A Whirlwind of Activity for Ru Kuwahata Following Oscar Nod for Animated Film

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“Negative Space” is a stop-motion animated film about a boy whose father taught him how to pack. (Ikki Films / Manuel Cam Studio)

“It’s been so crazy, I haven’t had time to process all my feelings,” Ru Kuwahata told The Rafu on Jan. 23. The Baltimore-based animator was in the midst of a flurry of interviews after receiving word that she was among the 2018 Academy Award nominees announced the same morning.

“All I’ve been doing today is preparing statements, files and photos,” said Kuwahata, who, along with co-director Max Porter, garnered a nod in the Best Animated Short category for “Negative Space.” The five-and-a-half-minute, stop-motion short is based on a150-word poem by South Pasadena writer Ron Koertge.

Filmmakers Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter

“The poem is all about clothing and packing, objects that go into a suitcase,” Kuwahata explained. “We wanted to be sure and capture the texture of all those things, so hand-operated stop-motion was an easy decision.”

Speaking of clothing, Kuwahata’s focus now turns in part to the all-important wardrobe she’ll wear on the famed red carpet at next month’s Oscars. A native of Tokyo, she said one choice is definitely out.

“If I wear kimono, I’m sure I’ll faint,” she said. “It’s just way too tight and I’ll have to sit up straight for hours.”

She plans to seek a local L.A. designer with a keen Japanese sensibility to help select a dress for the gala, which has already proven to be an event far beyond the festival circuit she and Porter are accustomed to.

“This is a whole other level,” she said. “Usually, Oscar-nominated films have big studios backing them, so it’s a big deal that the academy has recognized a truly independent film. I’m very happy and encouraged by that.”

– Mikey Hirano Culross

Nominees for the 90th Academy Awards include:

Animated Feature — Tom McGrath and Ramsey Ann Naito for “The Boss Baby.” Also nominated were Nora Twomey and Anthony Leo for “The Breadwinner,” Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson for “Coco,” Carlos Saldanha for “Ferdinand,” and Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt and Ivan Mactaggart for “Loving Vincent.”

Animated Short — Max Porter and Ru Kawahata for “Negative Space.” Also nominated were Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant for “Dear Basketball,” Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon for “Garden Party,” Dave Mullins and Dana Murray for “Lou,” and Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer for “Revolting Rhymes.”

Original Screenplay — Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjani for “The Big Sick,” which is based on their real-life relationship. Also nominated were Jordan Peele for “Get Out,” Greta Gerwig for “Lady Bird,” Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor for “The Shape of Water,” and Martin McDonagh for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Best Documentary Feature — Steve James, Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman for “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” the story of the Sung family, owners of the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Also nominated were Agnes Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda for “Faces Places,” Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan for “Icarus,” Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed and Soren Steen Jepersen for “Last Men in Aleppo,” and Yance Ford and Joslyn Barnes for “Strong Island.”

Original Song — Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for “Remember Me” from “Coco.” Also nominated were Mary J. Blige for “Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Sufjan Stevens for “Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Diane Warren and Common for “Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul for “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.” Robert Lopez, who is Filipino American, and his wife also received a Golden Globe nomination for their song.

Makeup and Hair — Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick for “Darkest Hour.” Also nominated were Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard for “Victoria and Abdul” and Arjen Tuiten for “Wonder.” In interviews, Gary Oldman, who was transformed into Winston Churchill for “Darkest Hour,” has praised Tsuji’s work.

Hong Chau, who received a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actress for her role in “Downsizing,” was snubbed by the Academy. Oscar nominees in that category were Mary J. Blige for “Mudbound,” Allison Janney for “I, Tonya,” Lesley Manville for “Phantom Thread,” Laurie Metcalf for “Lady Bird,” and Octavia Spencer for “The Shape of Water.”

The Oscars will be handed out March 4 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

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