Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: August 2004

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

11:30:42 pm , 28 words, 4277 views     Categories: Animation

Ferenc Cakó

Rather enjoyed the making of videos of the NTT ads made by Hungarian animator Ferenc Cakó available on NTT's site. Interesting thing this guy has developed - performance animation.

Monday, August 30, 2004

07:59:21 pm , 2013 words, 2665 views     Categories: Animation

Dead Leaves Breakdown

Found: Fischinger stills in the Findings section of the latest Harper's.

Not to repeat myself, but the rapturous viewer comments continue to pour in for Mind Game, notwithstanding the disappointing turnout. Someone actually said he felt reborn after seeing the film. Tom Robbins talks about crazy wisdom, "a kind of divine playfulness intended to lighten man's existential burden and promote what Joseph Campbell called "the rapture of being alive"". In a nutshell, that seems to fairly describe the effect of this film on people.

The Japanese DVD with the best extras I've ever seen is probably Dead Leaves. The DVD is regular price, and there's a director's commentary and a whole DVD with two hours of extras. What more could you want? Actually one thing I'd like is the storyboard and key animation books that were put out by the publisher of that recent edge book. The key animation book apparently goes into a bit more depth about the key animators. But really the director's commentary is enough to get all the basics, which I've summarized herein.

After seeing the extras you come away feeling you personally know director Hiroyuki Imaishi, producer Katsuji Morishita and creator Imaitoonz. Those extras are quite something. Very uninhibited, shall I say. I've never heard the word "chinko" so many times in my life. What's hilarious is that the director's commentary was done while they were all drunk at a bar. And one of the extras showed them all getting drunk at a bar. Notice a trend? That's the kind of people that made this film. Bunch of degenerates.

One of the things I find most interesting about this movie is how it came about. Most of the funding came from Manga Entertainment, who wanted IG to make a film targeted at American audiences. It should be obvious how idiotic this idea is, since one of the things that makes most anime popular over here is precisely that it wasn't made with American audiences in mind. Though made with this purpose in mind, the end result, ironically, is a film that goes very much against the image IG has built up in the past with its film, and the head of Manga Entertainment apparently hated the film when he saw it (though he supposedly changed his mind afterwards).

Producer Morishita first scouted Imaitoonz, which I understand perfectly due to his American-influenced illustration style. Then Imaitoonz in turn suggested Imaishi, whose work in FLCL he liked. Imaishi, being a person who focused on the animation, seemed a perfect choice for a film aimed at an American audience, because they though American audiences were used to seeing animation with more movement. Initially Morishita was tentative in his approach so as not to scare Imaishi away, inviting him to draw the storyboard. But one thing led to another, and Imaishi eventually offered to direct while he was at it, which was more than Morishita had hoped for. At that point, Morishita says, his job was done; he was positive the film would succeed with Imaishi at the helm.

Imaishi went on to make it his own film, changing the original script and story and characters. In the various extras, creator Imaitoonz comes across as very understanding of Imaishi's changes, something many creators often are not when their manga is animated. The characters look quite different in the film, which is something that people can be quick to criticize without first bothering to consider that it's only natural for a drawing by a different person to look different. Rather than focusing on making every drawing look like the original, Imaishi was able to create something that came from within himself, and that was why the film succeeded.

Imaishi had become somewhat specialized in drawing his own very particular brand of action in FLCL and other shows over the preceding years, and had been toying with the idea of whether it would be possible to make a whole 50 minute film consisting entirely of action; a whole movie like the long action sequence at the end of the movie The Wild Bunch. (Imaishi is also famously a big fan of Hong Kong bullet operas.) He took this up as his basic approach for the film: to see how much action he could pack in without boring the audience. Although the film is packed with action from tip to toe, the balance between action and story development was worked out very thoughtfully, and in the end the film succeeds in providing constant action while getting across the basic story, the timing of the insertion of the story sections being successfully calculated to provide 'breather' effect.

Imaishi -- who was also the animation director as well as the character designer and one of the storyboarders -- pared down all details in the backgrounds and the drawings so as to be able to raise the number of cels and focus on packing in as much animation as possible into the film. This approach gives the film its distinctive look and style of animation, which will be familiar to anyone who has seen Imaishi's past work. This really is his summum opus.

Also, the freedom you see the in the animation -- a sort of controlled chaos -- is reflected in the other aspects of the production. From the music to the voice-acting, the order of the day was: Go for it. Have fun with it. The voice actors were actively encourage to ad-lib, and most of it was left in the film intact. Kappei Yamaguchi is really incredible in the role of Retro. He says this is his favorite role ever, and it really shows in his performance. I particularly enjoyed the utterly berserk voice-acting of Mitsuo Iwata as 666. In this way Imaishi's personaly as an animator winds up being reflected in every aspect of the film.

In the end, this film was the product of various happy circumstances, so it's unlikely that we're going to see another like it any time soon, at least not from Imaishi. It's a small miracle that a film as crazy as this even got made in the first place, much less by a major "anime" studio like IG. To me it's a triumphant example of the sort of filmmaking we could be seeing more of if imaginative animators like Imaishi had more of a say in things - a movie whose whole purpose is to convey the primal thrill of animation.

Here's a breakdown of the more important sections by animator. Many of these animators were involved with Imaishi's work in the past. For example, Chikashi Kubota, Sushio, Yusuke Yoshigaki (three of the young rising stars at Gainax) and Yo Yoshinari were animators in episode 7 of Puchi Puri Yuushi, produced just before this film; as was Trava Fist, which why in this film we get...

Takeshi Koike (小池健)

Unsurprisingly, the two best fight scenes in the film are those that bookend the film: the opening with the cops by Koike and the closing with Galactica by Gainax regular Sushio. These scenes are distinguished from the rest by the through-composed style of the action, where each movement is followed through in a fluid style contrasting with the point-to-point drawings of the rest of the film.

Yo Yoshinari (吉成曜)
(Evangelion 1-3, 8, 12, 16, 18, 24-26, Jin-Roh, FLCL 1, 3-5, Re: Cutey Honey 1)

Yoshinari's part picks up right after Koike's. Imaishi knows how to draw viewers in: he places two of the best action animators of the age right at the beginning, pampering us with some truly deluxe action, in the process almost fooling us into thinking the movie is actually going to be a serious film; that is, before we get introduced to Chinko Drill...

Yusuke Yoshigaki (芳垣祐介)
(FLCL 1-6, Vampire Hunter 4, Maho Senshi Ryoi 7, Hellsing OP [w/Imaishi], Battle Athletes 8 & 17, Ao Yori Aoshi 4, Abenobashi 1 & 3, Mahoromatic)

...whose intro scene was drawn by this Gainax animator, who has known Imaishi since the very beginning because they joined the studio at the same time. Unlike Imaishi, though, he wasn't an anime otaku to begin with, and he confesses that he only got into anime for the money. He did the crazy bit at the end of ep 1 of Abenobashi and the first scene of ep 5 of FLCL.

Nobutoshi Ogura (小倉陳利)
(Metal Fighter Miku 5 & 13, Evangelion 2, 16 & 20, Rahxephon 15)

This IG animator who did episode 4 of FLCL and will be AD of the upcoming IG series Windy Tales provides the only scene in the film with the jagged lines characteristic of Ohira-school animators, for which reason his scene is one of my favorite in the film.

Shinji Suetomi (末富慎治)
(FLCL 1-3, Generator Gaul 1-3 & 5, Full Metal Alchemist 2nd & 3rd season OP)

Originally a Gainax animator but currently freelance, Suetomi, who was also co-AD, provides this unique scene, which Imaishi says was inspired by a similar sequence in the opening of the old anime Kotetsu Jeeg.

Chikashi Kubota (久保田誓)
(Mahoromatic 4, Abenobashi 1 & 3, Full Metal Alchemist 2nd season OP, Naja OP [dancing])

Kubota animated this delightful bit of "Itano Circus", in addition to the tank action leading up to it. Kubota started out at Xebec in 1998, and three years later moved to Gainax at the invitation of Sushio. Not surprisingly, he animated the Itano Circus you see in ep 3 of Abenobashi. In addition, he animated the memorable part where Masajii almost falls off the building in ep 1 of Abenobashi, and the bit right after Imaishi's shootout in ep 4 of Mahoromatic.

Hiroyuki Imaishi (今石洋之)

The director himself steps in to get the mood of this very cartoonish transformation sequence just right.

Futoshi Higashide (東出太)
(ZZ Gundam 39, 42 & 45, B'T X, Saber Marionettes, Eat Man)

One of the more unusually drawn sections comes from this animator, who really gets into the character 666 with some silly but amusing antics.

Keisuke Watabe (渡部圭祐)
(Evangelion movie, Iron Leaguers, Konjiki no Gash Bell movie AD, Gestalt 1, Virus Buster Serge 2, Ginga Tetsudo Monogatari 18)

The fight with 777 was done by this animator, reportedly one of the last of the dying breed of animators who love using the sort of extreme perspective typified by Kanada's 80s animation.

