South By Southwest 2019 Interview – OBON director André Hörmann and Anna Samo

“OBON is a short-animated documentary, Akiko Takakura, one of the last remaining survivors of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, tells her life story. In this visually and emotional stunning story, she describes how, amidst the terror and nightmares, she found a rare moment of closeness with her father.” Director André Hörmann and Anna Samo on the short film OBON which screens at the 2019 edition of SxSW Film!

How did you first hear about the short films at SxSW and wishing to send your film into the festival/conference?

Word by Mouth says SxSW is on of the three most important US Festivals. We re excited to be part of it!

Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!

Andre Hörmann: The nuclear threat is just as relevant today as it was during the cold war. China, the USA, North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel are all in possession of nuclear weapons. It is a very likely possibility that one of today’s many world conflicts may escalate to the use of this deadly form of warfare. To change the future, I wanted to learn from the past. During a three month stay in Hiroshima I was able to do intensive research. I met historians, nuclear scientists and peace researchers and collected material in the archives of the Hiroshima Peace Foundation. Most importantly, I conducted many interviews with survivors of the atomic bomb. The explosion, that catastrophe of civilization, was a moment that changed their lives and the city forever. Each survivor still has the blaring sound in their ears, the putrid smell in their nose and the blinding light in their eyes. Those memories of the detonation are as vivid today as they were the seconds, hours and days following the attack.

The unbelievable horror of this hell like fire, the loss of loved ones and the late repercussions of the atomic contamination are omnipresent in many of the survivors’ memories. All of the people that I talked to have important stories to tell but I was most personally moved by the story of Akiko Takakura. I conducted several interviews with her, lasting many hours, during which tune she spoke in detail about her lasting memories and feelings during the moments right around the bomb’s detonation.

I was touched deeply by Akiko’s delicate relationship with her father. At just 19 years of age, in the midst of the catastrophe, she experienced for the very first time what it means to receive fatherly affection. It was a tiny moment of happiness during weeks and months of unspeakable tragedy. To me OBON is all about this very moment.

Who are some of your main creative inspirations for this short?

Anna Samo: I did not choose to make OBON. The film tricked me into it, pulled me in step by step until there was no chance of turning back.

I see signposts pointing me toward this project in my own history: a tiny book of Hokusai prints stolen from a library in Moscow 20 years ago; a black handbag with golden rabbits from my honeymoon in Japan; a poster from Hiroshima Animation Festival that I skipped because of my mom’s birthday.

Making OBON was not easy. It exhausted me, tore something in me apart, made me grow up in a way I never planned. I had to become vulnerable in order to pass on emotion. While researching the visuals for the film, I pored over a book of pictures made by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. For me, the most overwhelming images were drawn by people who were not artists. Without craft or artistry to hide behind, the drawings told stories unfiltered, made me hear shaking voices saying: this is what happened to us. To my mind, there is only one possible human response. This can never happen again.

I have lived with the voice of Takakura-san for two years, with its strange music, its trembling, its warmth. There were many moments I wanted to walk away from this project, to close my eyes to the horror I was re-creating on screen. Takakura-san’s voice urged me forward, asking me not to forget while lending me the strength to continue.

I started animating OBON with a prayer. It was this little scene at the house altar that gave me the key to Takakura-san: she seemed at peace with the world that was so cruel to her. Would that be possible if her father hadn’t washed her hands after the bombing? What does an act of love in a moment of despair mean? Can it allow you to you go on with a normal life, drink tea and cook rice? If you have seen so much death, can you still look people in the eyes, get married and give birth to children?

The only time I met Takakura-san was in a dream, at a bus stop. It was raining, or maybe I was crying, but she gave me a hug before boarding the bus.

How did you put the short together from a technical viewpoint?

Its drawn animation. Biggest challenge besides the creative struggle was to keep the pace and be able to animate 1 minute per month average.

After your short screens here, where is it going next? Anywhere you would love to show it?

We ve been around since April 2018 and had a wonderful festival run with its climax at sundance 2019. We re still thrilled about how much the film is appreciated. I would love to show it at Aspen shorts, since I ve been there twice and had a blast!

What would you suggest to theatres or even film festivals as a way to show more short films theatrically or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?

Would be nice to reinstall the shorts right before feature at regular screenings in movie theaters. Also the big streaming platforms would be able to push the focus to shorts more and create attention.

If you know of anyone around you wanting to become a filmmaker, or even put together shorts, what would you suggest to get their start?

You need heart and power of endurance. Try to do an internship with a filmmaker you really like and try to apply at film schools. Film school is the only place where you are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them without ruining your credit cards.

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

FAIR TRADE by Michael Dreher.

This is one of the many film titles playing at SxSW 2019. For more information on this and any other title playing in the festival, point your browser to!

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