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The new animated short from the directing team of the Oscar-nominated The Dam Keeper is based on a children’s book by Genki Kawamura, producer of current Japanese box office smash Your Name and a string of other hits. Moom is the story of a memory who helps other memories escape from the objects they are attached to.
Directed by Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo, the 13-minute film has won awards at 20 festivals around the world and been submitted for the Academy Awards best animated short.
“Moom as a project was an unusual challenge in that it is a Japanese CG animation that involves Tsutsumi, a Japanese director who left Japan to work at Pixar and a Japanese-American director, with me as the writer of the source material and a producer, and was made in the space between the Far East and Hollywood,” says Kawamura.
“The origins of the story are in Japanese animism, the concept that there are gods present in every object, something I’ve always been really captivated by,” says Kawamura. “Like when you get a new wallet and you transfer the cards, notes and coins. If you look at the old one that you had been using every day, it looks like a corpse, right? I thought about why it suddenly looks like a corpse and realized it’s because between the object and its owners there are memories, like a soul.”
Kawamura says he’d thought about that since he was a child and was convinced somebody would make a story based on the concept because he believed everyone in the world understood that.
“I was anxious for those 30 intervening years that someone was going to do that story, but nobody did, so I finally did it in 2014 when I wrote the book,” says Kawamura.
After meeting Tsutumi and Kondo in the US on a visit to their studio to see The Dam Keeper, which Kawamura felt, “had a Japanese mentality, but mixed with a definite Pixar sensibility,” he gave them a copy of his book.
The experience of working with the directors and their creative team at Tonko House in San Francisco, done via Skype and cloud-sharing between Japan and the US, was an eye-opener, according to Kawamura.
“Working with the editor Bradley Furnish, was fascinating; in the original book, I wrote that the memories sort of dissolve in the air, and Bradley-san added the sound of a child’s laughter as they popped like fireworks. I was so impressed by that and thought he really gets the feeling of the Buddhist spirit,” says Kawamura.
“And the use of the “color script” that was developed by Pixar, which Tsutsumi proposed, to express emotions, was fascinating. In Japan it’s done intuitively, but laying it out in a logical fashion was something I learned a lot from,” he adds.
Despite numerous offers, Kawamura has said he was always skeptical about international co-productions that were proposed, “for the sake of doing one.”
“When an international approach brings something new creatively, it really works; like the way Inarritu mixes his Latino style with Hollywood. When I watch Babel or Birdman, it reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and I think only a Hispanic director could do magical realism like that. Or when I watch Christopher Nolan’s movies, the dark and pessimistic elements come from him being British,” says Kawamura.
“In the case of Moom, it came about completely organically: I met the directors, gave them my book and they were interested in the project. I think it could only have been created as international project,” says Kawamura.
Moom will be screened as part of a talk show featuring Tsutsumi and anime director Mamoru Hosoda (The Boy and the Beast) along with The Dam Keeper on Oct. 29 at Tokyo International Film Festival.
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