If there’s one thing you learn quickly about Japanese culture, it’s that amazing and wonderful things often come in small packages. Sometimes the most beautiful and intricate of artworks can be held in the palm of your hand, and today I’d like to introduce to you just such a thing.
It would be easy to dismiss this series of flip books published by Seigensha Art Publishing as something trivial – just a small piece of amusement for children. However, whilst some of the titles certainly are amusing (and some will definitely appeal to children), these books are far from trivial.
Cat’s Flip Book Series by Harumin Asao (猫のパラパラブックスシリーズ)
There are six titles in the Cat’s Flip Book series by Harumin Asao, all of which feature a cute black cat. Harumin Asao is a cat lover and observer of cats, and through her illustration she shows her love for our feline friends. An illustrator and essayist born in Mie, Harumin Asao’s novel I am a Cat Stalker (私は猫ストーカー) was made into a film in 2009.
There is wonderful movement in the stories portrayed in the flip books, and it’s clear the cat has been illustrated by someone who knows the creatures well and knows how they move. In ‘A Cat’s Welcome’ we see the black cat, happy to see its owner come home, wrapping itself around her legs. One can almost imagine the purring.
Each book also has a delightful second animation which the reader can find on the opposite page to the main story. These are simple line drawings, and the one which tickled me most was a cat spinning on a gramophone in ‘A Cat’s Welcome’.
‘In A Kitten’s Way of Greeting’ is really fun. The reader is made to feel like the cat’s owner as the kitten comes up to the foreground, its face getting bigger and bigger, and then whips out its tongue for a great big lick.
These are wonderful little stories which will delight anyone and make the perfect gift for all cat lovers!
Mou-hitotsu-no-Kenkyujo (Mohiken) Flip Book Series (もうひとつの研究所のパラパラブックスシリーズ)
Whilst the cat series was light and fun, the majority of this second series by Mohiken is quite dark by comparison… and that’s why I like it. Mohiken, or Mou-hitotsu-no-Kenkyujo (which means ‘Another Research Institute’), is (I think) the name of an animation team comprising ‘Ikasama’ and ‘Anirikam’. According to their website (and my poor translation), ‘Mou-hitotsu-no-Kenkyujo’ was one of the gift institutes led by none other than Santa Claus himself, but their gifts were too funny and they weren’t accepted by Santa, so they decided to go rogue and sell gifts behind Santa’s back. I think.
Which brings us nicely to one of the most creative little books I have ever seen: ‘Christmas Comes Along’.
This beautiful little book is all about the anticipation of Christmas, and should ring true with children and adults alike. As you rush through the forest of Christmas trees a tiny bell sound can be heard. Suddenly there are shadows; shadows of reindeer, and then there’s the bell, jingling in front of you in a clever little cut out box inside the book. And then there’s Santa, wishing you a Merry Christmas. Who wouldn’t want to find this in their stocking on Christmas Day?
Each flip book by Mohiken is like an animation – there’s story, depth, beautiful art, and characters too. Much the same as with Studio Ghibli films, I felt when looking at these books that the stories were deeply intertwined with the Japanese psyche, as well as Japanese folktales and traditions. Everyone who reads this blog will know I’m a bit of a ‘yokai’ (monster/ghost) fan, and I was excited to find that Mohiken is too.
The most popular title in this series is ‘God of Bug Eater’; a story about Mushikuisama, a bug eating god. Mushikuisama eats the bugs who dig in the ground, and then makes flowers and trees grow. I think it’s a story about the cycle of life, and how each living thing needs each other to continue to thrive. This book has already sold half a million copies in Japan! The illustration is absolutely gorgeous, and this book also uses a cut out technique. Here, the cut out shows the bug digging in the earth, which appears to form Mushikuisama.
It would seem Mohiken is fan of the cut out technique, as this is also used in ‘Bomb Insect’ (perhaps they are fans of bugs too?). In ‘Bomb Insect’ we see a bug as a ticking time bomb which finally explodes. ‘Bunny Ears’ is another story featuring an element of the fantastic. In this story the rabbit uses his ears to open a hole from which hundreds of flying rabbit ears emerge. These rabbit ears are a kind of spirit or ‘yokai’, I think. The movement in this animation is really incredible – it makes the reader feel like they are falling down the hole in an Alice in Wonderland kind of way.
Finally (and this is by no means all of the titles available), is a book which is an absolute marvel not only of artistry but also of creativity and design. ‘Strobofly’, the latest in Mohiken’s series, tells not one but three stories!
Using a unique cutting technique (pictured above), depending on where the reader flips they will be rewarded with a different story – one from the top, one from the middle, and one from the bottom. This story is of a girl and a ghost-like creature. They are flying towards each other, but it is only on the third flip that they finally embrace. It’s simply magical.
These are gorgeous, high-quality books which would be a delight to own and would make wonderful presents. Anyone who is interested in art and design would love these flip books, as well as those keen on animation. Each story is like a little animation you can play over and over again and then pop back in your pocket. As these are stories told without words, no Japanese skill at all are needed to be able to enjoy these flip books, so they really are for everyone. If you’d like to get your hands on some, visit JP Books in London (24-25 Denman Street, W1D) (or check out their online store) or visit Amazon and search for either “Harumin Asao” or “Mou Hitotsu no Kenkyujo” (spell it like this else you won’t find it!).
(All images and videos courtesy of Seigensha Art Publishing)