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Festival Helps Public Discover Japanese Animation
The Consulate General of Japan in Toronto

The Japanese Anime Film Festival, held over four weekends from Sept. 23 to Oct. 15 at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto as part of Access Japan 2000, met with tremendous reaction from the public, even drawing people who previously were not aware of this contemporary Japanese art form.

"It was extremely successful," said Sunhan Eren, spokesperson for Anime North, the Toronto animation fan club which, along with the Consulate General of Japan and the York University Anime and Manga Associatioin (YAMA), organized the festival. "The festival exposed anime to more people than ever before."

Japanese animation is known for detailed, stylized graphics, as well as for complex stories and characters that appeal to adults as well as children. The perspectives are often more akin to cinema than cartoons, and Japanese animation techniques have had tremendous influence on cartooning in North America.

The festival showcased both classic and new works of animation, starting with works by the late master animator Tezuka Osamu. According to Mr. Eren, many among the festival's audience recognized works by Tezuka that were televised in North America in the 1960s and '70s. These included Astroboy and Jungle Emperor Leo (renamed Kimba The White Lion on television), the latter rumoured to even have inspired Disney's Lion King.

"Many people remembered seeing Astroboy on television as a child," said Mr. Eren. "They said they wished they could see more of the old classics"

Newer works included Dragonball Z, based on the television series with the same name which has become immensely popular among North American children. There were also works by the internationally celebrated Miyazaki Hayao, namely, Kiki's Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke, which was opened to general release last year and received tremendously positive reviews.

The festival also included lesser known works such as The Golden Bird, Samurai Express Yaemon and Madcap Island. Others, such as Ghost in the Shell, Grave of Fireflies and Lupin III, were well-known among anime fans but not the general public.

The effect of the festival on the general public, however, was what Mr. Eren found most remarkable. "We had people coming in off the street after they saw the signs," he said. "Afterwards, people who had never seen anime before were coming up and asking us where they can get more."

Mr. Eren feels the appeal of Japanese animation is something universal. "Anyone, no matter what their culture, can recognize good quality entertainment when they see it," he said. "Some may not even know much about Japanese culture, but they enjoy the art and the good story. Because I know a lot about Japan, I can recognize Japanese culture in the films - the politeness of the characters, how they interact, the iconography - but most people are oblivious to that"

The festival did more than entertain kids with eye-popping graphics and stories. It also contributed toward all children's well-being by raising over $12,000 for the Hospital for Sick Children. "It's a great cause," said Mr. Eren. "I'm so glad we could make such a significant contribution."

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