Screenings of Works by Nobuhiro Aihara: 1969–2008
Programs A & B
Collaborative Cataloging Japan is pleased to invite Postwar Japan Moving Image Archive (PJMIA) to present the works of representative Japanese animation artist, Nobuhiro Aihara (1944–2011). Amounting to 51 titles, the programs cover not only animation but also experimental films. Since 2016 PJMIA has been digitizing these films, which are now available for public presentation in four parts, arranged chronologically.
In 2016-2017, Hirofumi Sakamoto, director of Postwar Japan Moving Image Archive digitized the works of Nobuhiro Aihara. (The digitization of these materials was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 15K02184.)
All works will be presented on video, transferred from film.
Introduction by Hirofumi Sakamoto
Nobuhiro Aihara (b 1944 Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan) has been an active independent animator for over 50 years. After attending design school, Aihara began working as a commercial animator at Studio Zero and Oh!production. Shortly after, he created his first independent animation, Rain (1965). Energized by the activities around the Sogetsu Art Center, the late-1960’s became a highly active time for the production of Japanese experimental and independent film and animation. Aihara’s long career of creative work is recognized as being an important component of this larger movement.
Aihara’s works of the early 1970’s – Stop (1970), [Cherry Blossoms] (1970), Fukei No Shizetsu (1971), Sagaihara Hokyusho (U.S. Army Sagami General Depot) (1972, undiscovered) – reflect the Japanese political climate following the protests against the United States – Japan Security Treaty of 1970. These works stepped beyond the previous realm of animation and began to incorporate social documentary. Beginning with Rhabdophis Tigrinus (1972), Aihara’s work turned inward with re-imaginings of his formative experiences, carrying also through the documentary animations Honeybee Season Has Passed (1972), [Laquer] (1973.6), [Fairy Flower] (1973.4), and [Fox Colored Early Spring] (1973.2).
Following these experiments, Aihara’s work changed direction again in the drawing animation of [Reckless Daydream] (1974.4), which depicts the artist’s subconscious squirming about the frame as an abstract organism. Further exploration of this animated abstract drawing approach carried through in [Cloud Thread] (1976), Karma (1977), [Water Ring Karma 2] (1980), and Zap Cat (2008).
Beginning with Stone (1975), Aihara began to explore the physical space outside of the frame in combination with more expansive and kinetic movements. [Hikari (Light)] (1978), Under the Sun (1979), and [Picture (Shadow)] (1987) all continued this thought.
However useful it may seem at first to attempt to group many of Aihara’s works via these strings of aesthetic exploration, his complete filmography defies categorization. Among his works escaping simple classification are: [The Extinction of Landscape] (1971), a documentary animation of the Sanrizuka Struggle, the protest against the construction of the Narita International Airport; Shelter (1980) and My Shelter (1981), stop-motion animations from within a Pacific War air-raid shelter; [Apple and Girl] (1982), the projection of an animation onto the wall and roof of a barn; [Dragonfly] (1988), a multiple exposure of a female nude and meadow at dusk. Nobuhiro Aihara’s works have presented a new artistry of animation, which strongly reject the previous narrow concept of “animator”.
Aihara’s passing during a trip to Bali, Indonesia in 2011 was a sudden loss to his scores of students, collaborators and contemporaries. As impactful as the whole of his creative works, is his continued presence in the Japanese experimental animation and film community, through his influence on those with whom he very worked closely. Teaching at Kyoto University of Art and Design, founding the independent animation group Chikyu Club (Earth Club) and sponsoring numerous workshops, and his collaborations with designer Keiichi Tanaami are just a few examples of his work beyond the studio, which still continue to expand his artistic legacy.
Program A (70 minutes)
Documentary Animation 1969-1973
1 Stop, 16mm, 3min, 1969
This is Aihara’s earliest surviving work. Motifs of psychedelic culture and the anti-war movement are directly scratched and painted on translucent film.
2 [Cherry Blossom], 16mm, 2min, 1970
Begun in 8mm film, but completed in 16mm following the purchase of a new camera, this work continues with the psychedelic and anti-war themes, while moments provide the seeds of his later abstract exploration.