Shin Itagaki (板垣伸)
(Jubei-chan II 7, Ninja Scroll 3 & 11, Avenger OP, Inu Yasha 16 & 21, Grappler Baki 9, Full Metal Alchemist 45, Kaleido Star 22, Medarot 14)

This person did the memorable part where a character is pissing in Imaishi's first Abenobashi episode, for which reason Imaishi decided to have him to take care of Chinko in this equally memorable shot.

Masahito Yamashita (山下将仁)

Finally we get to the part done by one of Imaishi's great inspirations and one of the figures of the original karisuma animator boom in the 80s, an animator who was renowned for drawing strange, physically impossible poses and movements - which is really at the root of what you see throughout this film. And which is why it's ironic that his part stands out like a sore thumb from the rest, with its more realistic movement and well-proportioned characters. Not that it's bad, but it's clear that Yamashita has changed a lot as an animator in the intervening twenty years. His part was the only part I was able to correlate definitively to an animator on the first viewing.

Sushio (すしお)
(FLCL 1-5, Kill Bill, Naja OP [running to door], King Gainer 14 [w/Yutaka Nakamura], Cyborg 009 31*, Digimon Tamers 3 & 6, Digi Carat 43, Puchi Puri Yuushi 23, Sister Princess 6, Steam Boy)

The climactic showdown, certainly one of the best action scenes in the film, is provided by this young Gainax animator.

Yasunori Miyazawa (宮沢康紀)
(Hashire Melos, Millennium Actress, Jin-Roh, Vampiyan Kids OP, Prince of Tennis OP, 30, 39, 44, 46, 50, Gakuen Senki Muryo OP [all] & 27, Paranoia Agent 4)

And the most impressive contribution to the whole film was Miyazawa's. He animated the entire sequence from the point where the baby comes out to where the larva explodes -- an amazing three and a half minutes straight done by one person. He not only animated the most shots, but his shots were also the fastest done. The quality and variety and length of his contribution is really something. The larva was designed entirely by Miyazawa, and the uniquely stylized effects in that scene make it one of the most memorable in the film.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

07:24:20 pm , 748 words, 4039 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

Alternative anime at the VIFF

My reply to TenAJs's comment was getting long, so I thought I'd post it here.

I'm incredibly out of it when it comes to stuff like this, so thanks for mentioning this. And no problem at all - anyone and everyone feel free to post like this if there's something you'd like to mention.

Here's another bit that caught my eye:

This year we are also pleased to honour the great Korean animator Lee Sung-Gang with two special screenings. Part One of our tribute is a screening of his 2001 feature, MY BEAUTIFUL GIRL, MARI, winner of the Grand Priz at the Annecy Animation Festival. It concerns a 12-year-old boy living with his mother and grandmother in an isolated fishing village who tries to escape into a parallel world. Part Two of the tribute comprises a selection of the shorts and music videos he has made. ONURI AND OTHER SHORTS includes his music videos for the band Rainy Sun Ocean (co-directed with Nam Ji-Woong of Teenage Hooker fame), his animated sequence for Jang Sun-Woo’s Bad Movie and his latest short, Onuri, based on a Jeju Island creation myth.

Looks like I'll be spending a lot on gas for about two weeks come September 23.

As for "Imagination Practice", so far there are only two titles mentioned, and I can only find information about Naoyuki Tsuji. Before now I'd never heard of either of these animators, but that's no surprise, because I'm not very well informed about alternative animation in Japan.

Profile of the artist:

Born in Shizuoka in 1972, Naoyuki Tsuji (辻直之) debuted in 1992 as an independent animator, and has regularly submitted his short films to festivals such as the Golbang Film Festival and the London Film Festival. A graduate of the Tokyo Plastic Arts School, he has been equally active in various other media including sculpture and illustration. Since 1999 he and Takumi Terakami (寺上匠) have hosted a yearly guerilla art exhibition entitled "Scrap Festival" on the streets of Yokohama, planting sculptures and drawings and other strange and wonderful things at various propitious locations in the urban landscape, even being so kind as to provide self-guided tour maps for each year's festival. Since August of last year he has organized a bi-monthly film screening for the Iwasaki Museum in Yokohama showcasing short, feature-length and animated films made by local independents from Kanagawa prefecture and around the world, providing locals with a much-needed venue to see films by local artists that would otherwise remain hidden from the view of the general public. Tsuji submitted his film Rules of the Night to a festival of Japanese experimental animation that toured ten cities in France in April 2003, and it was here that Tsuji came to the attention of a member of the planning committee for the Cannes "Director's Fortnight", who was impressed enough by the film to invite him to submit his most recent film, Feathers gazing into the darkness, which in turn wound up getting him invited to this year's Cannes Film Festival for that event.

Tsuji on his animation:

"One of the main characteristics of animation created using charcoal, oil or pastel is the afterimage. With these methods it's easy to erase or draw over or add details to a previously drawn image, but the previous image never completely disappears. My method is quite simple. I sit in front of the paper and wait for an idea. When I get an idea, I draw it down and click the shutter a few times. Then I erase a bit and redraw and click the shutter a few more times, and so on. So it's random, yet with direction, ordered towards the future. I start with no set idea for the film. Each image I draw and photograph creates suggestions which lead to the next image, and these images build up inside me as the film advances. The reason I take this approach to filmmaking is to pursue the unique possibilities of this particular medium, which doesn't require any special preparation beforehand other than charcoal and paper." (translated from here)


1992 - Wake up (覚めろ / Mezamero)
4 mins / 16mm → DV / puppet+pen animation

1994 - For almost forgotten stories (消えかけた物語たちの為に / Kiekaketa monogataritachi no tame ni)
10 mins / 16mm / puppet animation

1995 - Rules of the night (夜の掟 / Yoru no okite)
6 mins / 8mm / charcoal animation

1997 - experiment
4 mins / 16mm / stop motion+pen animation

2003 - Feathers gazing into the darkness (闇を見つめる羽根 / Yami wo mitsumeru hane)
17 mins / 16mm / charcoal animation

2003 - Breathing clouds (呼吸する雲 / Kokyu suru kumo)
3 mins / 16mm / charcoal animation

Friday, August 27, 2004

08:25:38 pm , 181 words, 2809 views     Categories: Animation

Hosoda satori

It dawned on me reading an article by this person what it is about Hosoda's directing that made it seem so "humane" to me: food. In all three of his Digimon pieces Hosoda goes out of his way at various points to incorporate scenes of eating or drinking - and what inevitably follows - even when there is no dramatic necessesity for doing so. There are dozens of food-related references throughout the films, and something to do with food is going on in the background a large proportion of the time. What is more beautiful and disgusting and pleasurable and human than eating? It's a deceptively simple idea, but it's amazing how much it helps to build empathy for the characters.

Nothing much else to say today, so here's an entry from my diary:

June 13, 1AM.

Bought some milk at a convenience store today. Guy at the register jokes to the guy in front of me, "You look strong, you don't need a bag." Guy leaves, I walk up, guy at the counter says, "I'll get you a bag for that."

1 commentPermalink

Thursday, August 26, 2004

11:12:50 pm , 14 words, 770 views     Categories: Animation

Oh yeah

Just my imagination?

I thought it might be a nod because of Ohira's involvement.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

09:07:54 pm , 472 words, 1970 views     Categories: Animation

New Lupin notes

It turns out I was right that Ohira had come back to TV animation after fifteen years, I just had the wrong series. Watch episode 6 of Otogizoushi for a good contrast between ordinary and good animation. You see ordinary (ie, no) animation for the whole episode, and then right before the end, wham... Ohira (obviously interspersed with shots by someone else).

Just wanted to take a memo of a few Lupin things from this page. (full list)

New Lupin Telecom episodes

72 - Yoko Sahaku, Michiko Takagi, Masami Ozaki, Keiko Shimazu, Atsuko Tanabe, Harumi Shibata
77 - Koichi Maruyama, Atsuko Tanaka, Eiko Hara, Yoko Tsukada, Yoshinobu Michihata, Toshiyuki Hiruma
82 - Tsukasa Tannai, Koichi Maruyama, Eiko Hara, Yoshinobu Michihata, Toshiyuki Hiruma
84 - Nobuo Tomizawa, Atsuko Tanaka, Yoko Tsukada, Yasuhiro Shida, Michiko Takagi
99 - Nobuo Tomizawa, Koichi Maruyama, Atsuko Tanaka, Eiko Hara, Yoko Tsukada, Yoshinobu Michihata
105 - Yoshinobu Michihata, Yoko Tsukada, Toshiyuki Hiruma, Masanori Ono, Yasunao Aoki, Yayoi Kobayashi
143 - Nobuo Tomizawa, Koichi Maruyama, Kazuhide Tomonaga, Yayoi Kobayashi
145 - Nobuo Tomizawa, Koichi Maruyama, Eiko Hara, Junko Tsutsumi, Yayoi Kobayashi (Albatross, Wings of Death)
151 - Kazuhide Tomonaga, Yoshinobu Michihata, Eiko Hara, Ryoko Kashiwada
153 - Nobuo Tomizawa, Atsuko Tanaka, Masako Shinohara, Junko Tsutsumi
155 - Kazuhide Tomonaga, Toshio Yamauchi, Yoshinobu Michihata, Masako Shinohara, Atsuko Tanaka, Ryoko Kashiwada (Farewell Lovely Lupin)

Interesting to note that 72 was done entirely by women. This was the episode that Otsuka famously had to redraw almost in its entirety to make it passable. Otsuka apparently was involved here and there in the episodes, such as in 151.

