Scenes from “Tule Lake,” which features a character based on the filmmaker’s grandmother.

Rafu staff and wire reports

The list of nominations for the 40th annual Annie Awards, honoring the best in animation over the past year, was announced Dec. 3.

In the student film category, “Tule Lake,” directed by Michelle Ikemoto, a graduating student of San Jose State University’s animation/illustration program, was among the nominees. The animated short was produced by a team of SJSU students.

The Tule Lake Segregation Center in Northern California was the largest of the 10 “relocation centers” where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. After a loyalty oath was imposed, those deemed “disloyal” or “troublemakers” were sent to Tule Lake, which did not close until after the war.

Set in the winter of 1943 after martial law was imposed on the camp, “Tule Lake” is a film about perseverance, based on the true story of one internee and her actions one night. It is dedicated in memory the filmmaker’s grandmother, Sakae, who was interned at Tule Lake from 1942 to 1945.

“The idea to make a story based on her experience came about during school,” Ikemoto told The Rafu. “My grandmother’s health had been failing for some time, and as her condition worsened, her more unpleasant memories of camp seemed to become more vivid, or at least they became all she could talk about. At the beginning of a new semester, she passed away.

“I heard lots of stories swapped about her life when the family gathered for her funeral, and was reminded of one in particular: wherein she risked her life in Tule Lake on a small token to establish some sense of normalcy and comfort for her family. It was an image of my grandmother — her generosity and optimism — that felt more familiar to me than the unhappy one created by the haunted memories she spent her last few months talking about.

“When I went back to school, we were assigned to create a short story to turn into a 30-second animated short. I wish I could say there was some powerful sociopolitical impetus behind it, but the truth is I was still raw from losing my baa-chan, and just decided I wanted to do something to honor her memory.

“As it turned out, I didn’t end up getting to animate the story myself, but about a year later, I revisited it and created a more developed storyboard, spanning about six minutes.  My parents urged me to consider taking the story all the way into movie form, and upon mentioning this to my animation professor, was given the opportunity to recruit a team of my peers to animate the short story within the framework of a class  — which was the first time our department had a class dedicated to the full production of an animated short, to my knowledge. Production and then post-production ran through my last two semesters of school.”

Jimi Yamaichi, who was interned at Tule Lake, give Ikemoto and one of the visual development artists a tour of the replica barracks he built at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, provided reference material from his own collection, and gave the film class a presentation on the internment before they started animating.

The film has received the following honors:

– First place and Excellence in Animation Award (college student category) at ASIFA-SF (San Francisco chapter of the Association International du Film d’Animation) Spring Festival (June 15);

– Official selection, San Jose International Short Film Festival (Oct. 18-21);

– Best in show (tie) and first place (animation category), 22nd CSU Media Arts Festival at CSU Fullerton (Nov. 10);

– Finalist (student 19+ and filmmaker under 30 minutes), CreaTiVe Awards in San Jose (Jan. 5, 2013).

Ikemoto began drawing at a young age and consumed any cartoons she could get her hands on, carrying her dream of being part of the animation industry from childhood into college. She is working to become a professional animator, with an interest in storyboarding.

She has worked as an animator with House of Chai and the Wedding Gown Project and is currently an independent contractor with Green Throttle Games and the City of San Mateo. Her credits include Yung-Han Chang’s “Bye-Bye Bruce,” David Chai’s “Enrique Wrecks the World,” and Marty Cooper’s “Footprint Renovation.”

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The other Annie nominees for best student film are “Can We Be Happy Now” by Tahnee Gehm, “Defective Detective” by Avner Geller and Steve Lewis, “Head Over Heels” by Timothy Reckart, “I Am Tom Moody” by Ainslie Henderson, “Ladies Knight” by Joseph Rothenberg, “Origin” by Jessica Poon, and “The Ballad of Poisonberry Pete” by Karen Sullivan.

DreamWorks’ “Rise of the Guardians,” Pixar’s “Brave” and Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” dominated the list of nominations, each earning 10, including nods for best animated feature. They will compete for the top honor with “Frankenweenie,” “Hotel Transylvania,” “ParaNorman,” “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” and “The Rabbi’s Cat.”

“We had more submissions to choose from this year than for any prior year in Annie Award history, running the gamut from big studio features to indie films, television series to Internet shows, games, shorts and, for the first time, student films, all showcasing the huge variety of venues, creativity, technical innovation and storytelling that our art form has to offer,” said Frank Gladstone, president of the International Animated Film Society.

The Annie Awards will be presented Feb. 2 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. For a complete list of nominees, visit

Michelle Ikemoto and her crew at the San Jose International Short Film Festival.

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