A boy finds a strange object while playing hide-and-seek. His grandfather tells him the story of his own youth, and the important role the old lamp played. This story is about the modernization of Japan and the changes that came with it.
The Agency of Cultural Affairs of Japan invested 214 million yen ($2.26 million) in "Young Animator Training Project" and entrusted the execution of the project to Japan Animation Creators Association (JaniCA). JaniCA produced four original anime (23 min long with OP and ED sequences) in cooperation with four production studios. Ojii-san no Lamp was one of these four projects.
My quest to review the entries of the 2011 Future Animator Contest continues with the one shot anime that won the contest and was widely considered the best. That anime is Grandfather’s Lamp.
The story starts in 1930s Japan when a young boy comes across an old oil lamp and is quick to discard it. This displeases the boy’s grandfather, who proceeds to tell the young boy the importance that the lamp played in his life. When he was his grandson’s age, the grandpa worked in a rice field rather than attend school and had to use flint and tinder to start fires. When the
Western technology of the oil lamp was introduced to his rural farming village, he was enthralled with this revolutionary technology and decided to become a lamp salesman. His grandmother saw the oil lamps as demonic and frightening at first, but gradually grew to accept them. For the first 20 years, the Grandpa’s business did very well and he married a beautiful wife and had 2 children. Then to his utter horror, his business was rendered obsolete overnight when electricity was introduced to the town. He tried to scare the other villagers and told them that electricity was evil magic and basically reacted the same way his grandmother had to the oil lamp. Although he was initially furious and emotionally crushed, he realized that he couldn't be left behind and had to change his livelihood. He was then able to move on with a new dream.
The theme of this anime is the passage of time and how we can’t stop change. We must learn to accept that things change and adapt along with them. This particular example uses the astonishingly rapid modernization of Japan in the late 1800s and its transformation from a technologically backwards agrarian nation to a modern industrial nation in just a single lifetime. History has seen a number of great jumps like this, but Japan’s post Meiji Revolution jump is often viewed as one of the most dramatic and definitive examples. The anime wisely avoids the pitfalls of nostalgia and saying one time period is better than another. It instead looks passively and objectively at the fast flow of time and just how much the world can change in a single human lifetime. This anime is well animated, artful, and fairly thought provoking. Compared to the other entries in this contest, I can certainly see why this won.
The only real flaw I could see as a critic was that it could be accused of getting a tad sentimental at times. I find it amusing that this entry was clearly trying SO hard to win the contest, while the other entries are just playful and goofy. This was competing against a folktale parody about a spider-demon loli! Imagine a film contest in which “Boyhood” was up against “Freddy Got Fingered”. It doesn't even seem fair, but rather like bringing a grenade launcher to a fist fight! Was Grandfather's Lamp guilty of being "award bait"?
The answer to that last question is difficult to answer because what constitutes “award bait” actually depends entirely on the specific contest and what its judges are like. For example, “Oscar Bait” is NOT the same as “Cannes bait”. What do I mean by that? A good example of something that would be great for Cannes, but have no prayer at the Oscars is Mushishi. The major American film critics all called the live action version of Mushishi “boring, pretentious, garbage!” In the world of cinema, American film critics are notorious for being what anime snobs on MAL and 4chan call “filthy casuals”. The most respected film critics in the world are people like Sights and Sound Magazine in the UK. If you look at their top 100 films of all time, you will notice that the vast majority weren’t even nominated for the academy awards. Mushishi is an attempt to create an anime version of a very specific style of Euro art film in which plot and characters don’t really matter and it is ALL about surrealist imagery and existential artsyness. An example of the type of film that Mushishi clearly wanted to be like is “Stalker” from 1979. European film critics went NUTS over it and proclaimed it a masterpiece while American critics called it boring and pretentious and snubbed it in every category of the 1979 Oscars. Instead the Americans nominated several mediocre films like “Unmarried Woman”, “Coming Home”, and “Midnight Express”. Of course the French and British laughed their asses off at how profoundly stupid and uncultured the Oscar judges were and said that Stalker should have easily won: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Camera Editing hands down! My point is that I don’t know what the 2011 Future Animator judges were like and if this was indeed guilty of being award bait. It does kind of seem like it though.
Due to the lack of free time which is supposed to be allotted for my daily serving of anime, I resorted to watching short anime films and such. Of course, I was hoping to find something as magnificent yet light as Tsumiki no Ie. Then I stumbled upon the 4 short anime shows that comprised the 2010 Young Animators' Training Project. As the name of the said endeavor implies, its an on-the-job-training project funded by the Japanese Animation Creators Association to train fresh aspiring animators. Although I found it not as touching, unique and outstanding as Tsumiki no Ie, this anime collection was still worth
the watch as each story brought me back to those shows and stories I used to love when I was still a child.
Second of the four anime shorts from this great collection i've watched is Ojisan no Lamp, produced by Telecom Animation Film, the same guys who brought us Mujin Wakusei SURVIVE and the unique bacteria-comedy, Moyashimon. An old-timer, after seeing again his long-lost old floor lamp, tells his grandson a story about a certain lamp peddler who beginning from his childhood, through hard work and perseverance slowly built his business of assembling and selling oil lamps from the city to folks living in the countryside. Simply put, he was greatly inspired at the advancement of technology after seeing wonderful lights of oil lamps in the city when he was still a child and wanted the same for his village by the countryside. Also, he is bothered by having to bear with old technology (e.g. flint), despite the availability of new technology (e.g. matches) that undeniably makes things a lot easier. Although westernization and the advancement of technology in lamps became a reliable friend to him throughout the years, from his childhood until he became a family man, life seemed to have taken a sudden turn and he was thrown off as technology taught him a lesson he learned the hard way.
