A human life inhuman without a trace of light.
The Demon (ONI) is a stop-motion animation film from master puppeteer Kihachiro Kawamoto and one of his best works. Based on an ancient Japanese 12th century tale from the anthology Konjaku Monogatarishi; that says that when people grow old, they turn into demons who devour their own offspring. In Kawamoto’s Demon, the tale is indeed as tragic as it is also beautiful. The story isn’t narrated and is told using title cards.
Two brothers who are hunters live with their elderly mother who does not have much time left in the world. Their mother had a very difficult life–she was an outcast and her parents did not care much or were unfeeling. When she became a woman, she married a heartless man who also did not care for her and she lived a life filled with sadness, poverty, and illness. However, out of the misery of her life, she bore two sons–two sons who cared for their mother very much. One day, the brothers are out hunting when they noticed that they were being followed.
The brothers continued to set traps for deer. While one brother waited in the bush, the other in a tree. That was when a ghostly hand grabbed the brothers top knot! In terror, he shouted to his brother in the bush–who let loose an arrow severing the arm that felled to the ground still holding the brothers hair. They realized that it was a demon’s arm! In terror, they run home to their mother, and it was then that they realized their mother was in bed missing an arm. Almost immediately, she transforms into a demon, and dance in pain around the room before ascending with her arm into the night sky. So horrible. So goes the legend from out of the past.
Kawamoto’s The Demon (1972) is visually striking. The autumn colors are bold in front of the black background–the little fireflies that twinkled in the brush–even the red color of the demon eyes! Classic Kawamoto.
Born in 1925, from an early age Kihachiro Kawamoto was captivated by the art of doll and puppet making. After seeing the works of maestro Czech animator Jiri Trnka, he first became interested in stop motion puppet animation and during the 50s began working alongside Japan’s first stop motion animator, the legendary Tadahito Mochinaga. In 1958, he cofounded Shiba Productions to make commercial animation for television, but it was not until 1963, when he traveled to Prague to study puppet animation under Jiri Trnka for a year, that his puppets truly began to take on a life of their own.