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Kino on Video presents
The Exquisite Short Films of Kihachiro Kawamoto (1968-79)

"Ladies and gentlemen, wouldn't we be better off as dogs?"
- Le starter (Nicholas Bataille)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: May 15, 2008

Director: Kihachiro Kawamoto

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for puppet violence, adult themes, animated nudity
Run Time: 01h:36m:00s
Release Date: April 22, 2008
UPC: 698452206233
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+C+B F

DVD Review

Kino on Video's ongoing relationship with the KimStim collection continues with this latest release, one of two Kawamoto releases, the other being his 2006 full-length film The Book of the Dead. Kawamoto is largely unknown in the West, but, given the general recognition level of animators these days beyond a small handful, that's no strike against him. Kawamoto began working in film more than 50 years ago, starting at Toho before striking out for Prague, where he learned under legendary puppeteer/filmmaker Jiri Trnka. Kawamoto has since produced a small number of beautifully designed and crafted films, always working under the ongoing constraints of budgets and hustling funds. This disc collects several, but not all, of his short work; there is a English-subtitled Japanese disc available, should you be region-free capable and really interested, that includes more works than the disc at hand (11 to this disc's 7), and for not much more money, titled Kihachiro Kawamoto Film Works.

As mentioned, this disc collects seven of Kawamoto's short films, which cover puppet work as well as other animation styles. The films are:

The Breaking of Branches is Forbidden (1968): In this amusing piece, a young Buddhist monk with a taste for sake finds himself the victim of his own weakness after taunting a visiting samurai.

The Demon (1972): Two brothers leave their mother behind to hunt. They survive an attack by a demon, tearing off her arm in the process. When they return home, they find a shocking surprise awaiting them.

An Anthropo-Cynical Farce (1970): This French-produced short tells a short tale of conformity and its consequences, in the shape of a dog race.

The Trip (1973): This surreal film lives up to its title quite well, presenting the inner journey of a young woman through various psychic events, all during the course of a city train trip.

A Poet's Life (1974) Based on a Kobo Abe short story, this kiri-gami film (paper cutouts, essentially) revolves around a son and his mother, the latter finding herself turned into yarn at her own loom.

Dojoji Temple (1976): Based on a Japanese folktale, this story of love spurned revolves around a young monk who finds himself the subject of unwanted advances from a young woman. When the woman transforms into a demon, her anger at being rejected comes to a bitter end for all.

House of Flame (1979) Based on a Noh play, this final short is another love story that ends badly for all involved, as a young woman who cannot choose between two suitors dooms both them and herself through her actions.

Going through the shorts included here, one can see certain themes emerge: the spiritual world versus the physical, the consequences of one's actions rebounding upon them, and conformity to name a few. It's a rather dark collection, all things considered. The overall beauty of the filmmaking cannot be denied in any event, and the puppets are beautifully-made and always a joy to look at. The paper-based shorts have their own qualities, but Kawamoto expressed dissatisfaction with them and returned to his puppeteering roots soon after. To be honest, I prefer the puppet work myself.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: All the short films here are presented in their original full-frame ratio, and generally they look okay; some (b>The Trip in particular), however, display annoying flashes of combing between shots that becomes quite annoying. I assume that the level this shows up at will depend on the player you're using, so it may be a non-issue for some.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtracks to these films serve their purpose, but none would be showcase material, and none of them need to be. No major flaws are present.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 7 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: None.

Extras Grade: F


Final Comments

A solid collection of works by a master animator, The Exquisite Short Films of Kihachiro Kawamoto is let down mainly by some dodgy encoding and a total and utter lack of any extras. If you have an appreciation for animation and/or Japanese culture, then you really ought to give this a look.


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