The young Japanese animator Sawako Kabuki had her international breakthrough in 2013 with the brilliant, anally obsessed short Anal Juke (or ‘anal juice’). Follow-up Master Blaster was shown at Pluk de Nacht, which this year honors the artist with a retrospective. Turns out all her animated shorts are obsessive, transgressive, and rather brilliant. An exclusive interview.
One of the things I love in animation is the art of transformation. Your work is full of body parts morphing into each other – in Nou Nen for example. Can you say why? What do transforming bodies mean to you?
“I studied graphic design at the Tama Art University, where animation was one of the compulsory classes. At this class one of the assignments was to create a 1-minute animation. I decided to create an animation with transformation, and I think this habit remains. Another reason is the uniqueness of transformation, which cannot be obtained in live action video. In addition, I really enjoy drawing these expressions, as well as watching them, and that’s why I use it so much. Therefore, there isn’t a specific deep meaning as to why I am using transformation. To sum it all up, my idea of animation is equal to transformation.”
You play a lot with visuals of the anus, especially in Anal Juke and Master Blaster. Most artists prefer to neglect this part of the body. Why do you like putting it in your animations? Do you think it deserves more attention? Do we need more anal activists?
“As children, we used to all like words such as poo, pee, wiener et cetera. For me, even after growing up, I still enjoy these words. I really can’t help it, I absolutely love these words. Moreover, these words will not hurt anyone, or drive someone to commit suicide. I would like to explain Anal Juke as a grown-up version of these words. I also think that the anus is less repulsive compared to the vagina or the penis. I believe it is the only body part that can be both humorous and erotic. In addition, I have a lot of interest in the human excretion desire. In fact, I am dedicated to this. I believe there should be more anal activists. And I believe society will also respect this. For example, in Japan there is an elementary school method to teach children kanji [Japanese characters, red] in a fun way. The exercise book is called The Kanji Poop Drill and uses fun example sentences with poop. This learning method has become very popular.”
You have said elsewhere that Anal Juke was inspired by a break-up with your boyfriend. Do other films of yours also have autobiographical backgrounds? And what about the not very happy looking woman in Nou Nen who reappears (in the shape of a cat) in Summer’s Puke is Winter’s Delight? Is it maybe you? If so, why?
“Most of my work is based on actual experiences. Creating these videos function as a detox to me. However, Nou Nen is based on my male friend’s experience.”
Your latest film Summer’s Puke is Winter’s Delight has a serious message about anorexia. What made you want to make a movie about this? Do you think animation can help getting this message across?
“Summer’s Puke is Winter’s Delight is another animation that is based on actual experiences. The animation may have parts that are difficult to understand, but this is how I experienced this period. To briefly explain, due to a love affair, I was not able to stop throwing up everything I had eaten. This was a huge problem, and I was too embarrassed to share this with anyone. Fortunately, I overcame this, and this is also the reason why I named it Summer’s Puke is Winter’s Delight. As time passes, we can overcome the terrible things that have happened in the past, and we will be able to talk and laugh again. The nuance behind this, is that the puke in summer, after it ages, can be enjoyed in winter, just like Japanese rice wine. People who suffer an eating disorder watching my video, may find sympathy or support in some kind of way, but it could also be that I have wrongly expressed myself.”
Japan has a fantastic animation tradition that a country like Holland can only dream of. Where do you place yourself within Japanese animation?
“Japanese animation is certainly wonderful. Growing up I watched a lot of Japanese animation. In Japan, my animation is probably not generally accepted. I have received many awards abroad, but this is very limited in Japan itself. This makes me concerned about the future, and makes me wonder what I should do.”
Finally, what do you think of The Beatles (whom you reference in Ici, là et partout and Nou Nen)? Were songs such as Yellow Submarine an inspiration to start making music videos?
“I love the Beatles! The song and concept of my earlier work Ici, là et partout is a cover of their song Here, There and Everywhere. But The Beatles have not been a direct inspiration, as I only discovered them recently. I had seen parts and scenes of the animated feature film of Yellow Submarine before, but the first time I saw the entire film was two years ago. However, as you can imagine I absolute love it. I really hope I can someday make great work equivalent to this. If I had to pick my top favorite animated work, I would say number one is Masaaki Yuasa’s Mind Game, and second is Yellow Submarine.”
Translation from English to Japanese and back again by Karin van Wassenaar.