Cover Story - Animator Takuro Masuda makes short films with guts
By day, Takuro "Tak" Masuda crunches numbers as an accountant working to get his C.P.A. license. In his off-hours, he's more likely to crunch puppets and simulated body parts as an animator, filmmaker and special-effects creator.
As a member of Atlanta's Big Party High 5 film collective, Masuda has collaborated on projects such as Disabled But Able to Rock, Blake Myers' documentary about Betsy Goodrich, a high-functioning autistic Atlantan with an alter ego as singing superhero Danger Woman. Masuda puts more of his personal vision on display in independent projects like the feverishly surreal "Death of a Matriarch," a violent stop-motion animated short based on a Cherokee creation myth, developed for the Center for Puppetry Arts' Xperimental Puppetry Theater program in 2007.
Born in Tokyo and raised in Atlanta, Masuda never studied film in an academic setting. "I got an English and history degree at Georgia State, but my film school was Cinefest," he says, citing the GSU cinema where he met Myers and more of his future partners. Masuda recalls visiting Myers' house once and discovering his clawfoot bathtub filled to the rim with blood. "Even if you know that it's fake, it still has an effect if you see it. I sincerely hoped the cops or his landlord wouldn't come in."
While Masuda first gravitated toward iconoclastic, avant-garde filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger, Myers introduced him to grindhouse horror films. Masuda has vivid memories of Herschell Gordon Lewis' 1963 horror movie Blood Feast, considered to be the first "splatter film." "It just blew my mind," he says. "It presented gore cinema as something more than just camp. I didn't think you could do that."
Masuda began learning gore effects for local films including his collaboration with Myers, "Panels For the Walls of Hell," in which a pretentious filmmaker literally puts her guts into her work. Masuda's recipe for fake blood has a secret ingredient. "In Spaghetti Westerns, the blood is a little too bright," he says, "but Beef Ramen Noodle soup packets have a dark red hue to them."
Masuda, 30, finds animation to be his first love, particularly the kind that involves tangible models. "I like cut-out animation and stop-motion animation. Anything I can touch with my hands is in my favor," he says. His accountancy career inspired his latest animation project, a non-narrative study of contrasting colors rendered in the Excel spreadsheet application. Other upcoming projects include soundless color animations designed for the gallery setting, and he expects to contribute special effects to Chuck Porterfield's feature-length movie Sass Parilla, the Signing Gorilla, based on the viral videos of the same name.
Masuda prefers to create shorts and likes the control animation affords him over his creative projects. The long, lonely hours building and moving models can take a toll, so he appreciates the attention his work finally receives. "It lets me know that I'm not just toiling in a dark corner somewhere."