The first time I saw rain town, I knew I had stumbled on the work of a master animator. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Although it exhibits some clear Japanese influence, rain town also echoes the foggy collage style of both Yuriy Norshteyn and award-winning writer/illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie). Without words and without trope, this brilliant short uses minimal sound effects to construct a stunning tale of generational love and companionship. It has since become one of my all-time favorite animated shorts.
rain town is the brainchild of Hiroyasu “Tete” Ishida, a Japanese animator who studied animation at Kyoto Seika University. His work first took off with the viral short Fumiko’s Confession, a brief but humorous look into unrequited love. There, hints of Tex Avery’s grotesque body manipulation merge with the globetrotting vertigo of Osamu Tezuka’s Jumping. It is an altogether charming, light little film.
But rain town, Tete’s graduation project, operates on an entirely different level. Gone are the Japanese school kids common in modern anime. In their place, an old woman considers her childhood. As a girl, cloaked in a dull yellow raincoat, she remembers her trek out into her desolate neighborhood as rain pounded on every visible surface. And she recalls how on this trip, she made an unforgettable mechanical friend. It is a beautiful, minimalist portrait of memory.
Tete is currently working on a new short entitled Hinata no Aoshigure (Sonny Boy & Dewdrop Girl). Based on the trailer, the animator has apparently returned to a Japanese school setting. However, his unique style shines through as he continues to work through his many influences. In Sonny Boy & Dewdrop Girl, visual motifs from Hayao Miyazaki abound – particularly Kiki’s Delivery Service. His animation has gotten drastically more complex since Fumiko’s Confession, and he seems to have carved unique visuals out of what might otherwise be rote anime fair.
I believe Tete deserves more exposure. He has already received praise from the talented Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars) and won numerous awards, but he remains a somewhat unknown entity in the West. In a world where the legendary Satoshi Kon has passed and Hayao Miyazaki has retired, there is a void in modern Japanese animation. I believe Tete has the potential to fill it.
Where Kon melded surrealist fantasy, biting social commentary, and purely adult drama on par with anything to come out of Hollywood, Tete taps into a universal sense of childhood nostalgia and emotion. And where Miyazaki focused on grandiose telling set against sweeping, awe-inspiring landscapes, Tete takes a quieter, more intimate approach to his storytelling.
Keep an eye on Hiroyasu Ishida. If rain town is any indication, he might be the next phenomenon out of Japan.
In the age of the internet, it’s commonplace to stumble on unknown artists. Whether it’s short films, feature length productions, or animation, there is a bevy of talent out there just waiting to be discovered. And sometimes, I find auteurs who blow me away with raw energy and promise. The Spotlight series at Movie Fail is our attempt to give these burgeoning creatives a chance to show off their work to a new audience.