This Week: Stamp Fantasy (Kitte no Gensou)
We edge ever closer the one of the busiest shipping and transport times of the year, so taking some time to focus a bit on a film about stamps feels appropriate.
I had mentioned when I wrote about Yōji Kuri’s short 1972 film The Midnight Parasites (Kiseichuu no Ichiya) that I wanted to come back around and write something for Stamp Fantasy (sometimes also known as Fantasia of Stamps) in the future. They are each on the Yōji Kuri Film Works collection Geneon released several years ago, which contains a selection of choice highlights from a filmography of over forty short pieces.
The release date for Stamp Fantasy is something immediately striking, as it came out in 1961. It is both one of his earliest films and near the start of a real boom period in independent Japanese animation endeavors, which he would go on to become a great champion of via things like the Animation Group of Three (Animation Sannin no Kai). Notably, the first of those showcases was in 1960, the second in 1962, and things rapidly snowballed for Kuri from there in success and recognition. 1961 then places us very firmly right on the edge of all this which was about to take off. A careful period before his far more surrealist works would be launched with greater seriousness.
As a film Stamp Fantasy is a stop motion animation work which takes its title to heart. It features numerous regular mail delivery recognizable postage stamps, which then become torn, cut up, and the shapes assembled in new ways to represent fresh imagery and wonder. Outside of rather the plain background art so as to keep attention more firmly on the stamps and what they are up to, everything of key visual note in the production is made in whole out of what were once regular stamps.
As an animation materials exploration, stamps have some rather unique advantages.
Particularly for a dialogue free short, reliant so much on its visuals.
Postage stamps, when one gets right down to it, are a kind of commercial pop art.
They are little pictures and works of craftsmanship, and while their graphical design used to be far more restricted in their earliest days they would go on to frequently featuring people, characters, objects, locations, and other sights. People collect stamps for reasons like this and the history involved in their production and trends. Commemorative prints, while legal postage but not intended for mailing, are even issued for all manner of occasions. So say nothing, in turn, of all the things mail as a service allow for (particularly in a pre-internet time like 1961). All the places a small little stamp allows it to go, the things a stamp would interact with or perhaps see along the way to wherever its destination could be.
So, when one watches Stamp Fantasy, one is not merely watching an experimental attempt to make a very untraditional material into a small animated short. There is a fair amount of symbolism one can drift with.
To see stamps as they are made to turn into fields of flowers, for instance. The images those stamps have on them as we go along, such as great figures of history or the scientific achievements of mankind. Architecture and landscaping stamps, such as those of real world bridges or lakes, applied in places to serve as small scenic sets and in-universe locations here on the journey.
That our small representations of locations can become destinations and vistas of their own within such different contexts.
The Midnight Parasites does form a nifty contrast and comparison compared to this far earlier work by Kuri.
Both are fundamentally walks through impossible (as far we know) worlds, the viewer guided as they are through with just visuals, music, and keeping their wits about them. I even described The Midnight Parasites as something akin to a kind of fictional safari, in a way. Stamp Fantasy has such a drive for showcasing its unique world order and functionality as well.
That being said, our postage adventure has a “main” character for us to follow as well.
As near as I have been able to ascertain, our central stamp looks to be a commemorative part from Japan’s 1957 Philatelic Week collection (philately being the study and discipline of postage related history). More specifically, it seems to then also be a work by famed 18th century Ukiyo-e artist Suzuki Harunobu given what I can find of the general theme of the collection. The stamps seems to be commonly designated “Girl Bouncing Ball” by scattered stamp storefronts, but: I can not find a more authoritative English language art source which backs this up, and my identification would welcome a better eye than mine when it comes to this research field.
If we operate on the assumption it is a Suzuki Harunobu work however, there are definite themes which could be pulled from that. Harunobu was at the forefront of his artistic peers; they were the first to produce full color woodblock Ukiyo-e prints, and their work was renowned for depicting sights from a wide spectrum of the social scale rather than just high class figures, representations from theatre, or the like.
We can consider then the kind of exchange and linkage of traditions taking place here. Harunobu seeking to depict a variety of subjects from various walks of life, in vivid color, and the idea of postage stamps being a kind of vibrant art which is consumed by virtually everyone within modern (1960’s) life. That there is quite a grand machinery of equal opportunity travel facilitating the movement of things which have stamps applied to them.
The act of mailing something is, in its own way, a kind of fantasy through the imagining of the parcel arriving at its destination. And for it to do so, it will need to navigate its way through entire world of stamps with their own goals, each with their own little images and visions to impart as they pass one another and see a world in the context of other stamps.
It is a world of constant momentum and change, and in turn apt not only as a kind of fantastical metaphor for a mail system but also that of larger society.
A society which makes sticky little works of art to send out into the world, to trust in their ability to get some important letter or package home.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.