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“Everything is based on “movement” and “space”. Theme comes afterwards” A special interview with animator, Atsushi Wada: “ New Artist Picks Atsushi Wada|Watashi no numa (My mud)”

──So Wada san, I hear you started creating animation on your own in 2002 when you were still in college. What inspired you?

Wada: I was majoring in art at the time but I was more interested in videos to be honest. I’ve always loved watching stand-up acts and comedy, so I started to wonder if I could create the same kind of “tension” and “space” in my own way. Also, looking back, I probably felt insecure too because I wasn’t really good at drawing compared to my peers.


――So you had something you wanted to do, and animation came afterwards as a method.

Wada: Yes. At the time I had no knowledge or skills in terms of creating animation. It was almost all a coincidence that I started creating pieces. One time I created a short animation piece out of curiosity and teachers and friends at college all told me it was good. I felt really happy.

──So your motive was quite simple (laughs).

Wada: Yes. Frankly, I thought, “Maybe there is enough room for me” (laughs). I still feel the same way. Even though my pieces are now shown in film festivals overseas and TV, the best motivator is still when close friends tell me, “It was good.” I guess it was good timing too. Computers were becoming more affordable at the time, so even if you were a beginner, there was an opportunity to challenge yourself in animation production.


──You said you were inspired by “tension” and “space” from comedy acts. Does that have something to do with the fact that you are from the Kansai region?

Wada: I’m not sure (laughs). It was in my everyday life, so I didn’t really think about it… But animation is different from live footage in the sense that I can control everything to the last detail as long as I spend time on it, so I thought animation was a better way to express “tension” and “space”.

──What kind of comedy acts did you like?

Wada: I watched everything but I really liked Downtown. I clearly remember their acts in variety shows like “Gottsu Ee Kanji”. I think the biggest influence came from Hitoshi Matsumoto’s original video piece,『HITOSI MATUMOTO VISUALBUM』(1998〜99). There were 3 editions with 5 episodes in each. Every setting was hilarious and the video was high quality too. Most of all, he didn’t have to worry about airtime limitations, so he had it down to the last detail, creating a distinct “space” only Matsumoto-san cold create.


──Many fans mention『VISUALBUM』 as Matsumoto-san’s best work. What is your favorite?

Wada: Hmm, that is a tough question (laughs). I like them all… But in terms of tension and space, I think the funniest one was a short film called (Recorded in Vol. Ringo “Yakusoku”). I feel this piece inspired me very strongly, down to my basic philosophy.

──That was an act with a mysterious touch alright. Matsumoto-san was playing an unfriendly real estate agent and Masatoshi Hamada was playing the customer and they endlessly fail to understand one another.

Wada: Yes. It’s so awkward, even disturbing, but I can’t help laughing. Only those two can create that feeling – I guess you can call it color. Nevertheless, I was really influenced by the “tension and space”. I also like , packed with everything great about Itsuji Itao, as well as where old comic storytellers miserably fail at the last program. There are many pieces I like.


──When you create pieces yourself, do you start from the story or settings?

Wada: No, even when I have a “vague image of the story”, I never complete the plot down to the last detail in the beginning. Recently, I first think about “the movement I feel good about”, then think about the situation where that action will come to life, and I try connecting them or developing them into something new to finish a piece.

── “Watashi no numa”, a piece you created for the「New Artist Picks(NAP)」 series at Yokohama Museum is a video illustration made with 5 screens. On one of the screens, strange dwarfs appear. They spin around and jump around like fish, their movement was very impressive.

Wada: In “Watashi no numa”, 5 animations proceed simultaneously, and the movement of the dwarfs was one of the inspirations I got. Recently I love those kinds of movements for some reason (laughs). In an earlier short piece I created for a British TV station,『Anomalies』(2013), there was a scene where the rabbit and dog fought. In “Seitai” (2015) I created for a show on NHK (Tekune Video class), I had two slugs fighting. Maybe my recent fad is to draw repetitive movements (laughs).

──How about in your earlier work like, “Wakaranai Buta” (2010), which got nominated at the International Animation Film Festival in Zagreb/Annecy/ Hiroshima/Ottawa and won various awards in and out of the country?

Wada: I wanted to express the motion of a child fidgeting at first. My first inspiration was simply that. Then I thought about “Why the child is fidgeting in the first place” and “What would make a funny situation”. So I ended up with being blown from the bottom.

──I see, that explains the huge pig.

Wada: Yes. At first I didn’t even know if it was going to be an animal, but when I thought about wind blowing from the bottom and something floating, I could only think of elephants or pigs (laughs). But I already drew elephants in a piece called “Kei” (2004), so I decided to use a pig for this one. The bigger the pig, the bigger the wind. So then the pig is in front of the house and the door won’t open. What kind of situation is he in…? That’s the way I approached the piece. Ultimately, a big theme for the piece, “gap” ── whether it be gaps between family members or gaps between consciousness and values of individuals.

──So it’s not like you have a concept first and you create individual actions. Instead, you have a “comforting movement” and “space” you like and the theme comes afterwards.

Wada: Exactly. I try to sound cool by saying, “The story chases me” (laughs). But the actual work is basically penance. Recently I tried using tablets, but until recently I used a mechanical pencil to draw each frame.

