Friday, April 06, 2012

Aspen Shortsfest ’12: 663114

It is not just about cherry blossoms. Japan epitomizes a nation living in spiritual and cultural harmony with nature, or it at least did. As a result, when the March 2011 (3/11) earthquake and tsunami hit the Tōhoku coast, it disrupted a wide array of species, including the ancient cicada who face a crisis that is real and immediate but also highly symbolic in animator-director Isamu Hirabayashi’s 663114 (trailer here), which screens as part of Program 4 at the 2012 Aspen Shortsfest.

At the ripe old age of sixty-six (66), the cicada is heeding the instinctive call to ascend a tree, shed his skin, mate, and ultimately die. Rather than regret, he takes great satisfaction knowing the culmination of his life is at hand. He extols the purity of Japan’s water and the integrity of his chosen tree as he advances towards destiny. All is right, until multiple disasters strikes. (For those keeping track, the final digit in the title represents Fukushima’s four reactors.)

Rendered in a style that suggests ancient woodblock printing and landscape painting, 663114 has a visual simplicity that is strikingly elegant. Though only eight minutes long, it makes quite an impact, seemingly paying tribute to the resiliency of the Japanese people, but ending in a darker, more ambiguous place. Its anti-nuclear implications are hard to miss, but the film more importantly serves as a timely reminder of the healing and rebuilding efforts still underway in Japan, America’s close friend and ally.

Regardless of its length, 663114 is a work of considerable artistic merit, particularly Hirabayashi’s animation as well as Takashi Watanabe’s supportive yet evocative music. Recommended for animation enthusiasts and connoisseurs of Japanese art, 663114 screens this coming Wednesday (3/11) during Program 4 at this year’s Aspen Shortsfest, considered by many the leading American short film festival. Concerned audience members can still learn how to support the Japan Society’s earthquake relief fund by visiting here.