[23 February 2009]
The Yomiuri Shimbun (MCT)
Two Japanese films picked up Oscars at the 81st annual Academy Awards at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre on Sunday evening.
“Okuribito” (Departures) won in the Foreign Language Film category and “Tsumiki no Ie” (La Maison en Petits Cubes) was named Best Animated Short Film. The French name translates as “The House of Small Cubes.”
“Okuribito,” directed by Yojiro Takita, 53, is the first Japanese film to receive an Oscar in the category. “Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto” was the last film to win a special award in 1955, but the category was not officially established until 1956.
Takita and lead actor Masahiro Motoki collected the award for “Okuribito.” A beaming Takita said in English to the audience: “I am here because of films. This is a new ‘departure’ for me. And I will, we will, be back. I hope.”
“Tsumiki no Ie,” directed by Kunio Kato, 31, was Japan’s first Oscar in its category - the nation’s only other animation success coming in 2003 with Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” in the category of Best Animated Feature.
“So heavy. Thank you very much,” Kato told the audience on picking up the award.
“Okuribito” portrays with a humorous touch how a mortician observes people’s lives and deaths. For the film, which was in the pipeline for more than 10 years, Motoki, who plays the mortician, studied relevant techniques under a real mortician. During his training he wiped the faces of bodies and dressed them.
Released in September, “Okuribito” swept aside challengers for domestic cinema awards. It won in 10 categories, including best film, at the 32nd Japan Academy Prizes, and picked up the Hochi Film Award. It also took home the top prize at the Montreal World Film Festival in September.
Kato began independently producing animation films while a student at Tama Art University. Kato has worked in an animation workshop at Robot Communications Inc., a film production company, since graduation.
He has picked up many animation awards for previous works, including 2003’s “Aru Tabibito no Nikki” (The Diary of Tortov Roddle).
“Tsumiki no Ie” is about an elderly man living in a blocklike house. He piles up bricks to build his house higher and stay above the rising level of the sea.
The animation was painstakingly drawn by hand, meaning it took about seven months to complete the 12-minute film.