February 2, 2009
Anime, Manga Vie for Spotlight at Japan Media Arts Exhibition
Review by Lucy Birmingham
Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) — At Japan Media Arts Festival, prepare to jet into the sky like Superman and dance with speakers blasting at your hips, as the nation’s largest showcase of cutting-edge anime, manga and high-tech arts gets more interactive.
The 11-day event starts tomorrow and will display the 170 winning entries chosen from a record 2,146 submissions, a quarter from 44 other countries. Backed by the Ministry of Culture, the organizers awarded prizes valued between 150,000 yen ($1,667) and 600,000 yen for media-based works in four categories: art, manga, entertainment and animation.
“This is one of the most important media festivals in the world,” said German artist Markus Kison, whose interactive war memorial “Touched Echo” won one of five second-prize awards in the art category. “There’s a huge meeting of people from all areas of new media and technology.”
Japan’s 13.8 trillion yen digital-content market is stoking demand for media-arts services. This festival showcases works that use the newest digital technology and techniques.
“In Japan, there is no other public competition like this where awards are given to media artworks,” said Yasuki Hamano, one of the event’s founders, “so young artists target this festival.”
Brazilian animator Marcio Ambrosio won the top prize in the art category of the competition with Oups!, a form of technology that incorporates human movements with animation. Using Oups!, a participant could star in his mini-film by moving before a white screen and letting programmed animation improvise on the images.
“Anyone can enter and have fun moving their body and expressing themselves,” said Ambrosio, by e-mail. “You can add as many animations as you want.”
Yuko Hasegawa, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo and a judge for the festival’s art category, said she found the work transformative.
“Media-art prizes are oriented toward technology development, but Oups! brings back the message of the arts — the humanity,” Hasegawa said.
Tenori-on (or “Sound on Your Palm”), winner of the entertainment division, was first introduced in 2005. Now this digital musical instrument, a cross between synthesizer and sequencer, is used by Bjork, Radiohead, Kraftwerk and the popular Japanese group Clammbon.
Yamaha Corp.’s sound technician Yu Nishibori, working with creator Toshio Iwai, thinks this is just the beginning.
“We’re now thinking about upgrades and sequence variations,” said Nishibori.
Battery-powered, with a small aluminum frame and 16-inch- by-16-inch grid of LED-illuminated buttons, Tenori-on offers six modes of playing and 256 programmed sounds.
Choose the sounds and watch Tenori-on blend them into tunes, creating different variations. Even those not musically inclined can have fun playing with the fusion of sound and light.
“Many buyers are northern Europeans, music professionals using Tenori-on during live performances in very flexible ways,” said Nishibori.
He said the industry needs innovative leaders like those heading Linz, Austria-based Ars Electronica, an organization that holds the world’s leading media-arts fair.
After years of declining domestic sales, Japan’s manga industry resumed growth in 2007. Electronic comics ballooned 148 percent to 25 billion yen in 2007 as cellular-phone technology improved, according to a survey by Yano Research Institute. For anime in 2008, digital distribution on sites like YouTube.com and legal digital downloads via online stores like Apple iTunes have boosted sales and opportunities for independent artists.
“I’m worried about the quality though,” said Shinichi Suzuki, a renowned manga artist who runs the Suginami Animation Museum and head judge of the festival’s animation category.
“We’re hoping manga and anime artists will be able to create excellent works all on their own with new software.”
Music-themed manga is now popular in Japan, thanks to artists such as Akira Sasou. His “Maestro,” about an orchestra revived by an enigmatic conductor, won a second-place prize. A professor at Kyoto Seika University, Sasou hopes to publish the first Japanese university textbook on creating successful manga.
“High-quality drawings are important but the story needs to pull the audience to the next page,” he said.
Of the 35 manga winners, only 10 were women. Critic and festival judge Yukari Fujimoto recommends shojo manga as a way for overseas women artists to enter this male-dominated arena.
Shojo Manga Boom
“Shojo manga is booming,” she said.
Hayao Miyazaki’s $165 million anime blockbuster, “Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea” which debuted in Japan last summer discouraged some artists from submitting long works to the festival’s animation division because they felt they couldn’t compete with such a masterpiece, said Hamano.
Fine short animation submissions filled the gap instead. The top prize went to the 12-minute “La Maison en Petits Cubes” (“The House of Small Cubes”) by Kunio Kato, a story that delicately blends the themes of aging and loss with global warming.
Last June, Kato’s work won the top award at France’s Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Market. It’s now a nominee at the Academy Awards for the best animated short film.
(Lucy Birmingham writes about art for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Lucy Birmingham in Tokyo at email@example.com.
Last Updated: February 2, 2009 19:00 EST