This story in particular really makes me wish I still had my grandparents around to tell me such amazing stories taken from their real life experiences. The show totally has great storytelling, the plot and storyline was consistent, despite the timeskips, albeit brief, and the emotions were well portrayed through the characters giving it perfect points for being a touching show in the drama genre. The story's message was also clear and delivered very well and being set in historical Japan, the evident elements of history were pretty accurate also giving the viewers a good show of Japan's cultural history.
Among the four anime, this show, to me, has the best artwork. Although the backgrounds were quite simple and drawn with just enough detail, the portrayal of the countryside, the city, nature and other sceneries were good and the animation and amount of lighting used on scenes perfectly fits, improves and sets the right mood on each, particularly on the most climactic parts. Character movement was also pretty smooth and particularly, I love how the characters were drawn in this one.
Like what I've mentioned earlier, the music for this anime is certainly spot on, suiting, even improving every scene it plays along to, especially the dramatic ones. Whether it be planting on rice fields, a cultural festival, plodding along a natural road on a summer day, losing heart on disappointments or feelings of desperation, the music certainly gives a perfect feel of the moment. Also, the OP and ED theme that plays along with the story itself are something you can't just ignore.
This one, in my opinion, is definitely the best among the four anime shows in the 2010 YATP. Perfectly lighthearted, yet the ensuing drama is totally spot on. Consistent storyline, Great art and animation, Soothing and absolutely dramatic music, heck, I daresay, it's like watching a Ghibli movie!
Times are constantly changing; old technologies are continuously being replaced by new. Sometimes though, it's not easy to let go of something outdated, especially if it has played a central part in one's life. In essence, this is what happens in "Grandfather's Lamp", when an aged protagonist Minosuke tells his grandson about the role lamps played in his life.
Being one of the 2010 Young Animators' Training Project, the artwork has a simplistic beauty about it and seems to have been done with great care. The shading of the eyes is a little weird - they have these dull colourings that are often used in other
anime to indicate a lack of consciousness or control. The background music is also very good, gently supporting the quieter moments and weighing in and enhancing the key ones. Judging technical aspects of an anime really isn't my forte though, so I'm gonna quickly move onto the other stuff. :P
The first part of "Grandfather's Lamp" is about how Minosuke, as a boy, came across lamps being sold at a shop in a time when such things are a rarity in Japan. Fascinated by this new technology, Minosuke decided to start selling them in his village, eventually growing up and expanding his enterprises into the city. For a long time, life was great; his business thrived and he started a family with his childhood crush. So far so good. This part of "Grandfather's Lamp" is mostly calm and peaceful, a part that highlights Minosuke's delightful enthusiasm for the lamp, and how it was the foundation to all that was good in his life.
The second part of the tale shows Minosuke's lamp business becoming obsolete; electric lighting started to appear as Japan continued to modernise. Even though Minosuke embraced the technology that was the lamp, he was reluctant to show the same attitude towards electric lights, and did not want to abandon the lamp business his life was built upon. On paper, this had superb potential. It could have been a great story about Japan's modernisation and Minosuke clinging on to the past. Instead, "Grandfather's Lamp" fell on its face in this second part, as it went for impact and drama with a subject that should have been treated slowly and with subtlety. After all, it's not like the adoption of new technology happens over night, and the point where it was treated as such, when Minosuke somehow only discovered electric lights when he was surrounded by them, is the point where the story started to fall apart.
It gets worse. Minosuke's resentment eventually drives him to ridiculous actions that were made more ridiculous by the "Higurashi"-esq dramatisation, and his eventual enlightenment was delivered with all the finesse of an elephant burglar. It seems almost surreal when compared with the quiet, slice of life nature of the first half. Towards the end, as Minosuke finally came to terms with the inevitable and went about preparing for it, there was one breathtaking moment when the gorgeous visuals combined with the swelling music to form a beautiful, poetic scene, but even that was quickly marred by more silliness.
In the end, with its vast potential and solid technical aspects, "Grandfather's Lamp" turned out to be only decent. With better screen writing and direction, it could have been so much more. It just feels like the effort that's obviously been put into the animation is lacking elsewhere.
Young Animator Training Project/Anime Mirai short reviews: Part 1/12
The first, and many people argue the best, of the young animator training projects. It has the highest ranking on MAL anyway. It tells the very human story of a guy who followed his dream and started up a lamp business, only to see it crumble in the face of new technology. The tone is perhaps a touch on the maudlin side, with a lot of “oh gosh aint this sad”, but it does an excellent job of humanising the story. The man’s transition from childlike wonder at the lamps to a successful business family man is
well paced and does a good job at making us empathise with the character, which is why I don’t feel too down on it getting all maudlin towards the end. They earned that through good storytelling. Ojisan himself perhaps isn’t the most memorable character, but the story is built around him having the standard reactions to these events, so we feel the same pain he does as we’d do the exact same things in those positions.