Tomonaga was registered at Oh Pro around this time even though he participated in the Telecom episodes, and he turns up much more often in the Oh Pro episodes predating his involvement in the Telecom episodes.

Oh Pro episodes with Tomonaga

4 - Yoshimasa Yonekawa, Ken'ichi Okamoto, Kazuhide Tomonaga
8 - Yoshimasa Yonekawa, Ken'ichi Okamoto, Kazuhide Tomonaga
14 - Kazuhide Tomonaga
20 - Kazuhide Tomonaga, Ken'ichi Okamoto
25 - Kazuhide Tomonaga, Ken'ichi Okamoto
31 - Kazuhide Tomonaga, Tsukasa Tannai, Ken'ichi Okamoto
63 - Tsukasa Tannai, Kazuhide Tomonaga, Higashi Numajiri, Toshio Yamauchi, Ken'ichi Okamoto
92 - Toshio Yamauchi, Higashi Numajiri, Ken'ichi Okamoto, Kazuhide Tomonaga, Joji Manabe
98 - Toshio Yamauchi, Higashi Numajiri, Ken'ichi Okamoto, Kazuhide Tomonaga, Joji Manabe

Obviously of particular interest is the "solo animator" episode 14.

One of the other important animators in this series is Yuzo Aoki, the famous animator who did the car chase in the first Lupin movie, the "Mamo" one. He also did a solo animator episode, 30, after which point he was heavily involved as a storyboarder, while also providing a bit of key animation, often uncredited. Credited episodes are 35, 96 (both with only one other KA), 69 and 74. Yoshio Kabashima, the person who did such incredible work to make Gamba the classic it is, was involved in episode 78. In an unrelated note, I just realized Imaishi animated the opening of the 2001 TV special Alcatraz Connection.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

12:00:12 pm , 746 words, 2284 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Michio Mihara

The dark tones of Gesualdo seem appropriate to this gray morning. The first wave of cold has done wonders for my insomnia.

I made a comment about the fact that one person is responsible for drawing every shot in anime. This was true in the past, but with the advent of digital technology this is changing, and we can now quite often find people specialized in CG, or CG effects, or any number of things. The only reason I bring this up is because probably the most noteworthy example in recent years was done by one of the most important animators of the 90s. In addition to that wonderful episode of Rahxephon I talked about, Mitsuo Iso was responsible for the digital effects work throughout the series. And amazing stuff it is. Although inevitably fundamentally different from his animation work, the work remains totally characteristic of Iso, being clearly the logical development of the realistic style he had pioneered, and it is therefore very satisfying to see.

One of my favorite recent discoveries was Michio Mihara, who just prior to doing PA was animation director of the bonus short included on the Nasu DVD. (He was also co-AD of the film and animated the opening sequence.) In an interview with the Yomiuri he spoke of director Kitaro Kosaka's opposition to the whole idea of saddling the already short film with a short; but in the end, the director was not displeased with the final product. The short is apparently done in a highly accentuated graphic style, in accordance with Mihara's overriding preoccupation with stylistic experimentation, stemming from his desire to show people that there are different drawing styles out there. Could it be Mihara who was behind the idea for the various graphic styles of Etc? I hope we have a chance to see some major work from Mihara in the near future.

It's funny how this movie came about. Kuroda was one of the major new manga artists on the scene in the late 90s, by far one of the most original manga-kas of the period. Well, Miyazaki had apparently enjoyed his Nasu, and made a comment to that effect somewhere, so the publisher was smart enough to pick up on this and published the comment on the cover sleeve when the manga was re-issued in pocket format. And voila. Shortly thereafter we get a movie version. The lesson: Try to get your manga endorsed by Miyazaki.

In terms of challenging an animator, you can't go much higher on the difficulty quotient than a crowd scene. Animators tend to run the other way, in fact. Hiroyuki Okiura's fame as an animator came in part from being one of the animators turned to when it came time to animate the riot scene in Akira. When it came time to animate the riot scene in his Jin-Roh, who did he turn to? Michio Mihara. Mihara was assigned probably the five most difficult shots in the entire sequence, which feature dozens upon dozens of people running across the screen. (And this in addition to the 31 other shots he animated.) Okiura couldn't hold back guffaws of amazement when he saw the animation Mihara turned in, so obvious was the incredible effort Mihara had put into coming up with a personality and personal history for every single individual that runs across the screen. Coming from a "super animator" like Okiura, this is praise indeed. Mihara is an avid biker, and when he was forced to work from home during prodution on the film, he would bike with the finished keys all the way from his home to the studio rather than obliging a runner to come by. Good exercise, he said.

It should be added that Mihara was not only the animation director of episode 4 of PA; he also drew most of the key animation in the episode. (There was only one other key animator needed.) So this episode should rightly be added to that ongoing tally of tour-de-force "solo animator" episodes. His drawings of the main character in this episode are a very convincing and compelling personal interpretation of the original designs (Ando was reportedly extremely impressed and happy with Michio's drawings), full of detail and nuance, while also staying close to the original designs and therefore fitting nicely within the overall style of the series, for which reason this episode provides the best of both worlds -- one of the most balanced and individualistic episodes in the series.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

09:01:46 pm , 1296 words, 2906 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Tokyo Godfathers

Part of the fun of trying to figure out who did what is sometimes making mistakes, and it turns out that apparently the shots of the truck crashing into the building and the taxi skidding out, among my favorite in the film, were done not by Inoue, but by none other than the very mystery figure I just got through talking about -- Hisashi Mori (his real name is Hisashi Nakayama). Also present as an animator in Tokyo Godfathers was Takaaki Yamashita, who was the other animation director on Children's War Game. And of course, the animation director of Tokyo Godfathers, Ken'ichi Konishi, was also an animator in Children's War Game, as I mentioned before. (He also animated the scene in Millennium Actress where Genya saves Chiyoko from a falling debris.) The connections aren't coincidental. It was working under Hosoda on War Game where he got to know them, and was greatly impressed by their work, so he invited them to this movie. That's how the animators were brought together for this movie. You don't hear about Tokyo Godfathers being a Studio Xyz movie. It was animated by people from lots of different places. The animators were pretty much hand picked one by one by Kon and Konishi based on who they knew and liked.

The most interesting thing about this film to me is the fact that one animator played a major part in its inception. It's a known fact that the film was actually in large part conceived by Kon as a vehicle to showcase Shinji Otsuka's talents as an animator, and consequently, in terms of the animation, Tokyo Godfathers is essentially his film. Not merely so because he animated the most scenes in the film, but more decisively because his very particular, extremely expressive style of animation -- combining realistic movement with highly emotive performances and unpredictable deformation -- had a defining influence on the animation for the film by the rest of the animators. Otsuka is not just an incredible animator, he is also extremely fast, and his shots were the first done. His work was referenced throughout the film and acted as a guiding example for the rest of the animators regarding the film's animation style.

This process produced a first in anime: a theatrical anime, where the crux of the film is dramatically expressive character animation. If virtuosic editing provided the narrative flow in Kon's first two films, here the director steps back and slows things down and lets the narrative information be conveyed by the animators. There really has been no anime up until now that can quite compare with the richness of character animation in Tokyo Godfathers. Besides the animators themselves, Konishi is largely to thank for this. His policy was to maintain the individuality of each animator while adding just enough to keep things looking even throughout the film. So despite the fact that each animator provides very individual work, it isn't jarring, and general audiences aren't put off. And the distribution of the hilights is done in such a way as to provide the film with an appealing variety and keep the animation hilights surprising when they arrive. A good contrast to this is Ohira's Hakkenden episode, where no effort is made to appease the audiences, and all animation throughout is a hilight and extremely individualistic.

Easily the most famous scene in the film is Otsuka's monologue in the hospital corridor. He animated innumerable other scenes, including the wedding assassination scene, the scene early on where they're feeding Kiyoko, and Gin riding on the bicycle looking for Kiyoko. Most of them were animated entirely by Otsuka - in other words, no inbetweens. Every drawing you see is Otsuka. (This feat was most famously done by Yoshifumi Kondo in the early 80s, then Iso Mitsuo started doing it in the 90s with his own innovative style, and Otsuka has been doing it a lot lately to great effect.) And every drawing (and movement) is so interesting! You can rewatch his sections over and over and they don't get old, like any well crafted artistic creation. It should be emphasized that scenes such as the monologue in the hospital corridor existed only in rudementary form in the storyboard. (Edit: Andrew Osmond brings to my attention that Kon's storyboard is in fact much more detailed than I make out in regards to the acting of this particular sequence, although I know that Otsuka still managed to add his own little flourishes that surprised the staff.) I All of the details you see in the scene are thought up by the animator in question. That's what makes this film special. That the animators are finally really tapped for all their inventiveness and potential, and they're given not just one little shot but long scenes to animate, so you really get to appreciate the work of a great animator in unprecedentedly generous helpings.

