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Graphic Japan -
Tokyo 2000 Offers Few Surprises
01 Jun 2000 :
Brian Lavery reviews 'Graphic Japan', the work of young Japanese filmmakers known as Tokyo 2000, at the Darklight Digital Film Festival.

Billed as the confluence of graphic design, animation and digital video techniques, the work of the young Japanese filmmakers known as Tokyo 2000 hit the screen at the Darklight Festival with noise and colour befitting its erratic quality. Familiar music video territory and repetitive abstract animation formed the bulk of the programme, which was thankfully punctuated by several less commercial (and more subtle) episodes that highlighted the talent in the group.

During the first few selections, the kitsch came on strong enough to drive a handful of people from the cinema early into the programme, starting with music videos by Groovisions to illustrate pop tracks by the likes of Pizzicato Five and Fantastic Plastic Machine. The former featured a performance by the group shot in black-and-white on the set of a 60s-style "Top of the Pops" show, complete with a trio of dancing girls in identical dresses. The latter's track "Dear Mr. Salesman" juxtaposed a live-action Japanese businessman with cartoon sketches of street scenes, and images of consumer items like art-deco chairs and combination TV-record players (perhaps the Fantastic Machine itself).

"Dot Slasher" and "Gas Station" (credited to Koike Hikaru and Delaware, respectively) tried out the abstract formula of hundreds of coloured dots, moving rapidly around the screen, occasionally gelling into recognisable forms like a skateboarder or a car. With more variety and motion within the theme, "Dot Slasher" achieved an aesthetic that could be more easily grasped by the audience. By "Gas Station," however, the idea needed a shot of fresh creativity. The same could be said for the well-described "Turn the Animals": charcoal sketches of rotating animal heads, one after another on a plain white field, failed to elicit much viewer response.

Further into the non-commercial material, however, the programme hit its stride with longer, more thematic pieces. "Coin Laundry XYZ" by D's Garage joined seamless 3D animation with a comic narrative. In a style reminiscent of Sony PlayStation action games like "Resident Evil," three men dressed in full-body swimsuits and goggles levitate into an empty laundrette, and race through the stages of washing and drying themselves. The motion of the characters in particular demonstrated experience with the world of video games.

"Boycott: Movie 1" by Tycoon Graphics continued in the non-commercial vein by savagely satirizing commercial brands. (Or perhaps the film was commissioned by a company called "Boycott," which would pile on a few more layers of irony.) Using a live-action and cartoon mix to much better effect than "Dear Mr. Salesman," the film captured the minimalist Boycott logo on plastic toy soldiers in action pose, imparting a militaristic, desirable, and somehow subversive quality to the "brand."

Certain thematic material resonated throughout the programme, from consumer imagery like furniture, appliances and food, to the female anatomy. (One artist's Freudian psyche led to a futuristic pop diva with metal oil cans as threatening breasts, shooting out bolts of electricity.) The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, still remain inescapable motifs in Japanese culture, and were represented in the Darklight programme by a relatively long film telling the story of a family threatened by a gas leak in their apartment. The story, while slightly heavy-handed and overdramatic, used cuts very effectively between scenes of the family and police pursuing someone outside their apartment.

Finally, in the highlight of the programme, came the Vibe sequence, a series of highly creative commercial shorts for a music video television channel. Everyone from a sloppy cartoon dog to a live-action superhero with a steam engine for a head ended up with the Vibe logo in all manner of places, linking clever commercial direction with slick and innovative film production.

- Brian Lavery



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