663114 is a short independent animation from director Isamu Hirabayashi that questions the fundamental condition of being in, living in, and understanding Japan. The cryptic title is a combination of important data whose relevance make up the content of 663114. 66 is the number of years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by Little Boy and Fat Man. 3/11 the date of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and following hard-upon tsunami. 4, the number of reactors emitting radiation from the Fukushima Daichii plant.
The simple animation follows a very old cicada climbing a tree to complete its shedding of carapace, natural cyclical reproduction, and thus complete its life. It is disturbed after it has shed by the earthquake and tsunami which nearly kill the cicada. Then comes the viscous clouds of radiation from Fukushima. Managing to reproduce, we are shown the cicada's young at the end of the film, following the same path, climbing the same tree, but definitely not the same cicada.
The Tohoku Great Disaster encompassing the earthquake, tsunami, and radiation from broken reactors, has proved to be the most economically costly natural disaster in the history of mankind. Many different attempts have been made since to encapsulate the effects of Tohoku Great Disaster in audio-visual form. Some eminent examples include the documentaries '3.11: Surviving Japan', 'Pray for Japan', and 'The Cherry Blossom and the Earthquake', nominated for an Oscar. Also are television documentaries like 'Megaquake: The Hour That Shook Japan' and 'We Are All Radioactive'. In fuller thematic approach is the film 'The Impossible' directed by Juan Antonio, also nominated for an Oscar. The common element of these productions is that they are not solely Japanese productions.
The initial reaction to the Tohoku Great Disaster in Japan was protocol. Follow the standardised pre-written pre-prepared instructions. Television stations stating the information given to them from government departments. As the scale and impact became clearer, so did the abundance, bluntness, and excess of the disaster's depiction, and the detached neutral tone in deliverance of the media. In contrast gossiping housewifes exchanged cynical sagacity that they should start hoarding food even though it was directly unadvised, and otaku began (after repairing their model girls, guns, whatever) rigging up their own little geiger-counters in their three-tatami-mat apartments. The overarching collectivist quality of Japan's society showed keenly in opposition to the development of emotions in individuals.
As the truths of financial debauchery, media cover-ups, and both private and governmental conspiracies came to light, the Japanese public was left wan with sickly disbelief. In another country, the events would have already led to thousands of invigorated individuals looking to intellectually capitalise on the disaster in the form of grand narrative expression in varied media, especially audio-visual. Yet in Japan, this was not clearly the case at all. Excluding a slurry of ill-formed, mis-advised, self-filmed documentaries that had quick runs with short half-lives, no major projects were born from the ashes.
Rather, the concept of '出る釘は打たれる' or, 'The nail that sticks out gets hammered down', reared its apathetic head for the audio-visual industry in Japan in relation to the Tohoku Great Disaster. The most prominent Japanese work in pop-culture media featuring the Tohoku Great Disaster as a major theme (as of the start of 2013) is Sion Sono's 'Himizu'. Sono has developed a reputation in the Japanese film market as being an outsider, a rebel, if one of potent skill at unraveling the dis-satisfactions in contemporary Japan- the much allegorised difference between Honne and Tatemae; directing such works as the adaptation of the manga "Suicide Club". In Himizu he does no differently, deconstructing understandings of how the fabric of society is knitted through the advent of the Tohoku Great Disaster as well as some other factors- though admittedly Himizu is achieved on a shoestring budget and rushed production schedule.
This is where 663114 joins the scene, and already starts to show its ambitious vision. Hirabayashi is not a director, like Sono, concerned primarily with fundamental sociological issues such as race or deviance in the regular manner. Rather Hirabayashi has made a tradition of his own by directing multiple short films that point to the degeneration of the world in terms of its natural equilibrium. The harming of a 'gaia'. As such, his films almost exclusively feature scripts built on parable, and inclusion of plants or animalism. 663114, as we see, is no exclusion from this. But 663114 goes further by morphing, or perhaps coalescing, a viewpoint on the Tohoku Great Disaster and its greater meaning and relevance for Japan.
The first step Hirabayashi has made is the deliberate step of utilising animation. Hirabayashi's previous works have been in film. In this usage, Hirabayashi distances himself from the propensity of film-media such as news stories and talk-show clips that do little more than deliver images of the desolation, and messages such as 'gambatte-ne' (fight through it!). The advantages of animation is such that it offers the use of metaphorical form in place of fact and concreteness- the difference between a photo and a drawing. In using animation Hirabayashi also wanted to prioritise his message over establishing the foundation of the topic, evident in the sparsity of 663114. By doing this Hirabayashi is evidently polemicising the topic, something that while perhaps being exploitative, is necessary to deliver any resolution, denouement, or developed dialectic. If the distillation of events is something entirely dehumanised and made empirical instead of emotional, both the true impact and tragedy of the Tohoku Great Disaster cannot be grasped by a greater populous. This ironic fact is evident with such artists as Bill Henson, a pre-eminent photographer who formulates and moulds images in a very conscientious manipulation designed to avoid simply 'recording'.