3 Rhabdophis Tigrinus, 16mm, 5min, 1972
The interactions of troops and prostitutes near the Naval Air Facility Atsugi (Kanagawa Prefecture), animated from a child’s perspective. Aihara’s works of this period often contain a documentary view of Japanese society at the time of his childhood.
4 [Powdered White Wings], 16mm, 8min, 1972
An upbeat comical animated collage telling the story of a man attempting to fly with artificial wings.
5 Honeybee Season Has Passed, 16mm, 8min, 1972
A documentary style animation of an apiarist at work in combination with scenes of a seaside village, overlapped with images of a boy trying to escape from fetters.
6 [Fox Colored Early Spring], 16mm, 11min, 1973
An image of an Inari shrive, overlapped with the hands of a monk holding a symbol. The work’s shamanistic imagery and rapid speed are precursors to the more spiritual and psychedelic animation of Aihara’s later years.
7 [Red Diamant], 16mm, 6min, 1973
An appropriation of an ukiyo-e print of Katsuhika Hokusai, this work incorporates multiple exposures and a range of animation techniques. Recently created from a faded print, this telecine copy restores the vivid red of the original version.
8 [Fairy Flower], 16mm, 12min, 1973
A photograph of Aihara’s grandmother, overlapped with a tranquil documentary style animation of her life ending at her funeral scene.
9 [Lacquer], 16mm, 9min, 1973
Animations overlaid on a rough grained photo of the Japanese mountain countryside. The physical painting of Japanese lacquer directly onto the film is incorporated into the animation.
10 [Short Distance Runner], 16mm, 6min, 1973
Animation of a large hand toying with a runner, and attempting to stab them with a needle.
Program B (76 minutes)
Expanding Animation 1974-1981
11 [Reckless Daydream], 16mm, 3min, 1974
A turning point toward abstraction in Aihara’s career, this work was originally created for the “100 Feet Film Festival”.
12 [Neo-Night on the Bald Mountain], 16mm, 6min, 1975
Animation of a devil floating in air, Aihara created both a black and white and color version of this work by painting directly on the film.
13 Stone No.1, 16mm, 5min, 1975
A stop-motion animation of endlessly moving forward towards a quarry.
14 Stone, 16mm, 8min, 1975
Originally titled Stone No. 2, this is considered a seminal work of Japanese independent animation. Stones, houses and the surrounding natural landscape transform together exchanging shapes.
15 [Cloud Thread], 16mm, 6min, 1976
Understood as an extension of Reckless Daydream (1974), abstract forms are transfigured. This version includes the intended processing of the blue hue and the animation’s timing, as instructed on the film’s original can.
16 Karma, 16mm, 3min, 1977
A delicate and abstract drawing animation beginning with a droplet of water.
17 [Hikari (Light)], 16mm, 3min, 1978
Animation unfolds on wind-blown drawing paper, flying among youth sitting in the grass of a park.
18 Under the Sun, 16mm, 11min, 1979
Regarded as a creative extension of Stone (1975), animation unfolds on drawing paper placed on a field and farm.
19 [Water Ring Karma 2], 16mm, 4min, 1980
Abstract forms animated in drawings.
20 [Blue Match], 16mm, 3min, 1980
An animated string held between two youths standing in various locations. The sound negative of this work has unfortunately been lost, and so it is now presented silently.
21 [Wind Erosion], 16mm, 3min, 1980
Quiet images of statues and fire, followed by animation on drawing paper sinking into the ocean.
22 Burnin’, 16mm, 5min, 1980
The human hand transformed through various animation techniques.
23 SHELTER, 16mm, 7min, 1980
Set in a cave imagined as an air-raid shelter, images of the surrounding trees are painted over directly on the film. Vivid colors intermixed with the sound of wartime radio communications and bombing create a harmonious composition of documentary and animation.
24 MY SHELTER, 16mm, 9min, 1981
Following on from Shelter (1981), the setting is again an air-raid shelter. Close-up images of trees are dissected and reformed abstractly. The film culminates with images of elderly survivors of the war in another example of Aihara’s unique blending of documentary storytelling with abstract illustration.