──For instance, how many frames are there in “Wakaranai buta” or “Great Rabbit” (2012) which got the Jury Prize at Berlin International Film Festival?

Wada: “Wakaranai buta” was a graduation piece for graduate school (Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music). I spent about a year and a half along with the curriculum. The film is about 10 minutes long and I wrote about 8~9 thousand pages. Probably 5~6 thousand for “Great Rabbit”.


──Do you like drawing frame by frame, one step at a time?

Wada: Not really (laughs). I am not a fast drawer to begin with, so when the frame has lots of information like an upshot of a character, sometimes it takes me 30 minutes to 1 hour to finish a frame. But if I’m better than others in one thing, it’s patience. Take the fighting scene I talked about earlier. You can’t get “Funny movements” if you do not work until you are exhausted. For instance, if I want to express the “sliminess” of a slug, I just have to draw a lot of frames in order to make it slow. I often say to myself, “Why am I drawing this…” But even then, I can let that thought go and keep drawing, so that’s one, or probably the only thing that makes me a good animator.

──I hear that the「New Artist Picks(NAP)」 series at Yokohama Museum is your first private exhibition at a public museum. I also hear that this is your first time trying out multi-channel (multi-screen) video installation with projectors. Where did you come up with this idea?

Wada: Most short animations I did usually aired in theaters and TV, but this time they told me I could do whatever I wanted with the given space, so I thought I might as well take this opportunity to try multiple screens, since it’s difficult to draw multiple situations simultaneously on the same time grid on a single screen.


──Why did you choose “mud” as your theme?

Wada: This is actually very simple. When I got the offer about the private exhibition, I went to a mud (laughs). I think it was February or March of last year. I was walking around a big park and there was a mud. There were pussy willows nearby and the flowers that looked like white hair was kind of nasty, but at the same time it was beautiful. That image got stuck somewhere in my head.

──So when it was time to create a new installation, that image became the base.

Wada: Yes. I also did not have a clear concept for this one either, but I felt various elements piling up on top of each other as I went on. Two years ago, my father passed away. People often say, “When you get a child, your desire to be creative will increase”, but for me that was not the case (laughs). I rarely draw pictures of my child. But after walking around the mud with my child, I started to feel “Let’s try to draw it in any form possible” for some reason… This became another piece for this one.。

──What did you struggle with creating this piece?

Wada: I’ve never done this before, so it was hard to grasp an image of how the piece would turn out. If this was a movie theater screen, I can imagine the impression the audience gets or the stress they feel to some extent, but with 5 screens surrounding you and some of them were close-up shots, I wasn’t sure what kind of emotions that would create. For example, how far can I go with one screen in terms of density? How loud can each piece be? There was a lot to think about in the beginning.


──When you finally finished “Watashi no numa” and “felt it” at the center of the gallery, how did you feel?

Wada: They were my own drawings, but I felt oppressed (laughs). In the exhibition space, 5 short stories such as the “Dwarfs near the mud” I mentioned earlier, “Man dressed as a woman holding a dog”, and “Baby taking tottering steps”, were get projected on the walls endlessly. After staring at the short stories for about 3-and-a-half minutes, you will realize that the stories that seem unrelated are actually related on the same time grid. You can watch it in any order and better yet, let your imagination run wild regarding how they connect to each other.

──When you finished the piece, did you find some kind of theme?

Wada: Hmm… If I have to say, it would be “Future”. Actually, one of the episode had a subtitle, “Future”. But that wasn’t the main theme of “My mud”… But overall, although it’s vague, I felt like I drew the future in this piece.

──Where is the sense of “future”?

Wada: It’s not really a sense of future (laughs). It’s just that, when I was walking with my child, an old lady we ran into said “How nice, the only thing this child has is the future ahead of him”. Her words stuck with me for some reason… I’m sure she said this in a positive way. But the truth is, nobody knows what the future will hold. Maybe one day, a strange species will appear from the sky and that may change the history for mankind (laughs).


──Just like the episode shown in “My mud”

Wada: Yes. The setting there is that the dwarfs did some kind of ceremony to summon that creature. Maybe something like that is really going on as we speak, we just can’t see it (laughs). On the other hand, it is true that the words of the old lady inspired me to create an animation piece with my child as a theme. So I guess I wanted to show an indifferent image of the “Future” without drawing a clear line that divided positive/negative, white/black.

──I see. Last question. Based on your current private exhibition, please tell us if you have any themes you want to challenge in the “future”.

Wada: Recently, I started thinking about creating animation for children. Although whether my work becomes a piece for children is a different question (laughs). Maybe it can be a piece where some kind of creatures fight endlessly… When you go past the storyline and simply pursuit comfortable movements, it becomes interesting. Age doesn’t matter – you probably don’t even have to be human. There might be some parts you would react directly to.

New Artist Picks Atsushi Wada Exhibition|Watashi no numa (My mud)

  • ◇Date: February 3rd (Fri) 2017 〜 February 28th (Tue)
  • ◇Time: 11AM~6PM * Closes on 4PM on February 23rd (Thu) and 8:30PM on February 24th (Fri).
  • ◇Museum closed: Thursday *Open on February 23rd
  • ◇Venue: Yokohama Museum (3-4-1 Minatomirai, Nishi-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa) Art gallery 1, Café Ogurayama
  • ◇Fee: Free

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