKA, he took a gap year and so his first year film is currently available. One of the better conventional 2D animators of his class. All his animation is processed digitally and rendered without outlines. His visual style is influenced by illustrator Komako Sakai.
Student films: SPOON, RED FOREST
Xinxin Liu (刘新新/リュウ・シンシン)
Graduated from the China Academy of Art with a degree in animation. Liu’s films are hand-painted with acrylics and feature embroidery and collage techniques, though she composes the initial drawings digitally. Influenced by Jacques Tati’s Playtime and Mon Oncle, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire. Her graduation film is set on the beaches of Dalian, her hometown.
Student films: At the Mouth of Summer, The Yellow Ball
Hitomi Ohtakara (大寳ひとみ)
Worked as a video production assistant after graduating from Musashino Art University. Her animation is based in mixed media, time lapse, and stop motion. Her graduation film calling you was inspired by Rinko Kawauchi’s photo book Utatane.
Student films: calling you, Bugburger