Directed By: Koji Yamamura
Starring: Takeharu Kunimoto
Trivia: Won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Hiroshima International Animation Festival
It wasn’t until my recent write-up of Das Rad that I realized I’d covered 4 of the 5 movies nominated for the 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Short (a collection that includes Mike’s New Car, The Cathedral, and the eventual winner, The ChubbChubbs). So, to cap things off, I decided to take a look at the last nominated short from that year, Koji Yamamura’s Atama Yama.
Released as Mt. Head here in America, Atama Yama features a miserly old man who hates to waste anything. Not only does he gather and eat cherries that have been sitting on the ground, but he also swallows the pits, believing it would be a "terrible waste" to throw them away. His frugal nature soon leads to an embarrassing situation, however, when a cherry tree sprouts from the top of his head! For a time, he tries to solve the issue by slicing the tree off before it can grow. But he eventually gives up, and allows the cherry tree to blossom. Amazed at what they see, people start to congregate on the old man’s head until, in a fit of anger, he pulls the tree out by its root, only to realize doing so creates an entirely new set of problems.
Utilizing a process by which images are painted onto glass, then placed in front of one another (giving the film a 3-D vibe), Atama Yama has an unusual look that kinda grows on you (no pun intended) as the movie progresses. But what makes the movie so unique is its narrator, Takeharu Kunimoto, who also provided the film’s music (Kunimoto even goes so far as to sing a portion of his narration, which adds to the overall effect). With his deadpan approach, Kinumoto manages to enhance the humor already inherent in the story.
As it turns out, 2003 was a very good year for animated films (along with its innovative shorts, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away walked off with the award for Best Animated feature, beating out Lilo & Stitch and Ice Age), and Atama Yama was, like The Cathedral and Das Rad, one of the year’s most original offerings.