Director Masashi Kawamura says that he has dreamed about making a long stop-motion animated film since he was a child and the idea of a “stop-motion samurai film” was something he had “been cooking up for years.”
As seen in the pilot for the film above, Hidari tells the story of Jingoro Hidari, a legendary sculptor in the Edo period of Japan, using wooden puppets.
“We were able to gather a world-class stop-motion animator team who believed in this idea, and created a five-minute pilot film which you can check out above,” Kawamura says. “We’re really excited about how this pilot film is looking, and would love to find a way to receive enough funding and support to make it into a feature-length film.”
Making a Masterpiece
The “real” Jingoro Hidari — quotations around “real” since there is a strong possibility that he did not actually exist but was created as part of legend — was known as a wooden sculptor who was so skilled he was able to “breathe life” into the creations that he carved from wood. That language isn’t just a metaphor, as legends say his creations literally came to life. The team behind Hidari embraced this by choosing wood as the medium for the stop-motion film.
“We tried inventing new visual effects that make use of the wooden materials. The characters were designed to show the wooden texture and joints, which became a unique part of the overall aesthetic,” Kawamura continues.
“We took hints from ‘Nou’ masks, and carved the faces in a way so that the shadows will cast rich expressions. The most intriguing was the sawdust gushing out instead of blood when the characters are being slashed apart,” he continues.
Speaking to PetaPixel, Kawamura explains a bit of detail behind the process of bringing the stop motion to life.
“In order to film multiple scenes at once, we actually created two Jingoro puppets, which was very challenging since they were hand-carved out of wood,” he says.
“Takeshi Yashiro tried to find a wood with similar grain, and did his best to actually match the chisel marks. It’ll be interesting if to see if the viewers can tell which scene is using which puppet.”
What is important to Kawamura and his team is to try and make something unique and surprising.
“Whatever type of project I work on, I always try to aim to create something that no one has seen before. And when you have an idea that can potentially make that goal a reality, talented people with similar passion and vision will naturally gather. In our case it was the idea of creating a stop-motion animation using wooden puppets, and creating an action packed film inspired by Japanimation,” he says.
“I think many talented stop-motion animators in Japan were looking for a new challenge, other than the common ‘cute and kawaii’ stop-motion content. I think our idea was completely different, and so it probably felt like a great opportunity for everyone to explore everything that they’ve always dreamt about, and put their full passion into it, which resulted in this strong high-quality film.”
Bringing the Full Film to Life
“To make full use of the mystical character of Jingoro Hidari, we plan to weave fiction and actual history into the story (something like a more violent Forrest Gump set in ancient Japan). Actual historical events such as the reconstruction of the Edo Castle, the Keian Uprising, and the Great Fire of Meireki will become backdrops of the events happening within the film. And actual historical characters such as the Shogun Ietsuna Tokugawa, and Yorinobu Tokugawa will play important roles.”
As for the others, we only made 1 sleeping cat, 1 armchair dog, 1 Inumaru, and 5 henchmen (mainly due to budget and time frame). The jumping scene of the cat actually used 6 sequential wooden cat models to create the “motion blur” effect.
This short pilot is just one part of the whole film that Kawamura and his team hope to make, though as might be expected, this level of craftsmanship and detail is time-consuming and expensive. The team’s current capabilities are not to the level required to make the full feature film they are hoping for, and as a result need to sign larger partners.
“We understand that it’s always a challenge for filmmakers to find the right partner, and that this process on its own will take a lot of time and energy,” Kawamura says.
“We’ve seen cases where a film, fortunately, gets made within a few years, while others taking over a decade, or worse never saw the light of day. We’re yet to know where HIDARI will end up, but we strongly hope we can make it into a feature film as soon as possible.”
The team behind Hidari has started a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter with two goals: to create a supportive community behind the film’s efforts and to raise the funds necessary to further sales and public relations activities to find a large production partner (Kawamura says that the team has used up all its own funds to create the pilot).
The current timeline Kawamura and his team hope for would see the finished Hidari film released in 2028. To see more details on what goes into the production of a stop motion film like this and peruse the backing options, check out Hidari‘s Kickstarter.
Image credits: Hidari Movie
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Update 3/10: Added additional quotes from the Hidari team.