Tragic Anniversaries Get an Animated Lift

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Published on September 9th, 2011 | by Marcelo Gallegos


This Sunday, ten years after the events of September 11 and six months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Japan Society will host a unique one day festival of animated films from all corners of the globe called Films For Hope. The festival presents a rare opportunity for two sides of the world to come together to reflect upon tragedy and to celebrate hope and regrowth. Animators the world over have contributed to this rich and wonderful collection of films curated by Justin Leach of Blue Sky Studios.

In the past century, Japan created an exciting and extraordinary tradition of animation. Its influences on contemporary animation and popular culture are significant and far-reaching. Cleverly, Films for Hope line-up showcases gems of animation from an international cabal of artists, all of which have been influenced in some way by Japanese animation. Giant robots, schoolgirls with massive, coruscating eyeballs and cats with bows in their hair all seem rather commonplace in today’s cartoon landscape. Attendees will have a chance to witness a more comprehensive view of just how much Japan has impacted the medium of animation.

Themes which are prevalent in Japanese animation are particularly significant in light of both 9/11 and the recent earthquakes. A vengeful mother nature, often reacting to modern man’s exploitation of the natural world, has its roots in Shinto beliefs and stories. Unease and tension experienced during the last 50 years of rapid modernization of Japan have given birth to apocalyptic landscapes and dystopian Neo-Tokyos. Terror manifests itself as demons, aliens and malevolent automatons. History shows that the Japanese have experienced tragedy and hardship in many forms, and have a singular insight into its effects. Through animation, the Japanese display their incredible resilience, reverence and creativity which have made them such a significant international influence.

Films For Hope offers a provocative and entertaining window into the scope Japanese Animation’s influence on the medium. The films featured in this festival range from computer animation, to cel animation, to puppet animation — an ancient and elegant art form, perhaps mastered by the Japanese.

The first two blocks feature more family-friendly entrees, while the second two blocks offer visitors more mature or avant productions. Among the films being shown are Pixar’s new film, “La Luna” and Dai Sato’s (“Cowboy Bebop,” “Samurai Champloo”) latest, “Norageki!” Guests will be treated to a special appearances by Dai Sato and Pixar’s Enrico Casarosa as they present their latest works, as well as to discuss creative process. Casarosa will also touch on his efforts to aid relief in Japan through grassroots fundraising techniques.

The entire program clocks in around 30 shorts from countries such as France, Spain, the UK, Germany, Poland, Taiwan, China, Canada, the US and Japan. This represents a true animated Analect which pays homage to Japan’s unique aesthetic and storytelling techniques. (A nice touch: half of all proceeds will be donated to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.)

At first glance, it may seem odd to spend 9/11 watching a day’s worth of animation inspired by (or from) Japan. However, considering the massive loss Japan has endured with the March catastrophes, it seems an ideal fit as grief and remembrance is a social bond inasmuch as a personal experience – much like going to the movies. Enjoy.

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About the Author

is a visual artist and illustrator living in New York's Lower East Side. His work can be seen at

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