Music is used as a major part of the production, for both emphasis and transition. As Catherine Munroe Hotes explored with an interview with Hirabayashi, the soundtrack is deeply spiritual and intrinsically tied to the political and humanistic goals Hirabayashi wanted to express. Produced as 'an offering' in a mix of Shinto and Buddhist rites, the sounds effects of the cicada, of the tsunami, of the earthquake, are produced by packaged food such as noodles, cabbage, and natto. Traditional music employing instruments such as the Japanese flute that would accompany mantra comes to give atmosphere at points of the animation, and is used effectively to transition the tone between the telling of the cicada's story and the larger ideas at play.
The vehicle of visual elements that compose the animation of 663114 is in opposition rather simplistic. The frame is static throughout, and the only change in image is that of interstices for the credits and title (though used purposefully, the finale of this animation comes after the listing of staff). Located in the frame are two distinct divorced zones. A background, and what we discover is a tree. The division is achieved by harsh lines. Interacting between the surface of the tree and background is a cicada who is slowly but surely inching his way upwards. The background takes the texture of aged paper, the tree another slightly more wrinkled paper, and a pattern of chrysanthemum that is synonymous with the early Shouwa period. The cicada is digitally inked, and its animated functions take semblance to that of kirigami.
While Hirabayashi was the genesis of 663114 and the overseer of the project, Ken Murakami is the art director who facilitated Hirabayashi's ideas. His accomplishing of the projects ambitions in representation have been achieved admirably, if perhaps a little obviously and without poeticism. The derivative meaning behind the construction of these materials becomes an analogue used throughout. The paper is of obvious organic origin, which becomes only more stated as the coloration changes and later becomes despoiled by black water. The tree in contrast is that of the character of Japanese civilisation, with its patterning, and it "solidness", and its connection to the soil, which is described as 'good' and 'free of strong pesticides' and 'mines' (the pesticide mention is a definite political touch by Hirabayashi). After the radiation, which is represented as expanding clouds of ink blots, It is the dirtying of the purity of the soil that is voiced as a concern for Hirabayashi. The contrast between the paper and the patterning suggests a further interpolation of nature and artificiality in Japan's identity, enforced by the proliferation of stamps upon the tree. These stamps are 'inkan', crests for contracts, and provide much of Hirabayashi's greater vision.
The stamps represent tradition, and greater capitalistic concerns of Japan's business empire. The tree is Japan in both its natural and artificial form. The cicada represents nature and in a touch of anthropomorphism, the Japanese peoples. The cicada is 66 years old, and in its climbing, moving past the numerous stamps. This journey is that which the Japanese peoples must also face, and the disaster that almost kills the cicada and comes to mutate its young. An interesting point is that the cicada is born from the ashes of Hiroshima and does not seem to have any physical deformities, yet that of its young affected by the Tohoku Great Disaster does. The mutation that encounters ataxia and encumbrance is the destination of the journey. Like the cicada's life, the process is cyclical, we have come from one mistake to simply repeat it again. The mutagenic results for us and the cicada is that which also defines us. The stamps of families the repetition of tradition but also the repetition of mutation in Japan's history, from Meiji to Taisho to Shouwa to Heisei. Hirabayashi is warning us of the dangers of radiation, the dangers of tradition and thus the repetition of cyclical tragedies that will inevitably occur and destroy or sicken the earth like that of ther Tohoku Great Disaster.
Each part of 663114's production is intentional. Much of the film is a personal political message from Hirabayashi to flavour the perception of how we understand the Tohoku Great Disaster. It is as mentioned a polemic. And Hirabayashi has taken some steps to simply negate dialogue and instead try espouse his view to a greater audience, which is perfectly admissible. As such, 663114 has been taken to innumerable film festivals by Hirabayashi, and because of its great production and greater ideology, winning awards. The self-referential qualities of this animation are evident in even its own title. A code whose significance must be learned by accepting an interpretation of values from Hirabayashi.
663114 is despite some of its blatant and slightly wearing political messages, an inspirationally concise dialectic upon the Tohoku Great Disaster, and furthermore the effect of tradition and mutation- with absolute clarity as to its purpose. A very neatly constructed animation. And while Hirabayashi has not gone out of his way to market 663114 within Japan itself, his message that is actively pursuant of a Japan that would not live by the idiom 'the nail that sticks out gets hammered down' is heartwarming if perhaps a little futile.