Sean Lennon is best known in music circles. The 36-year-old son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono has released three solo albums, as well as two full-lengths with girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl under the name Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT). He played with Cibo Matto, collaborated extensively with his mother and worked with The Strokes' Albert Hammond Jr. Right now, he's in the studio producing Muhl's new project, Kemp and Eden, which will be released on their record label Chimera Music.
What people might not know, though, is that Lennon is an animation buff. He animated his own video for the song “Would I Be the One,” a T. Rex cover that appeared on his album Friendly Fire, as an homage to Fantastic Planet (La Planète Sauvage). He also translated and sang music for the French animated film A Monster in Paris, which premieres on the West Coast March 10 at the Los Angeles Animation Festival.
Lennon is actually artistic director for this year's five-day event and has chosen several of the works screening at LAAF. We recently chatted with him by phone about his selections and A Monster in Paris.
The recent subject of ongoing debate over its planned Hollywood remake (and Hollywood remakes of anime generally), Akira is a landmark film that holds a special place in the heart of many animation fans. Lennon is no different. Having attended kindergarten in Tokyo, he was exposed to Japanese animation and comics as a child, and was reading Katsuhiro Otomo's manga Akira before the film was released. Otomo also directed the original film.
“I really thought that it lived up to the comic,” Lennon says. “The director was the original creator, so it wasn't like it had been taken out of the hands of the creator. It was consistent in tone.”
Beyond that, Lennon, like so many others, feels that Akira marked the beginning of a new era in animation.
“There was this sort of gravitas that hadn't really been seen in animated films before,” he explains. “It was something with the tone of Blade Runner.”
A Monster in Paris
Directed by Bibo Bergeron (Shark Tale, The Road to El Dorado), animated musical A Monster in Paris is already a hit in France. For the English-language version, Lennon provides the singing voice for the character Francoeur. Lennon's friend, French pop singer M (Mathieu Chedid), who scored the film and played Francoeur in the French version, brought him into the project. For the film, he had the chance to record with Vanessa Paradis. “It's a cool film and I'm proud to be a part of it,” says Lennon.
Fantastic Planet (La Planète Sauvage)
“Of all the films, [this] is probably the one that has impacted me the most as a piece of art,” says Lennon of René Laloux's animated masterpiece, known in the U.S. as Fantastic Planet.
“My dad had it on VHS and I would watch it, sometimes three or four times a days when I was left alone,” says Lennon. “The very first song I played on piano was one of the melodies from that film. I was only 5.”
With a score by Alain Goraguer, Fantastic Planet wasn't just an amazing animated work; it was a wonderful example of how music and visual art can meld together. Lennon says the score is one of his all-time favorite records, but he's also a heavily inspired by the animation. “I also started drawing because of that,” he says. “In my early sketchbooks, there are abstract landscapes based on that film.”
Lennon refers to the film as akin to “an artistic Bible.”
“I go to that film and the music and the drawings are a place to find inspiration and surround myself when I feel like I'm lost artistically,” he says. “I try to listen to them and get back on track.”
Grave of the Fireflies
If you have never seen Grave of the Fireflies, you should — just make sure you have tissue on hand. Seriously.
“When I try to play it for my friends, I always feel a little bit guilty,” says Lennon. “It's pretty sad.”
Directed by Isao Takahata and animated by Studio Ghibli, Grave of the Fireflies is about children dealing with World War II. The movie is based on a novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, who drew upon his own experience with loss during the war.
“It's the most serious animated film I've ever seen, but it manages to be really successful as a piece of art,” says Lennon.
Lennon first saw the movie with his mother, who was also a child in Japan during World War II.
“Watching the film with her was quite a profound experience,” he says. “Seeing her relive those memories through the film, I really feel that the film managed to capture a certain reality that a lot of people lived through, but she specifically felt.”
Keiichi Tanaami's Animated Shorts
Keiichi Tanaami is a Japanese artist whose work has extended across a wide range of media and whose work has become hugely influential on today's artists, including Lennon.
“I think he's aesthetically a genius,” says Lennon.
For LAAF, Lennon selected five shorts to screen: “Gaze in Summer,” “Fetish Doll,” “Sweet Friday,” “Dreams” and “Scrap Diary.”
“These films are his pinnacle works,” Lennon stresses. “These films aren't exactly narrative. They don't have a discernible plot, but are nonetheless incredible to watch.”
Los Angeles Animation Festival begins March 7 at Regent Showcase. Check the festival's website for the schedule.