17th Japan Media Arts Festival: PingMag’s Highlights!

Every year the Agency for Cultural Affairs funds the Japan Media Arts Festival, an open-call event that awards work from all over the world across four divisions. This is not without intrinsic difficulties. Issues of language and context inevitably mean that some entries will not be fully understood and, since the jury are all Japanese, there is a natural leaning towards local (i.e., Japanese) entries.

There is also the problem of “media arts” itself. The genre appears to have been coined by the event or the agency as media geijutsu. It is a useful catch-up, including familiar categories like “media art” but also music videos, design, comic books, animation… But how much recognition does it have overseas? Well, that’s the challenge that the festival and its satellite events are trying to engage with.

For the 17th festival, the organizers received their largest number of entries yet: 4,347 entries from 84 countries and territories.

The main exhibition to showcase the award-winners and recommended works has just opened at the National Art Center, Tokyo and runs until February 16th.

Here are a few of our personal highlights.

japan media arts festival toki ori ori nasu falling recordsThe exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo. To the right is “Toki Ori Ori Nasu — Falling Records” by Ei Wada, one of the Jury Selections from the Art Division


Surprising in these days of “Cool Japan”, the Japan Media Arts Festival deliberately does not use the word “anime”; it opts for the more international-sounding “animation”. This works well since you get works like the Grand Prize-winner, “Approved for Adoption”, which defies straightforward classification.

Approved for Adoption (Jung, Laurent Boileau)

Is it a documentary? Is it an animation? Either way, this autobigraphical work is a moving tale of an adopted Korean boy’s life in Belgium.

While the Crow Weeps (Makiko Sukikara, Kohei Matsumuru)

There were lots of major films and TV series among the winners this year, so this more minimalist and haunting film that took home a New Face Award really stuck out.


The art division probably features the most overseas entries every year. Its Grand Prize was won by Carsten Nicolai.

Dronestagram (James Bridle)

Winner of an Excellence Award, this is a “drone’s-eye view” of the sites of military attacks. The images are sourced from Google and media outlets. Tumblr has never looked so chilling.

dronestagram tumblr drones


The Big Atlas of LA Pools (Benedikt Gross, Joseph K. Lee)

Partly exploring the process of crowdsourcing, mapping, big data and open data, Gross and Lee located and traced the contours of over 43,000 swimming pools and other manmade water boundaries, which computer mapping is unable to demarcate properly. However, by mashing this achievement with other data layers they were able to map things in a more sinister way.

The SKOR Codex (La Societe Anonyme)

A new kind of time capsule, this is a printed book that encodes image and sound files that have been selected to depict the diversity of life and culture. The book is being deposited in libraries around the world and can also be viewed online as a PDF.

the skor codex


This division is always the most miscellaneous, featuring everything from gadgets to robots, music videos and more. This year is no exception, with video games, video works and websites being among the winners.

Sports Time Machine (Hiroshi Inukai, Ryoko Ando)

This life-affirming installation lets you race against digital records of other athletes, including friends, family or even your own past races. Oh, and elephants! It was first seen in Yamaguchi and won a prize at the YCAM’s Life for Media competition. Here, it was given an Excellence Award.

sports time machine

ZEZEHIHI (Daisuke Tsuda)

There has never been a national referendum in Japan. Social media evangelist and journalist Daisuke Tsuda set out to create a way for voters to engage with political questions in a way that Japanese “democracy” is not letting them do. The result is ZEZEHIHI, an “online national referendum”. Anyone can post questions and vote on certain issues. Inevitably, these end up ranging from the major (“Are you going to vote in the Tokyo gubernatorial election?”) to the trivial (“Do you find CC emails useful?”). Media art? We’re not sure. But either way, it won a New Face Award.

zezehihi online referendum japan

japan media arts festival burning buddha man ujiichaThis is “The Burning Buddha Man” by Ujicha, winner of an Excellence Award in the Entertainment Division. The organizers had an interesting solution for how to “exhibit” a film work, showing clips on a screen with the cut-outs that were used in the animation.


Last year the Japanese manga world got a serious shock when the Grand Prize in this division was taken not by a local talent but by Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten for “Les Cités obscures”. Along with the growth of the Gaiman Awards, it seemed to signal the start of a new era for overseas comics in Japan.

This time, though, the winners of the main awards were often familiar names, such as Hirohiko Araki. What stood out to us, then, were the more unusual entries.

manga musical box (mierurecord with OTOWA)

This was already mentioned before on PingMag’s picks for the best manga for 2013. We were please to see this funky analog music box-cum-comic-strip-mechanical-organ was part of the Jury Selection.

manga musical box otawa mieru

The 17th Japan Media Arts Festival

February 5th – 16th, 2014

National Art Center, Tokyo