In this ravishing film of mystical beauty, master animator Kihachiro Kawamoto’s tour de force adventure tale tells the story of a young noblewoman in 8th-century Japan who leaves her home to follow the apparition of an executed prince.
The Book of the Dead takes place as Buddhism is being introduced to Japan from China. Iratsume, a woman of noble descent, becomes obsessed with this mysterious new religion. One night, in a rapturous trance, she sees a luminous vision that she believes to be the Buddha, compelling her to leave home and journey to a sacred temple. Once there, she sees Otsu, a young prince who was executed 50 years earlier. While Iratsume mistakes the prince’s spirit for the incarnation of the great Buddha, the ghost mistakes Iratsume for the last woman he saw at the moment of his death. As an act of great devotion, she decides to make a giant shroud for the prince to heal his soul, after which he begins to haunt the young woman and those around her. The pair embark on an impassioned battle of wills, one longing for the material world, the other striving for the spiritual.
This strange story of otherworldly romance is the work of stop-motion animator and puppet-maker Kihachiro Kawamoto, a former student of the master Czech animator Jiri Trnka. Already a legend in his own right, with The Book of the Dead he has created an intricately detailed magnum opus, a summation of the themes explored in all of his work: the transience of existence, the ambiguity of human behavior, and the search for perfection and beauty in an imperfect world.
One final note for animation buffs: The film also features work by the acclaimed Russian animator and director Yuriy Norshteyn, who was involved in The Book of the Dead as a “guest animator.”
Born in 1925, from an early age Kihachiro Kawamoto was captivated by the art of doll and puppet making. After seeing the works of maestro Czech animator Jiri Trnka, he first became interested in stop motion puppet animation and during the 50s began working alongside Japan’s first stop motion animator, the legendary Tadahito Mochinaga. In 1958, he co-founded Shiba Productions to make commercial animation for television, but it was not until 1963, when he traveled to Prague to study puppet animation under Jiri Trnka for a year, that his puppets truly began to take on a life of their own. Trnka encouraged Kawamoto to draw on his own country’s rich cultural heritage in his work, and so Kawamoto returned from Czechoslovakia to make a series of highly individual, independently-produced artistic short works, beginning with Breaking of Branches is Forbidden (Hana-Ori) in 1968. Heavily influenced by the traditional aesthetics of Noh, Bunraku doll theatre and Kabuki, since the 70s his haunting… read more