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to june 25

One of the central motifs of Japanese animation is transmutation, and that’s not a theme it owes to modern technology; traditional Japanese mythology is full of shape-changing creatures both ominous and benign. Cartoons are an apt medium for rendering such protean characters, as animator Kihachiro Kawamoto has been demonstrating since his 1968 debut, Breaking of Branches Is Forbidden. That short, which interprets—without dialogue—a comic anecdote with puppets, drawings, and traditional music, is included in the second of this weekend’s two Kawamoto programs (at 2 p.m., Sunday, June 25), along with three other films derived from classic tales: Dojoji Temple, in which a woman becomes a dragon; The Demon, whose title threat turns out to live extremely close to home; and the director’s 2005 short feature, The Book of the Dead (pictured), which follows an eighth-century noblewoman drawn both to the Amida Buddha and the restless soul of a man who was unjustly executed generations before. Kawamoto’s usual mode is a combination of illustration (often watercolor) and puppetry, and most of his films are set in a Japan whose ghosts and demons had not yet been scared away by high-tech clamor. The first of these lineups (at 7 p.m., Friday, June 23) includes several such films, notably the Toru Takemitsu–scored House of Flame, but also some European-influenced works: The Trip tours an Italy-like land of classicism and surrealism, while A Poet’s Life depicts poverty and, yup, transformation in sepia-toned images. The films show at the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium, 12th St. & Jefferson Dr. SW. Free. (202) 357-3200. (Mark Jenkins)