Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari thought of Kafka as an international writer, in solidarity with minority groups worldwide. Other scholars have characterized his work—and Kafka himself wrote as much—as literature concerned with national identity. Academic debates, however, have no bearing on how ordinary readers, and writers, around the world take in Kafka’s novels and short stories. Writers with both national and international pedigrees such as Borges, Murakami, Marquez, and Nabokov have drawn much inspiration from the Czech-Jewish writer, as have filmmakers and animators. Today we revisit several international animations inspired by Kafka, the first, above by Polish animator Piotr Dumala.
Trained a sculptor, Dumala’s textural brand of “destructive animation” creates chilling, high contrast images that appropriately capture the eerie and unresolved play of light and dark in Kafka’s work. The Polish artist’s 1997 Franz Kafka draws on scenes from the author’s life, as told in his diaries.
Next, watch a very disorienting 2007 Japanese adaptation of Kafka’s “A Country Doctor” by animator Koji Yamamura. The soundtrack and monotone Japanese dialogue (with subtitles) effectively conveys the tone of the story, which John Updike described as “a sensation of anxiety and shame whose center cannot be located and therefore cannot be placated; a sense of an infinite difficulty with things, impeding every step.” Read the original story here.
Russian-American team Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker created the 1963 animation above using a “pinscreen” technique, which photographs the three-dimensional movement of hundreds of pins, making images from real light and shadow. We’ve previously written on just “how demanding and painstaking an effort” the animators made to create their work. Their previous efforts got the attention of Orson Welles, who commissioned the above short as a prologue for his Anthony Perkins-starring film version of The Trial. And yes, that voice you hear narrating the parable “Before the Law,” an excerpt from Kafka’s novel, is Welles himself.
Kafka’s most famous story, The Metamorphosis, inspired Canadian animator Caroline Leaf’s 1977 film above. Leaf’s Kafka animation also takes a sculptural approach to the author’s work, this time sculpting in sand, a medium Leaf herself says created “black and white sand images” with “the potential to have a Kafka-esque feel—dark and mysterious.” However we interpret the content of Kafka’s work, the feel of his stories is unmistakable to readers and interpreters across continents. It’s one that consistently inspires artists to use a spare, high contrast style in adapting him. Below, Peter Kuper, another animator who recently made a short film of the Metamorphoses for Crown Publishing, discusses the intensely visual aspects of Kafka.