Director Masashi Kawamura Gives A Behind The Scenes Look at ‘Hidari’

by Tito W. James

Director Masashi Kawamura’s stop-motion samurai film Hidari was successfully crowd-funded in a single day and spread like wildfire on the internet. The Hidari team posted a behind the scenes video on their official YouTube channel. The following is an unedited transcript of Kawamura’s newsletter where he details his creative process.

If you’re a lover of unique animated projects please consider supporting Hidari now on Kickstarter.

Thinking back, the first time I encountered the character of Jingoro Hidari was when I was a university student. I started to learn about creating things when I joined Masahiko Sato’s lab, and studied the works of animation & time-lapse masters such as Norman McLaren and Oscar Fischinger, realizing for the first time that the skeletons and monsters in Ray Harryhausen’s works that had thrilled me so many years ago were actually created using stop-motion techniques. Mr. Sato taught me that the word “animation” derives from “giving anima (soul) to a still object and making it move,” which I thought was a very beautiful expression. Then I had a vague recollection of hearing a story once about a drawing of a mouse that came to life, and I searched for the story, and came across a classic rakugo story called “Nezumi (Mouse)” starring Jingoro Hidari. The story I was originally looking for was actually Sesshu’s “Tears of a Rat,” but I remember thinking that Jingoro’s “Nezumi” was also a story about “life being brought to a man-made creation,” and that the three-dimensional nature of the story made it more alike to the concept of stop-motion animation.

And upon learning more about the story of Jingoro Hidari, I found out that his very existence is yet to be confirmed, and I came to be very interested in this character rather than in the rakugo story itself. It is wondrous that works said to be created by Hidari still exist, but we don’t know whether he existed or not. Somewhat alike to Banksy, this inability to identify him is very interesting, given that almost 100 pieces of his work are left all over Japan. The name “Hidari (left)” also provokes the imagination. I was thinking that it would be cool if he were a one-armed artist with only his left arm, like Guts from Berserk, and apparently there is actually a historical theory that this is the case. My curiosity about Hidari grew, and I kept thinking about someday creating a story around him. I thought it would be interesting to create a story loosely based on history, like the movie “Forrest Gump,” in which a fictional character is intertwined with historical facts, mixing history and fantasy. Maybe a manga someday? Or a movie? I would find time to keep dreaming about it over the years.

And then the year 2020 came along. I received an invitation from dwarf’s producer Noriko Matsumoto to create original content and pitch it to film companies and distributors. I had worked with dwarf on projects such as “Domo! World,” “The Diary of Ochibi,” and “Scarlet,” and the studio was a longtime friend, so I immediately found myself saying, “Yes! Let’s do something together!” From then on, I was quietly working alone to come up with a project for a feature-length film using stop-motion animation, but since I had rarely worked on feature-length films or films with storylines to begin with, the task of coming up with a project that would stand up to such lengthy productions was a real challenge. I thought about spin-offs of existing content (with original stories), but I decided that if I was going to make something original, I wanted to try my hand at something original. After mulling it over for a while, I thought of “Jingoro Hidari,” which had been on my mind for a long time.

I have been practicing the concept of “creating the method of creation” in various work, and have realized ideas where the video technique itself enhances the visual expression. For example, in the case of “Hibi no Neiro,” the video technique of using a webcam to shoot and join the images together itself strengthens the expression/message of “connection.” And in the same way, I thought that if I could express the story of Jingoro Hidari, who is said to have been a carpenter and wood sculptor, using “stop-motion with wood carvings,” I would be able to depict a story that has never been seen before. I was so excited that I almost shuddered when the two elements, the story of Jingoro the wood sculptor and stop-motion with wood carvings, snapped into place in my mind.

A world where wood carvings are “alive.” A world in which Jingoro’s wood carvings of mice and bamboo daffodils become actors. In this world, Jingoro himself, who is a sculptor, is depicted as a carved wooden doll and plays an active role in the meta-structure of the world. In that world, then, how do “artificial hands” look compared to “bare hands”? To what extent are they “dolls” and to what extent are they “living creatures” in that world? Conversely, to what extent is it “real” and to what extent is it “fiction”? Could it be that the concept of “anima (soul) infusion,” which is at the core of the stop-motion and, more specifically, animation techniques, itself becomes a visual technique? As I was thinking about this, various visual gimmicks and plots came to my mind more clearly and rapidly than ever before.

When I put together the proposal and shared it with the dwarf team, they too were very excited about this story of Jingoro Hidari and we decided to start creating with the goal of making it into a feature film. At that time, I had no idea how difficult things would be, but this is how the “HIDARI” project was launched.

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