The last few years have seen Indian cinema awakening to the immense promise of animation as a creative endeavour and a genre which, if explored prudently, can cater to the interests of audiences across the age spectrum. Japanese animation, on the other hand, has been feeding the appetite of cineastes and geeks for a long time. The recently concluded second edition of the Anime Convention, organized by Cine Darbaar in Delhi from 9-11 September, offered a generous helping of animation films from Japan.
Also screened was a bunch of short films released under the CALF DVD label—an independent Japanese label founded by a group of animation artists and enthusiasts. Nobuaki Doi, a CALF co-founder, who attended the convention, spoke about the conception of the label and the independent animation circuit in Japan. Edited excerpts from an email interview:
Tell us a little bit about CALF and how it came about.
CALF is an independent label dedicated to short animations/films made independently in Japan. It has recently become a corporate body. The reason why we started it is very simple: Nobody had done such a thing but it needed to be done by somebody. Who needs it the most? The independent animators themselves. So we—independent animators and critics—started it. There were some companies that had asked CALF animators to release DVDs before it was founded. But we thought our DVDs would then just be a part of a huge catalogue, and almost nobody would notice if we released our DVDs with a big company.
How do the animators you represent fund their films?
Most of the films by CALF animators are self-funded or student films. There are no commercial studios which are interested in producing short animation in Japan and there is almost no funding for supporting too. But the situation is beginning to change slowly. The Agency for Cultural Affairs finally started a funding for short animation with a small budget. Kei Oyama, one of the founders of CALF, received it and will finish his new film next year. His DVD will be our fourth product.
What differentiates the work of CALF animators from the more mainstream Japanese animation?
Our films are different from mainstream animation in Japan, actually; maybe because of the context. While the world of mainstream animation in Japan is deeply influenced by domestic animation, the source of influence for CALF animators is short animation produced all around the world. Besides, since most of our films are self-funded, we don’t need to worry about recovering the production cost when making films.
How is the avant-garde animation artist’s work being received by audiences in Japan?
I don’t think our films are avant-garde or experimental. They have their own context. Our films are just short animation. The problem is that there are very few opportunities to see such films. So it looks like avant-garde for general people... Once they get a chance to see them, they will start to like them. So organizing screening events is also a very important activity for us. The reaction of the audience is not bad, I think, because DVDs are sold very well at events.
How have the films under your label been received at film festivals worldwide?
There are more opportunities for screening our films in international film festivals than in Japan. Mirai Mizue is a “regular” member of the festival circuit. Tochka received the grand prize at Clermont-Ferrand, one of the biggest short film festivals in the world, and his style is well-known. They are invited to conduct workshops all around the world. Atsushi Wada’s In A Pig’s Eye won the grand prize in an official competition at Fantoche, even though it was a student film. He has already had some retrospectives of his works, even though he is so young. Kei Oyama’s style is very unique and nobody can forget once you see his film. He won some grand prizes by his masterpiece Hand Soap in Holland, Estonia, America...
Are your DVDs finding takers in Japan and elsewhere? What do the sales tell you about the public attitude to independent animation?
We sell between 300 and 500 copies for each product. I think it’s small from the perspective of a “normal” market, but it is higher than our expectations. We receive orders not only from Japan but all around the world via the Internet. Our distribution network is expanding, and I hope that means an increase in sales.