Hideki Hamasu was probably the next most important animator in the film, providing numerous memorable scenes including the one where Kiyoko is discovered and the one where Hana tries to sweet talk the taxi driver. His animation is quite different from Otsuka's. Where Otsuka's animation is limited because he draws every drawing himself, Hideki's is fuller and more flowing. One of my favorite animators, Shinji Hashimoto, provided one of the most individual and memorable scenes of his career, and certainly the most distinctive in the film. Konishi had a policy of "hands off" for good animation, which becomes obvious in Hashimoto's scene, because it's clear that not a single drawing in Hashimoto's scene was corrected. With the big animators like Inoue and Otsuka, you're seeing all their sections in the raw. Hashimoto is one of those animators correcting whose drawings is sort of redundant at best, and could be fatal at worst. What makes his animation great lies precisely in the uniqueness of his drawings. Besides, I can imagine that it might be hard to figure out how to correct something like Hashimoto's section without totally messing it up because the feeling of the movement is inextricably tied to the original lines.

It should be remembered that Konishi was the animation director of Yamada-kun, a film in which Hashimoto played a role analagous to that played by Otsuka in this film, setting the pace for the film's animation in the section he animated for use as a promotional "preview", the dorayaki/banana scene (which was used in the film as is), which is the section that exemplifies the type of animation Konishi was attempting to acheive with the film. His section was drawn entirely by himself, with no inbetweens, setting the precedent for the animation in Tokyo Godfathers. This allowed Hashimoto to maintain control over every single miniscule movement in the scene. Rather than motions that go from point A to B, here we have constant motion between various motions, like in real life; animation whose entire raison d'être is showcasing the irrelevant details and unintended movements (like the dad's soporiphic swaying) that are in fact the very core of real life movement. Satoru Utsunomiya had been developing something similar for years already before this.

We also see many of the animators who would go on to work in Paranoia Agent directly afterwards: Michiyo Suzuki, Ai Kagawa, Norio Matsumoto, Masashi Ando, Kumiko Kawana, Takeshi Honda, etc. And of course: Toshiyuki Inoue, who provides the most animation after Otsuka. As in Paranoia Agent, here also he was tapped for animation directing help, as he often is in films he's involved in due to his uncommon drafting skills. (He was also co-AD in Peek, for example.) I don't know for sure, but it looks to me like he did the final scene in the stairs and on the rooftop.

Monday, August 23, 2004

11:15:01 pm , 577 words, 772 views     Categories: Animation

Tomonaga's Sherlock Hound

Been reading a transcript of a recent discussion between the people involved in Sherlock Hound, and one of the things that came up was that the staff were revved because they felt this was their chance to make a fun action adventure like Animal Treasure Island. That's what it was about this show that I couldn't pin down. That feeling that's shared between the two - and the animal characters, of course. The scene at the end of the Treasure Under the Sea episode where the sailors all climb on the ship - remind you of anything? It was done by Tomonaga, who says he saw Treasure as a teen and got the idea from the last shot in Miyazaki's scene. Can you imagine animating that? Tomonaga is also the one who did the car action at the end of the Small Client episode, with all those incredible fast pans, which Miyazaki apparently storyboarded with Tomonaga in mind. And the scene with that truck full of an improbable number of chickens in the Blue Carbuncle episode was done by Atsuko Tanaka.

This reminded me of another thing that I like about Japanese animation compared with western: that you don't have ten people working on a scene -- say, one to draw the character, one to draw the effects, one to draw the shadow, one to draw the eyes, etc. etc. etc. -- but everything in a shot is drawn by one person. One of the more interesting things I learned was that Yasuo Otsuka is the one who animated the great part with the steam car tearing up the pavement, even though he's not credited. I've always wondered who did that part, but I never expected it to be Otsuka. Apparently his keys were extremely rough, and have always been, something that contrasts with most animators nowadays, who feel they have to do everything so perfect. He muses that it's a good way to train inbetweeners. In similar fashion Miyazaki was reported to have often sat down to show an animator what he wanted, drawing one then two drawings, only to wind up drawing the whole thing himself and handing it to the inbetweeners. Finally, I also learned that Tod is Tomonaga, and Smiley is Kondo!

It was right after this that Tomonaga and Kondo and Tomizawa and Tanaka and Nizo did the Nemo pilot, which is like three and a half minutes of the best action of Hound honed to perfection and done in full animation. Kondo directed it, but in terms of the content, this is really Tomonaga's film, his summum opus of sorts. Kondo's personality as an animator comes through better elsewhere, namely in Tom Sawyer, Sugata Sanshiro, etc. Tomonaga is the best action man of the period, with an unrivalled genius for nailing perfect split-second timing. Toshiyuki Inoue is among of the more important of the many animators influenced by Tomonaga, and you can see the legacy of Tomonaga's brilliantly timed action in Inoue's scenes in Kiki (Tombo & Kiki on the bike) and Akira (Tetsuo chasing after the clown, Tetsuo crashing through the alleyway) and elsewhere. Inoue is allegedly able to analyze real life movements with such split-second accuracy as to be able to reproduce a movement accurately down to 1/24 of a second. If he animated the scene in Tokyo Godfathers where the truck crashes into the building, as I suspect he might have, I'm a believer.

Japanese word of the day: ダメ人間

Sunday, August 22, 2004

07:41:51 pm , 83 words, 918 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Mind Game


"The world looked different when I stepped out of the theater."

A recurring theme in viewer comments about Mind Game.

And yet: two weeks. That's it. That's how long Mind Game played in Fukuoka.

I think this is a first: Telecom is going to be putting up the storyboard for each episode of its new series Robo Crosser.

Spent the day walking in the rain. Feeling rained on, literally and figuratively. Saw black bear with cubs a few days ago in a park.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

12:45:36 pm , 357 words, 4073 views     Categories: Animation

Turn A Gundam #1

It was interesting to watch this episode while referring to Tomino's storyboard. I almost got the feeling like I understood better what Tomino was trying to do while looking at the storyboard, unhindered by distractions such as the animation in the finished product. That's not as strange as it may sound. Tomino is a famed storyboarder in Japan, probably holding the all-time record for number of episodes storyboarded. At the time this series started airing the count was 586 episodes storyboarded (992 if you count all episodes in all series on which he was the chief director).

After a long period of inactivity and depression, Tomino apparently got a second wind around five or six years back, deciding to get back into productivity full-time. First he took a warm-up dive with Brain Powered, then he went all-out with Turn A, and he finally hit his stride with the recent Gainer. It was good to see that he hadn't lost his touch after all that time. I can't say there's anything new there, either, but it's just as good as his old stuff, if you like that, and you've got to respect his ability to churn it out like that. It was a Tomino episode through and through, with the nonstop flow and camera-style shot framing that has always distinguished his work. If no mecha appear in the episode (aside from the opening sequence), it should be taken as a demonstration of his long-standing averment that you could take the robot out his work and it wouldn't make any difference: to him the essence of the work has always been the human drama. This episode shows the extent to which his time working with Takahata must have influenced his approach. It feels more like World Masterpieces Theater than robot anime. He used to chafe against the label of Yoshiyuki "robot anime" Tomino, but he seems to have come to accept it as his fate, and continues to stride on ahead with his own very particular brand of filmmaking within the confines of the genre. Honestly, by now, I wonder if he could do anything else even if he wanted to.

Friday, August 20, 2004

11:08:43 am , 388 words, 1552 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Live-action, Director

Walerian Borowczyk

Correction to an old post: Maromi coming alive was done by Masahiko Kubo (久保正彦), the person who did the much talked-about car chase in Mind Game. Another new talented animator on the scene. (Millennium Actress, X, Puchi Puri Yuushi 1, 7, 11, etc.)

Just to contradict myself, I'll go out of my way to say I'm a big fan of anime directors who consider themselves filmmakers first and foremost, who just happen to be making anime at the moment, who consider the animation subordinate, and therefore are as far as possible as you can be from the idea that anime is just about the animation. If the work is good, then I agree 100%. It goes without saying that I fully realize it's not enough to have great animation for 90 minutes if the other elements aren't there to make the experience work as a film. That said, good animation is good animation, even if it's in a bad film. There can be many approaches. If I focus on animation here, it's because nobody else does. I'm not a fan of beating dead horses.

