Koji Yamamura has a long and rich career under his belt. Following his art studies at Tokyo Zokei University between 1983 and 1987 and his subsequent work as a background artist at Mukuo Studio, he eventually founded his freelance company Yamamura Animation, Inc. in 1993 together with his wife, through which he has produced numerous animations throughout the years. And since his 2002 international breakthrough Mount Head, which got an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film in addition to overwhelming critical acclaim, he has become one of the most celebrated independent animators of his time (Profile, Yamamura Animation). Additionally, he is since 2008 active as a professor at the Department of Animation at Tokyo University of the Arts (or Geidai), the graduate works of which include two of our previously covered shorts: Woman Who Stole Fingers and 00:08 (Archipel, 2018; Profile, Yamamura Animation). Combining decades of experience with an undying curiosity for new horizons, his body of work (especially post-Mount Head) is as masterfully crafted as it is experimentally exciting.
A Child’s Metaphysics is a highly demonstrative example of this. A montage of vignettes animated on a cardboard surface, it depicts children in various surreal and bizarre yet humorously clever scenarios and activities. One child has a candle for a nose that they put out with a sneeze, while another has a mouth of infinite zippers within zippers. Many of the vignettes play with the dimensions of the medium, such as the child who rolls up their head like a piece of paper, or the child who removes their rectangular head and flips it open like a book. The short has been called “a delightful rumination on what it means to be a child” that “concerns itself with the limitless imagination of children.” (Hotes, 2011) Indeed, it has a very childlike playfulness to it, that echoes Yamamura’s extensive work for such a target audience. Prior to Mount Head, his post-graduate filmography consisted of numerous children’s shorts for NHK, and he is a regular illustrator of picture books and other children’s books (Archipel, 2018; Book, Yamamura Animation).
Yet this is not a children’s film per se. Within its playfulness also lies a strong absurdism. Not the Kafkaesque type of absurdism as in Woman Who Stole Fingers, but more of the eccentric kind, that is as humorous as it is unpleasant. The soundtrack highly amplifies this. Not only are the diegetic sounds of the vignettes set to arrangements of various Prokofiev pieces by microtonal pop duo Syzygys, but these two are furthermore panned to one side and the other of the stereo. The result is an extremely dissonant soundscape that emphasizes the uncomfortable element of the short. Ultimately, the film is placed at a nice bridge between the playfulness deriving from his children’s work, and the eerie quality of titles such as Mount Head and Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor.
A trailer for A Child’s Metaphysics can be seen via Koji Yamamura’s official Vimeo page, where it is also available for buying and renting:
Archipel, toco toco – Koji Yamamura, Animator, YouTube, 12/1/2018, <https://youtu.be/SEE8rlXMqSk>
Hotes, Catherine Munroe, “A Child’s Metaphysics (こどもの形而上学, 2007)”, Nishikata Film Review: A Journey Through Visual Culture, 9/1/2011, <http://nishikataeiga.blogspot.com/2011/09/childs-metaphysics-2007.html>
Book, Yamamura Animation, <http://www.yamamura-animation.jp/e-book.html>
Profile, Yamamura Animation, <http://www.yamamura-animation.jp/e-prof.html>