ある日本の絵描き少年 「Aru Nihon no ekaki shonen」
Release Date: March 02nd, 2019
Duration: 20 mins.
Director: Masanao Kawajiri
Writer: Masanao Kawajiri (Screenplay),
Starring: Takeshi Uehara, Yasumi Yajima, Kenta Abe, Yoshiko Ishii, Shota Suzuki,
Masanao Kawajiri’s experimental short animation depicts the life of a boy aiming to be a manga artist. It took the Runner-up Award for the Grand Prize at last year’s Pia Film Festival awards (missing out to Orphan’s Blues) but took the Gemstone Award which is given to, “the most progressive and daring film made beyond the common ideas of filmmaking”. A Japanese Boy Who Draws definitely fits this bill as it marries the magic of art and animation and their many different styles to a mockumentary to tell an enjoyable story of someone pursuing their dream.
The film follows the life and career of Shinji Uehara, someone who pursues his passion for drawing, from the age of one to his life as a professional enduring the vicissitudes of the manga industry.
The genius of the film is the way that it simultaneously uses the materials and tools and the cultural trends experienced by Shinji at various stages, as well as his level of experience and style of art, to depict his life and environment as well as his development as an artist as he matures. It’s a breathless 20 minute dash through a vast array of styles that are all seamlessly woven together to make a beautiful story of pursuing art as an occupation.
Everything starts off as childish crayon scribbles on newspapers and squiggly lines on an Etch a Sketch before becoming watercolours, collages, and crayon drawings to increasingly refined pencil sketches in school notebooks. The character designs grow in sophistication from boyish rough-hewn shounen style moppets to seinen action heroes as he grows and his skill blossoms until he makes it to the pages of a major manga with designs reminiscent of Kengo Hanazawa’s I Am a Hero before Shinji drifts out of the industry and winds up in a grey live-action world.
Every frame segues perfectly to the next and there is a compelling passion that captures the spirit of every image on screen, the collection of pictures in Shinji’s childhood having a wonderful innocence and naivete in their depiction of the world to the more cynical production-line drawings later in his life and there is a daring experimental phase using claymation. Even the jump into live-action is more or less seamless as it uses a match-cut from animation to the drab real life Shinji feels he enters as he quits his dream.
The varied use of mediums and influences is a brilliant reflection of Shinji’s development as well as acting as a tool for tracking his status in society. They also serve as a time capsule that invokes nostalgia in audience members who lived through the 80s and 90s who will recognise characters from Doraemon, Evangelion, Final Fantasy VII and through this the film derives a sly sense of humour.
The film’s playful plethora of styles really hammers home the evolution of an artist and aids the narrative in creating a reflection of the way we perceive the world through media ephemera as well as cherished entertainment. It is all packed together in a breezy narrative that scoops us up as we watch as Shinji’s enthusiasm waxes and wanes as he experiences the reality of drawing for a living. It offers an unvarnished view of the creative life, all of its selfishness and compromises and also underlines how art and memories associated with it help us discover passions that give meaning to life and make the world better, urging us in the audience to keep going no matter what.
My review was first published on July 26th at VCinema.