Film editor Takashi Uchida’s career may have only recently launched in Hollywood, but its gotten an action packed start. Following graduation from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, the Tokyo-born auteur jumped in, headlong, to high profile jobs on such features as Actors Anonymous and Jessica Darling’s IT LIST. But Takashi always makes time to explore every aspect of creative film making, a fact underscored by his work on the charming stop animation short The Healing Tree.
Director-writer Frances Cheng’s atmospheric fantasy tale, about a little girl contending with poor health, a tyrannical father and the magical tree which remedies her dark situation, began life a student short film but made it all the way to the 2016 Cannes Film Festival’s Court Metrage (short film corner). An intensely personal project for Cheng, once Takashi began work as a story board artist, his own emotional and creative investment soon reached the same level as his director. Both Cheng and Takashi underwent a somewhat extraordinary evolution, as the respective roles of each expanded.
“Frances was actually a producer in the beginning,” Takashi said. “and she thought I was storyboard artist, so I was hired in that capacity. I was as interested in animation as much as live action, so it was exciting to be on this project. While I was storyboarding I realized that they were looking for an editor, and since I knew and understood the story so well, I ended up editing the film.”
Takashi relished the challenges the short presented. “This was the first stop motion animation film that I’d edited,” Takashi said “It was quite an interesting experience, because in animation you can use every frame to control the characters movement, so there’s no “choosing acting” or “choosing takes,” like live action movies. Instead we can control each character’s action frame by frame.”
The close collaboration between Cheng and Takashi quickly proved to be rewarding for each. “Frances also wrote the story so she was very passionate about this project, “Takashi said. “I’m really proud that I was able to support her visualization. I worked with her from pre-production, so we had a very clear understanding how the film should look and it was really fun to see every process through until picture lock [when all edits are done and approved]. I feel very attached to this project, and what I learned through this production is still influencing my live action editing style. It was also the first film that I learned that each frame matters.”
Cheng knew she had found the man for the job. “it was very clear from the beginning that Takashi is a very talented storyboard artist and editor,” she said. “He started on the project doing some preliminary storyboards, then came on board as our editor, so he essentially storyboarded the entire project in addition to editing. He has high standards for himself and the projects that he chooses to work on, so I knew we were getting his very best. He has a great understanding and sense of storytelling coupled with his passion for animation. He was the perfect editor for our project and a great collaborator to work with in order to execute our vision.”
The result was a film equal parts enchantment and angst, a singular mixture of striking visuals and poignant sentimental narrative. “After all, an editors’ job is to craft character’s emotion by choosing shots,” Takashi said. “In that sense, there isn’t much difference between animation and live action, however, there is very unique aspect to stop motion. There are a lot of frames which repeat more than once, so it becomes important to decide how many need to be repeated, in order to decide characters’ action. And in animation, the characters’ actions are the emotions. We spent a lot of time shaping characters emotion by controlling every individual frame and I believe our efforts really enriched the story.”
This kind of painstaking craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail typifies Takashi’s professional approach, a combination of skill, instinct and technique that exemplifies his evocative style of editing.
“I still do other aspects of film making, writing, animation, but no matter what, editing is the most fundamental aspect of film making to me.” Takashi said. “To continue editing isn’t just a professional goal—it’s what allows the Gods of Film making to inspire me.”