Animator. Nationality: Japanese. Born: Hideo Kurihara in Fukui, 9 April 1928. Education: Studied at the Bunka Gakuen Art School, Tokyo. Career: Newspaper cartoonist, painter, and designer: worked for the animation studios Toei Doga and Mushi before setting up his own independent studio in late 1950s.
Films as Animator (selected list):
Stamp Fantasia; Human Zoo; Here and There
Locus; Love; The Chair; The Face; Discovery of Zero
Man, Woman, and Dog; Aos
The Man Next Door; Samurai; The Window
Little Murmurs; Au Fou!
The Room; The Flower
Two Grilled Fish; Crazy World; Concerto in X Minor
Imagination; Little Island
The Bathroom; Pop
Fantasy for Piano; The Midnight Parasites
By KURI: articles—
"Made in Japan," in Annecy Festival catalogue, 1965.
Le Technicien du Film (Paris), July-August 1977.
On KURI: articles—
Film (London), Winter 1964.
Anderson, W., in Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 63, 1966.
Films and Filming (London), March 1966.
Image et Son (Paris), November 1967.
Film a Doba (Prague), no. 9, 1968.
Cinéma (Paris), January 1968.
Cinema TV Digest, Winter 1970–71.
Sambonet, L., in Comics, no. 5, 1972.
Kinoisskustvo (Sofia), vol. 39, no. 5, 1984.
Positif (Paris), April 1994.
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The contemporary Japanese animator Yoji Kuri has enjoyed the most successful international career of all the many independent Japanese animators whose work stands in contradistinction to the more elaborate, more collaborative, and more commercial productions from such industrial giants as the Toei and Toho studios. As such, Kuri constitutes a fine example of the Japanese experimental film artist, being in a sense an Asian analogue to such animators as the American Robert Breer.
Kuri's early years were spent as a cartoonist, but by 1960 he had established a small independent studio which centered upon a solitary 35mm animation camera. In the following year he completed Human Zoo, which won the Bronze Medal at the Venice Film Festival in 1962. As the film-scholar Millie Paul suggests, it was this award that truly launched his career. The brief animated work that followed—such as the erotic Aos, the abstract Locus, the educational Discovery of Zero—allowed him to develop his reputation and style. The 1967 film The Room (which grew out of one of Kuri's flip-books) provides some insights into that style, and the structures which came to mark his acollaborative, independent animation through the 1960s and 1970s.
The Room is precisely five minutes long and is made up of 19 brief tableau units, each of which is largely confined to the rather surreal space of a stark and simple line drawing of an empty "room." Such simple, black-and-white line drawings are typical of Kuri's style, not unlike that of the American cartoonist James Thurber. Further, while The Room was shot—frame by frame, in an admixture of animated cels and cut-outs—on color stock, rarely does color appear in the film (and only then to heighten an effect or to underscore a mood). Tableau One provides the film's titles, which appear within the room's simple space. What follows are 18 disparate tableaux with almost no narrative causality or continuity between them. Each tableau itself is distinctly marked by often bizarre metamorphic transformations.
In Tableau Two, for example, two feet emerge from the room's right and left walls, then feet metamorphose into a bird which flies around the room. Such metamorphic transformations—where one figure seems almost to "melt" and then reform into a very different figure, linked to the first only by subtle topologic similarities—are one of Kuri's stylistic and structural hallmarks. The Room is replete with them, having more than 40. In lieu of more traditional (and commercial) narrative linkings between images, these metamorphoses underscore far more associational (and thematic) unities which bond Kuri's rapidly paced exchanges of mise en scène. The Room, like most of Kuri's work, is for adult audiences, and such themes as the conflict between the sexes, the violence of war, and bureaucratic boredom, predominate. But perhaps even more predominant is Kuri's artistic insistence upon graphic similarities: comparisons and contrasts of tones, lines, and forms which continue to reiterate the essential (etymological) meaning of our Western term "aesthetic" as "a study of sensation/perception."
Not only for The Room but for all of Kuri's extensive production (which likely exceeds 400 films, many unreleased, many others international prize winners), one must keep in mind Kuri's total control as an independent artist. All funding, conception, scripting, graphics, shooting, sound, editing, and even distribution are—in the main—from his hand. As a result, Kuri's films, such as The Room, are very personal, yet remarkably international, partly due to his penchant for soundtracks which avoid spoken language and which instead consist of an "international language" of sound effects and/or music.
Kuri's total artistic production is very varied. He began his creative life as a cartoonist and continues such work today. He continues to fashion flip-books, kinetic sculptures, paintings and drawings, and cut-out compositions. He is probably the best-known Japanese independent both in his own country and throughout the world. His satire and sexuality, his caricature and metamorphoses, and (perhaps above all) his post-Hiroshima "black humor" all bond together with an experimental willingness to explore various animation media. The result is seriously funny adult fare, at once popular and yet "theoretical" enough for the connoisseur and magically international in its appeal. He is a consummate, exemplary independent artist who is constantly and consistently creative.
—Edward S. Small