You know what I'd like to see more than anything? A DVD of Walerian Borowczyk's animation (see also). He supposedly influenced Svankmayer and the Brothers Quay, so isn't that enough to suggest it might merit a release? A lot of it is pretty racy, which I suppose may be holding things back. Three of his shorts were released on a Japanese DVD of Goto, l'île d'amour (1968) that came out a year ago, and two of the three are indeed quite risqé, to put it mildly. It would still be worth it to be able to see his early pioneering works like Renaissance (1963) and Théâtre de M. et Mme. Kabal (1967), which lead directly up to his two great masterpieces, Goto and Blanche (1971), live-action films shot through the penetrating gaze of an animator's eye. While we're at it, it's unpardonable that Blanche is not out on DVD anywhere in the world. It's surely one of the best European films of the decade. Whatever you think about his later films (which can be pretty disturbing, though sometimes in a good way), his first two films are masterpieces. I'd personally take Borowczyk over Tarkovsky or Godard any day. Even including his later works, Boro is one of the treasures of the cinema.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

09:40:34 am , 315 words, 1123 views     Categories: Animation

Solo animators

Issue three of the Madhouse Mind Game Glee Club Gazetteer features a fan illustration by none other than Takeshi Koike! Chekkuirauto! (Translation: Check it out!)

That episode of Samurai Seven was good illustration of my idea that much of what is best about anime is coming from the animators working within a system that continues to produce mostly nothing but endless variations on a theme. The milestones in outstanding animator films leading up to this episode are Utsunomiya's Gosenzosama Banbanzai, Ohira's Hakkenden episode, and undoubtedly now Mind Game. Like Miyazaki before them, Yuasa, prior to launching himself as a director, was an animator who during the first decade of his career produced animation that was among the most interesting and original of his generation. Many bemoaned the fact that Miyazaki didn't have a chance to launch his directing career earlier. Some are now starting to say the same thing about Yuasa.

Seeing this episode also serves to remind us of one of the things that makes Japanese animation unique: the long history of having one animator handle entire episodes. This phenomenon dates back to the very beginnings of TV anime, with Sadao Tsukioka's superhuman show of strength on Ken the Wolf Boy, for which he directed and drew entire episodes singlehandedly. Numerous later examples can be cited of animators animating entire episodes singlehandedly, or nearly so. Most famously there was Toshiyasu Okada with Jacky the Bearcub, then Yoshinori Kanada with Don De La Mancha and various other shows, then Takashi Nakamura with Gold Lightan, then Norio Matsumoto with Eat Man, Popolo Crois and You're Under Arrest, and then the Naruto episodes drawn entirely by Norio Matsumoto + Atsushi Wakabayashi. Nakayama only did the first half of this Samurai Seven episode, but it's still a good example of this phenomenon, which is not something seen very often in anime, particularly done in such an unabashedly personal style.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

11:30:17 am , 320 words, 2175 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

The answer

Scratch what I said about Ohira in the last post. The answer has come, and it's one of those "Of course!" answers that I should have seen by myself.

森久司 Hisashi Mori = 中山久司 Hisashi Nakayama

And it makes perfect sense. In an old post I made a comment about Nakayama's work on Digimon: Children's War Game as seeming incredibly Ohira school, and that supposition seems fairly vindicated here. Nakayama is definitely a worthy successor to Ohira.

Hisashi Nakayama
1994 - Sailor Moon S #37 (KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno KA)
1995 - Jusenshi Galkiba #18 (KA)
1995 - Ogon Yusha Goldran #28 (KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno AD)
1996 - Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars #17, 21, 28, 32 (KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno KA 126)
1997 - Cutey Honey Flash #5, 23 (KA)
1997 - Voogie's Angel #2 (mecha AD)
1998 - Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy (KA) (Mamoru Hosoda, Hideki Hamasu KA)
1998 - Giant Robo #7 (KA)
1999 - Tenamonya Voyagers #2 (KA) (Masashi Ishihama CD/AD, H. Okuno, T. Yamashita KA)
1999 - Power Stone #20 (KA)
1999 - Digimon Adventure (KA) (Takaaki Yamashita AD, Hiroyuki Okuno, Masashi Ishihama KA)
2000 - Mushrambo #2, 9, 20 (Hiroyuki Okuno AD)
2000 - Digimon Adventure: Children's War Game (AD/CD) (Takaaki Yamashita AD)
2001 - Virgin Night (Scene Design, Layout, KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno D/KA)
2001 - Spirited Away (KA)
2002 - Digimon Adventure 02: Hurricane Touchdown (KA) (Takaaki Yamashita AD)
2002 - Palme no Ki (KA)
2002 - Square of the Moon #2 (KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno director)
2003 - Crash Gear Turbo #68 (final) (KA)
2003 - The Big O #15 (KA) #21 (mecha AD) (Hiroyuki Okuno KA 26)

Hisashi Mori
2003 - ROD TV #13 (KA)
2003 - Tokyo Godfathers (KA)
2004 - Samurai 7 #7 (All Part A KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno D/S/Part B KA), 17, 18, 23 (KA)
2005 - Omatsuri Danshaku to Himitsu no Shima (KA) (Takaaki Yamashita AD)
2005 - Speed Grapher (design works) (w/Hiroyuki Okuno, Masashi Ishihama CD)
2006 - Doraemon: Nobita no Kyoryu 2006 (KA)

Interesting is that he used a pen name here but neither he nor Okuno used a pen name in Virgin Night, which is what people generally do in adult anime; which belies their seriousness of intent with the film.

Monday, August 16, 2004

09:11:11 pm , 493 words, 2696 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Samurai Seven #7

A rather interesting episode has appeared in this series. Hiroyuki Okuno (奥野浩行) directed, storyboarded and was animation director of the episode, making it one of those rather rare one-man-orchestra episodes. Furthemore, there are only two key animators listed (the rest was 2nd key animation): Hisashi Mori and Hiroyuki Okuno himself. The fact that Mori is listed first suggests that he handled the first half key animation and Hiroyuki Okuno handled the second half key animation.

If I didn't have the credits to go by, and were to judge purely based on style, I would have guessed that the first half was done by Shinya Ohira. A search on the internet in Japanese turns up virtualy no hits for the name Hisashi Mori, suggesting that it may in fact be a pen name for Shinya Ohira. I've never heard of Ohira using a pen name before, which is why at first I thought Okuno had done the first half, and had become a disciple of Ohira. Not having seen much of his work, I'm unable to judge for certain what the case is, and so I'll leave it up in the air until I can find confirmation from somewhere.

If it's Ohira, as seems likely, then this is one of the longest sequences Ohira has animated in the last few years, and furthermore it is big news because it is the first TV animation he's done in fifteen years. Stylistically it falls in line perfectly with what we've seen in the past in terms of the deliberately wobbly quality of the line and the very, very unique realistic movement. Think Ghiblies 2 dance, skateboard chase in Animatrix, cat moving around in FLCL 2, father fighting the thugs in Kill Bill. Ohira is without any doubt the most daring and original animator active today in anime, and it's good to see that he continues to be prolific.

If it's not Ohira, I would be very surprised. Ohira is the only person in Japan who draws drawings like this and comes up with this kind of movement. But it's possible. I haven't seen enough of Okuno's style to be able to say for sure. Maybe this Hisashi Mori person is in fact real. I'm really not on firm ground here. So for now I'll leave it at that. While we're at it, here's a partial filmography for Hiroyuki Okuno.

1983 - Votoms #15, 19, 24, 30, 34, 38, 44, 48 (key animation)
1987 - Mister Ajikko #10, 19, 24, 26, 28, 33, 37, 38, 43, 48, 53, 59, 64, 69, 74, 99 (KA)
1989 - Madoo Granzort #22, 30, 36 (KA with Tadashi Hiramatsu)
1990 - Nadia of the Blue Seas #11, 15 (KA)
1992 - Super Zugan #4 (animation director)
1995 - Sailor Moon SS #10, 16, 21 (KA)
1995 - Jusenshi Galkiba #18 (AD) #3, 7, 11 (KA)
1991 - Genji Tsushin Agedama #1, 6, 14, 20 (KA)
1992 - Oishinbo #127, 132
1994 - Metal Fighter Miku #13 (KA)
1995 - Zenki #33 (animation director)
1995 - Jura Troopers #14 (KA)
1996 - Yusha Shirei Daguon #17 (KA)
2000 - Mashranbo #2, 9, 20 (animation director)
2001 - Mutekio Trixenon #5 (director) #11 (storyboard)
2001 - Virgin Night OVA (director, storyboard, KA)
2001 - Yoru ga kuru! OVA (director)
2001 - Digimon Adventure 02: Diabolomon no Gyakushu (KA)
2002 - Rizelmein #5 (director, storyboard)
2003 - Last Exile #21, 23 (animation director)


Monday, August 16, 2004

07:15:49 pm , 430 words, 1467 views     Categories: Animation

Sherlock Hound

I just wanted to take a memo of the staff on the early Miyazaki episodes of Sherlock Hound. Apologies if this is already listed somewhere in English, because I haven't checked. This is one of those tapes I pull off the shelf and rewatch every once in a while when I'm feeling in need of a booster shot of exhiliration. This may very well be my favorite Miyazaki anime (well, after Conan) because of the dream team that made the episodes. (list is in production order)

