Tokyo University of the Arts has made Japan a hotbed for independent animation

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Program overview
Koji Yamamura

From the start, the influence of Japanese indie icon Koji Yamamura (who helped launch the program and has been teaching there since 2008) has been notable in terms of far-reaching approaches that fused innovative designs, unconventional narratives linear and content that merged the personal and the experimental.

“The focus is on arts education,” says Yamamura. “However, the expertise of full-time faculty also has an impact, so there is some leeway. We do not have a program directly linked to employment.

The program lasts for two years and the annual tuition is approximately US$5,500. The department currently has about 40 students, four full-time professors (including another well-known host, Yuichi Ito), one full-time lecturer and about ten part-time professors.

Courses offered include: 2D Animation, Model Animation, Production, Research & Theory, and Games. Although the department collaborates with companies, there is no internship program with animation studios. The game course offers occasional workshops with game companies.

Collaboration between animation students and other departments is also encouraged. “We are collaborating with the Department of Music Environment and Creation to complete the sound,” says Yamamura. “There are students collaborating with film majors individually on scripts, sound, filming, etc.”

Student perspectives

“I chose the school because it’s open to independent animation,” says 2017 graduate Honami Yano, director of the 2021 award-winning short A bite of bone (picture above). “In Japan, there are many schools where you can study animation, but they are more like industrial animation schools. First of all, I was there for Koji Yamamura. I decided that if I was going to study in Japan, I wanted to study with him.

Yantong Zhu
Yantong Zhu

“After graduating from a university in China in 2010,” says Yantong Zhu, who graduated in 2014, “I went to Japan to apply for a master’s degree in animation. At that time, animation education in China was relatively new and elementary, and schools were teaching more techniques directly applied to industrial production, such as 3D animation or learning the hand drawing method. Disney. I saw Japanese animation master Koji Yamamura teaching at Tokyo University of the Arts. I felt that I needed the guidance of a good animation teacher to create my own works, so I applied to this university. (Zhu has since co-founded Chinese animation event Feinaki).

Sachiyo Kurosawa
Sachiyo Kurosawa

Sachiyo Kurosawa, who is currently a student in the department, says her main regret is that the two years passed “in the blink of an eye”. Kurosawa not only appreciates the school’s emphasis on international collaboration, but adds, “One of the best things about being an animation student is that I learned the value of having other people involved in the creation of my work. Each student essentially creates a single work. During the production process, it is possible to work with people who have other skills than yours. »

Yoko Yuki (graduated in 2015) also liked “that there were students from different universities in different fields, with different animation techniques. I liked being exposed to the philosophies of my teachers and friends – and having the school building by the ocean.

Yoko Yuki
Yoko Yuki

Zhu feels that the most impressive parts of his studies were “Professor Ilan Nguyen’s Animation History and Film Review Writing Classes, Koji Yamamura’s Creation Theory Class, and practice of Yuichi Ito’s stop-motion”, adding that “another particularly important thing is that we organized and planned the graduation exhibition by ourselves. We do everything ourselves, from drawing to from posters to making promotional videos, advertising, manufacturing and selling products, and inviting celebrities to participate in the discussion.

Honami Yano
Honami Yano

Yano was particularly impressed with her class of sound and the class taught by Yamamura. “He sets a theme for each class,” Yano recalls. “First of all, there is knowledge, discussions and explanations on this topic. It is followed by a screening of a film related to the theme. Some examples of themes are repetition, choreography, metamorphosis, etc. I learned a lot here. Also, seeing so many films, both classic and recent, made me even more interested in animation, which I had always found interesting. It was during this time that I saw a lot of animations and felt how much it could move the heart. It was very entertaining to see the heart exchange between the work and me, the viewer, and to have my own interpretation of it.

For the sound course, Yano loved the experience of collaborating with students from the music and sound design departments. “It was great fun discussing and creating the music for the film with other students. The discussions and experiences we had at that time helped me deepen my thinking about film music.

life after school

Access to international facilitators was a common positive for graduates. “I’ve attended many workshops offered by international animation directors,” Zhu says. This lecture series is called “Contemporary Animation” and features guests such as Caroline Leaf, Ruth Lingford, Igor Kovalyov, Gil Alkabetz and Georges Schwizgebel. These experiences had a very important influence on my creation.

Priit Pärn in Geidai
Priit Pärn teaches at Geidai.

Although Geidai is not really industry-focused, students have the opportunity to gain insight into industry requirements. Yano recalls that during the school year, they learned “film production support from the Cultural Affairs Agency (Japan), job search support, information sessions about companies, building a portfolio etc. but basically it depends on the students it seems that those who live their student life with the aim of finding a job or working in the industry enter this information by themselves and move on. There are a lot of people like me who have rent to pay but don’t prepare after graduation. However, everyone seems to get by.

“There is a professor who works as a producer for a television channel who gives us a lecture on how to make a budget and how to obtain subsidies”, adds Sachiyo Kurosawa. “We also have a lecture on how to get into film festivals from a professor who is involved in running student film festivals and from a professor who serves as a judge for international film festivals.”

Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis
Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis talking to Geidai.

Yoko Yuni agrees that it is difficult to make a living as a freelance artist or animator in Japan: “Many artists make their living doing commercials and television. There are so many people who are so busy with their work that it becomes difficult for them to create original works after graduation.

Zhu thinks young animation directors in Japan and China face a small problem. “The principal may have great student work,” she says, “but after graduation he can’t find a way to continue his personal work. If animators want to keep creating, they need to cultivate their project presentation and budgeting skills. They also need practical exercises while at school. This is very important to get resources and connections to make their designs after graduation. Of course, on the other hand, if school education is only to prepare for industrial work, it is also inappropriate.

Freedom and self-expression are the greatest rewards

It is clear from discussions with some of the school’s graduates that the freedom, however difficult, to explore personal expression has been one of the most rewarding experiences at Geidai.

“I think the most important thing is forming my own creative thoughts,” Zhu concludes. “The animation is created from scratch, so every choice in creation, every step taken, is actually related to its own thoughts. For example, the teacher will guide us to not always think about doing what others like. Because, in fact, each viewer’s journey is different, and the director cannot set the preferences of others. Only mediocre works will be created in order to be likeable, and the public does not want to see such a work. Therefore, more importantly, it should start with oneself, think independently and create honestly.

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