Hiroshima festival Hiroshima festival

UPDATE (11/11/20): Both the City of Hiroshima and festival organizers have responded to Cartoon Brew’s request for comment about the future of the Hiroshima Animation Festival. Read the new story HERE.

Original story: Hiroshima International Animation Festival (HIAF), one of the world’s longest-running animation festivals, has ceased to exist in its current form. It is due to be replaced by an event that encompasses music, live-action cinema, and manga, as well as animation.

HIAF’s longtime director Sayoko Kinoshita will not be involved with the new initiative. Kinoshita, who is 75, founded the festival in 1985 with her late husband Renzo Kinoshita, and had run it ever since.

The City of Hiroshima, the festival’s main sponsor, informed Kinoshita of the change in policy last fall. “It came like a bolt from the blue,” she told the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun of the announcement. “It’s such a shame.”

Speaking to the newspaper, a representative for the city explained the change: “The festival is highly regarded in the animation world, but it isn’t the most approachable of events for ordinary citizens. There was no large-scale music-oriented event in the city, and so by combining music and media arts, we aim to create something that citizens can more easily participate in.”

According to a planning document drawn up by the city authorities, the new event will consist of two strands, “music” and “media arts,” which will center on classical music and animation respectively. Other mediums will also be celebrated, including manga and live-action cinema. The event’s aims include “revitalizing the economy,” “promoting industry [and] tourism,” and creating activities in which ordinary citizens and young people can participate.

The animation strand will aim to “extend [HIAF’s] accomplishments” by preserving its short film competition and adding a feature competition. Details will be firmed up next year. The non-profit organization Hiroshima Animation City and organizers of the Hiroshima International Film Festival are due to advise on the plans.

Hiroshima festival poster
Poster for this year’s edition of HIAF

Kinoshita, for one, is not convinced by the rationale for the change. “Since the beginning, there have been those who argue that the economic benefit to the local area is small,” she said. “I’ve implored them to take more pride in an event where authentic works from across the world gather.”

Early in their careers, Sayoko and Renzo Kinoshita collaborated on several animated shorts including Pica-don (1978), a harrowing portrait of the effects of Hiroshima’s atom bomb. They went on to launch HIAF with a mandate to spread pacifist values. Renowned as one of the “big four” ASIFA-approved festivals (alongside Annecy, Zagreb, and Ottawa), it grew to become one of the most high-profile animation events in Asia. It was also an Oscar-qualifying festival; whether the new event will retain that distinction remains unclear.

Recent editions of HIAF had a budget of around 150 million yen (USD$1.43 million), of which city contributed a little under 70 million yen, according to The Asahi Shimbun. Each edition drew some 30,000 attendees. (A note: Most festivals count each admission to an event as an attendee, but the actual number of unique visitors is likely to be significant lower.) The 18th edition was due to take place on August 20–24 this year, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic, although the jury still handed out awards after viewing the competing shorts online.

The first edition of the new event is due to be held around August 2022, which is when HIAF’s next edition would have taken place (the festival was biennial).

Kinoshita and the City of Hiroshima did not immediately respond to Cartoon Brew’s requests for comment.

Image at top: The opening ceremony at a recent edition of HIAF.

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