3: A Small Client

Script, Storyboard, Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Key Animators: Kazuhide Tomonaga, Tsukasa Tannai, Nobuo Tomizawa, Masako Shinohara, Koichi Maruyama, Atsuko Tanaka
友永和秀,丹内 司,富沢信雄,篠原征子,丸山晃一,田中敦子

5: The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

Script: Sunao Katabuchi
Storyboard, Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Key Animators: Kazuhide Tomonaga, Toshio Yamauchi, Yoshinobu Michihata, Yoko Sakurai, Masaaki Endo, Makiko Futaki

9: Treasure Under the Sea

Script: Sunao Katabuchi
Storyboard, Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation Director: Tsukasa Tannai
Key Animators: Kazuhide Tomonaga, Masako Shinohara, Yoshinobu Michihata, Junko Tsutsumi, Chie Uratani, Yoko Tsukada
友永和秀,篠原征子,道籏義宣,堤 純子,浦谷千恵,塚田洋子

11: The Sovereign Gold Coins

Script: Toshiya Ito
Storyboard, Director: Nobuo Tomizawa
Animation Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Key Animators: Kazuhide Tomonaga, Masako Shinohara, Atsuko Tanaka, Koichi Maruyama, Yoko Sakurai, Makiko Futaki

4: Ms. Hudson is Taken Hostage

Script: Sunao Katabuchi
Storyboard, Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Key Animators: Tsukasa Tannai, Masako Shinohara, Yoshinobu Michihata, Chie Uratani, Masanori Ono, Yoko Sakurai
丹内 司,篠原征子,道籏義宣,浦谷千恵,小野昌則,桜井陽子

10: White Cliffs of Dover

Script: Sunao Katabuchi
Storyboard, Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Key Animators: Atsuko Tanaka, Koichi Maruyama, Yoko Sakurai, Masaaki Endo, Masako Shinohara, Makiko Futaki

Never realized until now that Katabuchi was the screenwriter for all the Miyazaki episodes (but one), nor that one was in fact a Tomizawa episode. (Or have I even seen that one?) For those who don't know who Tomizawa is, he's one of the major Telecom animators of the period alongside Kazuhide Tomonaga (he is still an important figure there), and the team of Kondo/Tomonaga/Tomizawa are responsible for what I personally think is the best Telecom anime ever, the first Nemo pilot. We really see how, from top to bottom, this is the same team that made the late Lupin III Part 2 episodes and then Cagliostro. We also see many of the female animators who went on to continue working at Ghibli. Interesting to find Masaaki Endo here, an animator with whose work I'm familiar from the building destruction animation he drew in Akira. Another Akira animator is there, I just noticed: Hitoshi Ueda, in episode 21. (he did the part where Kaneda and the clown boss play chicken)

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

11:35:05 pm , 1963 words, 6191 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Spotlight on Satoru Utsunomiya

The more I think about Mind Game, the more it reminds me, in spirit, in theme, of Nokto de la Galaksia Fervojo (I like the Esperanto title). Two more different films I could not have chosen in terms of every other aspect - animation, directing, mood. Yet I like that complementary yin-yang pairing.


I was just rewatching one of my favorite anime, Popolo Crois. No, neither of the TV series. The anime part of the first game. I haven't played an RPG game since I was like fifteen years old, but I played through this one not long ago just to see the anime parts, and it was worth the effort. (It was kind of fun, I admit. It sent me back to my youth spent playing games just like this one.) It's a shame this piece isn't more well known. Although it lasts under ten minutes in total, and consists of disconnected sequences, it's probably my favorite "film" featuring animation by Satoru Utsunomiya (宇都宮理・うつのみやさとる・うつのみや理), because it's the one where he first had the chance to go all the way with the unique style of animation he had perfected by that point.

Who is Satoru Utsunomiya? To certain animators like Toshiyuki Inoue, Tetsuya Nishio and Shinya Ohira, three of the figures responsible for some of the best Japanese animation work of the 90s, he was a major influence and inspiration. To anime fans like me, he is one of the most interesting animators of the last twenty years, whose inimitable work is a constant source of delight. Personally, he is one of the animators who embodies what it is that I love about Japanese animation. He ripened within the system of the commercial animation industry to eventually discover and elaborate his own completely original and individual style. There are a lot of animators I admire, but Utsunomiya is one I can say is truly a passion.

Many people over here will have discovered Utsunomiya with Paranoia Agent episode 8, which seems to be getting the appreciation it deserves from fans, even if they don't know he did it. He was the director, animation director and storyboarder of this episode. He even drew key animation. Simply put, what you see in this episode is Utsunomiya from tip to toe. It's a Satoru Utsunomiya film buried in a Satoshi Kon TV series. The appearance of this major new piece by Utsunomiya offers a good opportunity to turn back and examine his past work.

One of the main things that prompted Utsunomiya to decide to try to become an animator was having seen bits of Toei Doga films broadcast on TV. Later on a friend showed him flip-book of animation by Sadao Tsukioka for the scene where Susanoo is fighting an animal in Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon, which, he said, combined realism and stretch-and-squash in a way that stunned him like nothing he'd ever seen and seemed to speak to him of the wonderful possibilites of animation. He was so bewitched by the beauty of what he saw that he decided he would try to learn the ropes from the people who created those movements.

Initially he went to Telecom just for a visit, to meet one of his idols, Yasuo Otsuka, and maybe get an autograph. Instead he wound up getting hired and staying for a year and a half learning the basics of animation. After this apprenticeship, already endowed with a firm sense of the direction he wanted to go -- dynamic visuals based strongly on reality -- he was disappointed to learn of the tremendous technical limits of the medium, and considered giving up animation altogether. But after then tasting the pleasures of animation in his first key animation for The Yearling in 1983, he changed his mind and decided to stay, continuing on at Madhouse for a few years before going freelance. Rin Taro recalls that Utsunomiya's animation even at this early stage was already extremely good.

It was during this period that he had the stimulating opportunity to work alongside people like Takashi Nakamura, Koji Morimoto and Yasuomi Umetsu, each a skilled animator with his own unique aesthetic and approach to animation. This experience greatly influenced his development, and leads to the first sequence that stands out as a truly unique personal creation, the opening fight of Battle Royale High School (1987), with its dynamic camera movements and extremely fast kung-fu style action unlike anything anyone else was doing at the time. His experience working on The Yearling had taught him that he wanted to do action, and his first opportunity to animate an action scene totally as he wanted came in 1985 with episodes 8 and 13 of the foreign co-production Around the World in 80 Days.

After this he participated in Akira in 1988, the major turning point of the era, which joined together many of the realistic-school animators who would go on to lead the next generation, most notably Shinya Ohira and Shinji Hashimoto. The one extremely important realist-school animator who was not there was Mitsuo Iso, who was instead launching his own career in Char's Counterattack at the time, subsequently going on to invent his own highly influential approach to realistic animation that would be one of the other major sources of inspiration for Utsunomiya over the next few years.

To the major animators of the era, and many anime fans in Japan, however, the anime of this period that had the most impact was not Akira but Utsunomiya's Gosenzosama Banbanzai!, a 6-episode OVA series directed by Mamoru Oshii released in 1989. Where Akira's animation seemed to point backwards to Disney and a forced fluidity alien to much of Japanese animation up until then, Gosenzo seemed to point forward to a new realism full of possibility, with its highly realistic movements based on strict joint dynamics, and the radically simplified character designs. If when rewatched today the animation does not seem to have as much of an impact as people relate that it had when they first saw it when it was released, perhaps that's because of the wide-ranging influence it has had on a lot of the anime that followed. Its innovations have in effect been integrated into the fabric of anime in much the same way as Otsuka's have, making them hard to discern.

This series' credit screen basically reads like a roll-call of the most important animators of the period: Mitsuo Iso, Shinya Ohira, Shinji Hashimoto, Matsumoto Norio, Tatsuyuki Tanaka, Masahito Yamashita, Osamu Tanabe, Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, Hidekazu Ohara, Kazuchika Kise... This is the film that made Utsunomiya's name, and it remains the one for which he is most well known (which unforunately speaks more than anything to the regrettable fact that he has not had an opportunity to create a major work of the scale of this OVA series since then).

In the immediate aftermath of this film he made one of his other major efforts, Peek the Whale, directed by Koji Morimoto. Utsunomiya considers this film a failure in terms of his own work on the film due numerous factors that proved inconducive to motivating his enthusiasm for the project, including his inability to exert complete control over the character designs and a style of directing that put major limits on his freedom of movement. Although it's clear, watching the film, that it could have been more, it's still an amazing film like no other then or now, one of those unfairly neglected full-length features that deserves to be seen by more people, and the sheer pleasure of seeing Utsunomiya's characters move about is truly something special. There's a particularly great sequence animated by Toshiyuki Inoue right at the very beginning. What makes Utsunomiya unique is that every moment is a joy to watch when he is the animation director, regardless of who is animating. You sense that his unique theoretical approach is the underpinning structure behind every bit of animation.

