HomeReviewsA Japanese Boy Who Draws (Japan, 2018) [JAPAN CUTS 2019]
A Japanese Boy Who Draws (Japan, 2018) [JAPAN CUTS 2019]
26 July, 2019
Masanao Kawajiri’s experimental animated short depicts the life of a boy aiming to achieve his dream of being 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 did win 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 the mockumentary format.
follows the life and career of Shinji Uehara who pursues his passion for
drawing from the age and becomes a professional enduring the vicissitudes of
the manga industry. The genius here is the way that Kawajiri uses the
materials and tools that Shinji works with and the cultural trends that he
experiences, while incorporating his level of experience and style of art, to
depict his life, environment and artistic development. 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.
starts off as childish crayon scribbles on newspapers and squiggly lines on an
Etch a Sketch before becoming watercolours, collages and crayon drawings, then 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 matures
and his skill blossoms. Eventually, Shinji makes it to the pages of a major
manga with designs reminiscent of Kengo Hanazawa’s I Am a Hero before drifting
out of the industry and winding up in a grey, live-action world.
frame segues perfectly to the next. There is a compelling passion that captures
the spirit of every image on screen with the collection of pictures from
Shinji’s childhood have a wonderful innocence in their depiction of the world compared
to the more cynical production-line drawings of 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 drabness that Shinji
feels once he quits his dream.
varied use of mediums and influences is a brilliant reflection of Shinji’s
development as well as a tool for tracking his status in society while also
serving as a time capsule that invokes nostalgia in audience members who lived
through the 1980s and 90s. They will recognise characters from Doraemon,Evangelion, and
Final Fantasy VII and through these reference points 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’s all packed
together in a breezy narrative that scoops us up as we watch as Shinji’s
enthusiasm wax and wanes as he experiences the reality of drawing for a living.
The view it offers of the creative life is an unvarnished one, complete with selfishness
and compromises, and also underlines how art and the memories associated with
it help us discover passions that give meaning to life and urging us to keep
going no matter what.
A Japanese Boy Who Draws is showing as part of the ‘Experimental Spotlight: Palm of the Hand Cinema’ program at JAPAN CUTS 2019 on July 27.
Jason Maher is a UK-based film fan and freelance writer. He has combined the two to write about films at his blog Genkinahito as well as writing for Anime UK News the movie magazine Gigan. Having grown up watching films from Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, he has developed a love for East Asian cinema and specialises in writing news articles, reviews, and has even been known to occasionally interview a director or two. He spends his private time learning Japanese, watching films, and hanging out with friends and family whom he bores with film trivia. He can be contacted via Twitter.