Work / International Women's Day

Sawako Kabuki’s latest nonsensical animation tells the tale of one girl addicted to octopus balls

Animator and illustrator Sawako Kabuki is not known for her conventional storylines. What she is known for, however, is producing surreal shorts that make you laugh, even if it is out of discomfort at times.

Sawako studied at the Tama Art University, where she graduated with a bachelor in graphic design, and has since honed a style which mixes lo-fi line work with adept transitions to illustrate absurd scenarios. Her most recent music video for Japanese band 1980Yen is a continuation of the nonsensicality that we’ve grown such a fondness for.

“The image which first came up when I heard this song was a mellow and romantic visual,” she tells us. Instantly catchy, 1980Yen’s latest single features a high-pitched voice singing the praises of takoyaki, a popular snack in Japan consisting of delicious fried balls of batter and octopus. As a result, Sawako’s short sees eyeballs morphing into takoyaki morphing into humans morphing into octopus tentacles. It’s all a bit mad, but we’ve basically had it on repeat for days now.

Making up her animations essentially as she goes, frame-by-frame, Sawako works with loose ideas in her mind, but never with a rigid storyboard. “The vague concept is always there,” she explains, “but I’m never sure what kind of animation it will be until it is completed. I almost always improvise animating.”

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Sawako Kabuki: 1980Yen: Takoyaki Story

In Takoyaki Story this sense of the unknown goes even further, with Sawako not realising certain elements of the narrative until probed about them. “I didn’t realise until this question was asked,” she responds when we enquired who the central character in the animation is, “but this is definitely me.” She goes on to say: “Takoyaki is not my favourite food because when I ate it as a child, I thought my mouth was going to burn (takoyaki is a hot food). At the same time, however, I’m attracted to the existence of takoyaki.”

The story that entails, therefore, is one of a girl who, although harbouring a strong dislike for the round snack, finds she can no longer hold back her need for takoyaki, eventually becoming addicted to it. We told you it was all a bit mad…

Content and storylines aside, however, Sawako’s work draws you in as she seamlessly turns one object into another in front of your eyes. It’s a technique she learned while at Tama: “At my university, animation class was compulsory,” she explains. “When I was taught about animation for the first time, the professor said, ‘It is better that the images should have a lot metamorphosis and transitions’,” and, as a result, “it is still a habit of mine.”

It would be impossible to move on without mentioning our favourite part of the animation: the crowd of red octopus’ who appear bobbing and whistling along to the music. Set against a background that changes from green, to blue, to pink and so on, it’s here that Sawako’s description of the video’s visual language is most clear: “Not so stylish, a little cheesy, trippy and messy.”

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Sawako Kabuki: 1980Yen: Takoyaki Story

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Sawako Kabuki: 1980Yen: Takoyaki Story

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Sawako Kabuki: 1980Yen: Takoyaki Story

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Sawako Kabuki: 1980Yen: Takoyaki Story

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Sawako Kabuki: 1980Yen: Takoyaki Story

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Sawako Kabuki: 1980Yen: Takoyaki Story

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Sawako Kabuki: 1980Yen: Takoyaki Story