After providing animation for Run, Melos the next year, in 1994 he made his debut as a director with episode 9 of the Hakkenden OVA series, which paved the way for Ohira's revolutionary episode 10. Although again Utsunomiya, nothing if not self-critical, considers this episode a failure, it is again a truly masterful film, and the next most interesting episode in the series after 10 and 1. There was something of a disconnect in terms of getting across what he wanted with the episode to animation director Shinji Hashimoto, and although the result is quite amazing to behold, full of wonderful realism and minute attention to detail, it subtly but decisively veers a bit off the trajectory indicated by Gosenzo and Peek. But that isn't really Hashimoto's fault. He did great work, he's just not Utsunomiya. Where we see what Utsunomiya undoubtedly wanted for the film is in his own animation of the woman outside of the house.

After then providing two great action sequences for Yugen Kaisha, Utsunomiya finally provided animation for the Popolo Crois game. I'll list a few credits here, because it's pretty impressive.

Character Design: Atsuko Fukushima
Director, Storyboard: Ryutaro Nakamura
Character Supervisor: Kune Motoki
Key Animation: Satoru Mizuguchi (Satoru Utsunomiya), Mitsuo Iso, Katsumi Matsuda, Yasunori Miyazawa, Masashi Ishihama, Ken'ichi Yamaguchi, Miyahiro Magari, Hitoshi Haga, Yoshio Mizumura, Kenji Mizuhata

Of particular interest besides Utsunomiya's animation for the second section (of a total four) is Iso's (or alternately Yasunori Miyazawa's, according to Masaaki Yuasa) animation of the giant in the fourth section.

Miyazawa also provides animation and draws storyboard for the animation part of the second game, which features IG regulars Tetsuya Nishio as character designer and animation director and Kenji Kamiyama as director/storyboarder. I'm not familiar with Miyazawa's work, but I'm told he animated the psychedelic and very impressive climax sequence with the larva at the end of Dead Leaves.

There's also the Popolo Crois pilot, the first animated Popolo Crois film, which is a very impressive film in its own right, done in a completely different but compelling style, with very high production values.

And then in the first TV series Norio Matsumoto did some great work in two episodes, and in the second series Yoshinori Kanada made that famous comeback episode. Overall, this curious history of various small Popolo Crois ventures produced a lot of good animation over the course of the 90s that people over here pretty much never saw. And all of it was designed by Atsuko Fukushima, probably the female animator with the most individual style of the last twenty years in Japan, who has left behind all too little work since her still unsurpassed masterwork Labyrinth Labyrinthos (which also featured work by Ohashi Manabu, who was deeply involved in several of the Popolo Crois games).

But to get back on topic, Utsunomiya then provided animation for two of Koji Morimoto's music videos before going on to do what was probably his most characteristic piece since Gosenzosama: the subway section of Ghiblies 2, which came two years before episode 8 of Paranoia Agent. The latter is in my opinion quite possibly his best overall piece because it showcases his immense directing talents in addition to his uncommon animation style. It is the culmination of all these various past assays, the one that works best as a unit, and therefore the one that will remain in people's memory the most. Brilliantly directed, with exactly the animation style Utsunomiya has been aiming for since he began with Gosenzosama, I'm guessing it is probably the first film he is satisfied with. If there's any justice in the world this will lead to him directing a film, though I wonder if Japan is capable of coming up with a project up to his level -- what we need to is a project that would be something like a Japanese Waking Life, and then we would see Utsunomiya really shine.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

09:57:17 am , 369 words, 1474 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Mind Game update

Mind Game Official SiteI had a look at the Yahoo Japan reviews for Mind Game. Out of 18 who saw it in the theaters, all but two gave it 5 stars. And one of those looks like a prank (one star, "Worse than Pokemon!"). The viewer reviews (on the Beyond C BBS, the Anime Style BBS, Hatena Diary, on the web) leave no doubt that this is a film that breaks new ground for animation even if it won't break any attendance records. I haven't seen any box office statistics yet, but a few reviewers have mentioned that the seats were anything but full when they saw the film. I think the lesson being learned here is that, no matter how good a film, if you don't advertise it at least a little bit, then people won't come.

I'm a bit worried that the film might get ruined before we even get a chance to see it, since there's talk now of replacing the actors in the film with well-known American actors for the US version. Heck, why not just make a different version of the movie for every country, like they used to do in the good old days? Dubbing is one thing, but this sounds like misguided tampering to me.

The latest edition of the Madhouse Mind Game Support Group features an illustration by animator Takahiro Yoshimatsu (Gakuen Senki Muryo, Slayers, Cyber Formula).

The Motion Image Psychedelia concert at UNIT in Shibuya came to a close at 5AM on Saturday morning. Reports have it that the event offered a rare opportunity to witness producer Eiko Tanaka shaking her booty.

As added incentive for people to come out and see the film on the big screen (many reviewers emphasize that this is a film that should absolutely be seen on the big screen), Masaaki Yuasa will be presenting a talk before the last screening every Friday at Cine Quinto throughout the length of the theatrical run. Joining him for the first talk on Friday last was Seiichi Yamato, after which the two headed over to UNIT. The next talk will be with Crayon Shin-chan director Keiichi Hara, the third with Robin Nishi, the fourth with Koji Morimoto, and the fifth with Eiko Tanaka.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

08:44:07 pm , 193 words, 2096 views     Categories: Animation

Otsuka's got a new book!

It's all about his experiences on the gigantic but infamously doomed Little Nemo project spearheaded by Tokyo Movie founder Yutaka Fujioka. This project is so fascinating: a modern-day cautionary tale of anime hubris! I wrote a bit about it on the page for the film in my Masami Hata filmography. I really look forward to reading this. Yutaka's past successes and obvious love for animation are undeniable, and his idealistic ambition to create a film that would be a hit in the west and in Japan, although unsuccessful in this case, was in fact fulfilled by Ghibli over the period during which this film was in fitful production, so it's interesting to study why this project failed. I have no doubt that it will be extremely insightful about many things besides the actual details of the project, including the nature of the role of the anime producer. Otsuka himself has played such an important role behind the scenes over the years that some people in the recent documentary went so far as to say he may have been equally important as a producer-type-figure. The book was published on the 22nd of last month.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

05:20:48 pm , 714 words, 4191 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Tomonori Kogawa

Been feeling blah and hot, so I sat around reading a book by Kazushige Abe. The gears have been resting.

Not that this matters, but I've always wondered who did the animation in Yanagawa Horiwari Monogatari. Personally I suspect Kondo, but I've got no proof. Have people seen this movie? Takahata's documentary. It's probably my own favorite documentary, not that I'm a documentary expert. Made on the funds earned from Nausicaa, generously donated by Miyazaki, it's an incredible achievement on Takahata's part that articulates and further develops the ideas in Nausicaa in the context of the real world, and definitely deserves to be seen. It's also available from the "Ghibli ga Ippai" DVD series with English subs.

Today I thought I'd mix things up and translate an interview with Tomonori Kogawa (湖川友謙), the animation director of my favorie robot anime, Ideon. But it's late and it's long and I changed my mind, so just a few thoughts. I was struck by this anime -- well, mostly by the last movie, Be Invoked (発動篇) (1982) -- first of all because of the pitiless story and relentless forward drive of the directing, which is fundamentally unlike anything I've seen elsewhere (I still find it rather enjoyable to submerge myself in now and then), but also in terms of the unusual designs and animation style of the characters. I liked the very original use of colors -- tracing with colors rather than black, basing characters on a white background -- the uncute character designs with a realistic flavor (the original designs were photorealistic, apparently, and subsequently simplified), and especially the novel ideas he brought to animating the characters, such as having their whole jaw move when they're talking rather than just having them "do the goldfish".

I usually have an allergy to Tatsunoko school animators, but I find his stuff surprisingly watchable and full of interesting ideas. There's real passion for his work in there, a desire to try new things. In the interview he makes a comment about Yoshiyuki Tomino (director of Gundam in 1979, whom he worked with for the next five years on this and a few other series) to the effect that while other people complained that they didn't like his storyboards because they challenged the animators, he said he loved his storyboards because they challenged the animators. I loved that attitude.

This guy was originally an art person, a painter, and not an anime person, and I think that shows up in his work. Often in anime the freshest ideas have come from people who bring in new blood from different places like this. Oh, and I remembered correctly. Whenever Kogawa was displeased the key animation an animator sent him, and whenever possible, he would redraw all the key animation himself from scratch because it was faster to do that than to correct the key animator's drawings. (This applies only to the characters. The mecha action was animated by people like Yoshinobu Inano and Ichiro Itano.) You can see clearly that almost all of the close-ups and important dramatic scenes (Sheryl's breakdown, the climax) were drawn entirely by Kogawa. And a famous spot near the end where a small child has her head incinerated was apparently something of an ad-lib on his part. The storyboard was not so ... specific. The film benefits immensely from his devotion to filling out tiny details like this. And this despite the fact that he admits to not completely agreeing with or understanding many of Tomino's decisions as the director, especially his bizarre mystical ideas about karma.

Kogawa's credit on this film is in fact a first in anime, I think. He is credited as "Animation Director" in katakana. This gives his role a broader connotation than that usually associated with the post of "Sakuga Kantoku"; almost the co-director. From this can be extrapolated the degree of influence he had on the final product. The quality of the animation in this film was something of a new watermark for anime films at the time, and it's still an eminently watchable film, albeit deranged and incomprehensible in typical Tomino fashion. But that's kind of what I like about it. This despite the fact that this series is at the root of a lot of what I most dislike about all subsequent anime.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

05:01:45 pm , 478 words, 2276 views     Categories: Animation

My animation creed

I wanted to clarify my stand on anime and animation. To me, animation is about movement. If you go back to the beginning, Gerty wasn't well drawn. What was interesting about Gerty was that she (he?) moved. Animation is about breathing life into drawings. The rest of the world became familiar with anime from the picture-book TV shows that were exported in the 70s due to Tezuka's famous invention, but there were always people in Japan who kept in mind that animation was about animation, and went on creating interesting movement. An interesting story can be told with a picture book, but a picture book shouldn't be confused with animation. A beautiful picture is fine and good, but it isn't animation. It's grueling work to create animation, I gather, and I admire people who can somehow magically turn drawings into interesting movement. That's why I'm interested in animators. To me, animators are the heart of animation. Everything else is decoration. Or more accurately, the substrate. They're what keep me watching animation: ever seeking the enchantment of a thrilling movement. Someone once said the animator is an actor. In other words, the task of the animator is to get into the mind of a character; the quality of the performance we see on the screen depends on what kind of interesting ideas the animator can come up with given a situation and a character. Could you imagine a live-action movie where they didn't bother to credit the actors? And yet I've seen anime releases over here that didn't bother to translate the names of the animators! It's just strange to me that people think anime is produced by feeding a story into a computer, and voila, out comes animation. No, it's all done by people, folks. They're called animators. No animators, no anime. That's why I'm so interested in animators. There's no greater pleasure than being surprised by a new kind of movement that you could never have imagined. Given the absurd overproliferation of anime these days, it's understandable that most of it is junk. But there are a few animators out there who have maintained the flame and keep on surprising us with new ideas about what is possible in animation. The pleasure of being able to see the work of this handful of interesting animators is pretty much the only thing that keeps me watching anime, which is frankly more often than not rather thin on original thinking in other areas. And every person is an individual; therefore so is every animator. And right now, ironically enough, just about the only place in the world that seems to be producing (commercial) animation in which the individuality of every animator is clearly reflected in his or her work, is Japan. Everywhere else it's a homogeneous, flat surface of unified movement, which to me is the epitome of boring.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

08:13:20 pm , 863 words, 2558 views     Categories: Animation


First, spend a moment of pure happiness by browsing through the Kodomo no Kuni exhibit.

Thanks to Pravin for bringing an interesting Indian development to my attention. A station called Animax has begun broadcasting anime nonstop in India. Several years ago I was informed by another Indian contact that Heidi was being shown on TV in English over there. Well, World Masterpiece Theater fans will be interested to know Little Princess Sara and Little Women have been airing as part of the inaugural programming. All anime shown on the station is dubbed in English. Animax appears to offer services in various countries already.

Since its founding in 1967, Anido, Japan's oldest and most venerable animation society, has published a vast body of literature on Japanese and world animation in its organ publication Film 1/30, in addition to innumerable books (including a deluxe art book of Yasuji Mori illustrations and a 367 pp book on the history of world animation), as well as holding more than 400 screenings of rarely seen classic anime. They played an instrumental role in providing films and documentation for the original Yuri Norstein Tale of Tales and Jiri Trnka Midsummer Night's Dream Animation Animation LDs released by Pioneer. A few years ago they released Isao Takahata's Gauche the Cellist on DVD in association with the animation studio that planned and produced the film entirely as a labor of love between 1977 and 1982, Oh Production. That sumptuous and affordable set included an extra DVD with an impressive 80 minutes of interview material.

Now they have just released a 2-DVD set of the works of one of the founding fathers of Japanese animation, Kenzo Masaoka. With one exception, none of the films in this set has been available to the general public in any format before now (if you'll overlook the Japan Art Animation Movie Collection, which really wasn't aimed at the general public), making this an exciting event for fans of the history of anime. Kenzo Masaoka was one of the most important figures of the pre-war period, producing extremely well-crafted shorts that still hold up after all these years (something that cannot be said for much of the period's production according to certain visitors to the MOMAT film screening series). He was the founder of Nihon Doga (Nichido), the studio that went on to become Toei Doga, and was the one who coined the term doga (動画) as a translation for "animation". ("Anime" is thought to have been coined by Animage as an abbreviation for the more sophisticated-sounding gairaigo "Animeeshon".) His films combine sophisticated animation technique with artistic refinement and appealing character delineation, as exemplified by his film The Spider and the Tulip, which is widely considered to be the greatest of the early Japanese shorts. Miraculous is that this serene gem full of delicate natural animation was produced in the midst of the worst of the Tokyo firebombing in 1943. Unfortunately, unlike the Gauche disc, this one is available only through their site, and I don't think Anido ships outside of Japan.

Gauche is one of the major films of my anime viewing life. It had an immense impact on me when I first saw it, and remained with me since then. I was already aware of Toshitsugu Saida's major role in this film as the character designer and animation director as well as the layout man, but upon reading Oh Pro's page on the film on their site, I was astonished to read that he even drew all the key animation. This I've never heard of in any anime film (though I remember hearing something similar about Tomonori Kogawa and the Ideon: Be Invoked movie, the one where everyone dies). So that's what it is about the animation that makes this film so stunning and unforgettable (besides Takahata's genius): The incredible sense of unity wrought by having this one animator handle all the animation elements. I also learned that Kazuo Komatsubara, one of the founding members of Oh Production, was one of the major figures behind this film, providing guidance and support that proved invaluable to shepherding the full forces of the studio on the project.

Anido's latest publication is a book accompanying the MOMAT screening series Nihon Manga Eiga no Zenbo. It contains an awesome array of riches including comments by numerous people including Otsuka and Takahata, interviews with Kotabe and Daikubara and many others, and most of all a smattering of character designs and storyboards by Kotabe, Miyazaki, Otsuka, Saida, Mori, etc. from Horus, Animal Treasure Island, Puss 'n Boots, Puss 'n Boots II, Gauche the Cellist and other important films, published here for the first time. Other publications include Kondo Yoshifumi no Shigoto, a book published after the famous animator's death, currently out of print; a book of Kazuo Komatsubara's art; and a book of art director Mukuo Takamura's art (Genma Taisen, Marco, etc.).

Finally, the documentary I talked about appears not to be the old 29-minute 1970 film 日本漫画映画発達史 漫画誕生 (Nihon Manga Eiga Hattatsushi: Manga Tanjo / The Evolution of the Japanese Animated Film) directed by Taiji Yabushita, which is what I thought they were showing, but a new film created by Anido for the event that has the exact same title, just in hiragana: にほんまんがえいがはったつし.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

02:57:25 pm , 2015 words, 3526 views     Categories: Animation

The Otsuka School

For those of you looking to learn about the animation that came after Toei Doga from the people who were influenced by the style pioneered by Otsuka, here is a rudimentary outline of what could be termed the "Otsuka School", which is centered around shows that represent what is usually termed the "A Pro Style".

The studio progression can be summarized:

Toei Doga -> A Pro -> Telecom -> Ghibli

The representative anime are:

Moomin (1969)
Lupin III (1971)
Dokonjo Gaeru (1972)
Ganso Tensai Bakabon (1975)
New Lupin III (1977-80) Telecom eps (72, 77, 82, 84, 99, 105, 143, 145, 151, 153, 155)
Sugata Sanshiro (1981)

Moomin (1969)

Before I can go on, first I have to mention how A Pro came about. First, Yutaka Fujioka formed the anime studio Tokyo Movie in 1964. After years of various problems including a bad production system and the company changing hands several times, in 1966 Fujioka decided to form an alliance with A Production, a small independent studio recently formed by Daikichiro Kusube after he quit from Toei Doga, to stabilize the animation. From here on out Tokyo Movie would have only a few animators, and would focus on production and planning, leaving directing and animation up to A Production. A Pro was a tiny company without the vast heirarchy of superiors at Toei Doga, and it was in this atmosphere that Yasuo Otsuka did his first job as animation director outside of Toei Doga, having quit the previous year immediately after Puss 'n Boots.

After years of doing full animation (2 frames/cel) at Toei Doga, the limited animation of a TV series (3 frames/cel) was a big change for Otsuka, but he discovered the special appeal of limited animation, which Japanese audiences almost seemed to prefer to full animation, with the ability to appreciate every drawing it affords, and the special clunky but catchy type of movement it can allow you to create. But there was still that part of him that missed the full style, and here and there he would revert to full where he felt it was justified, such as in action scenes. This is one of the characteristics that would have a major influence on later Japanese animation, this modulation. Otsuka had done the reverse in Horus: He hit on the idea of using 3 frames/cel for the Golem and Mammoth scenes to heighten the sense of massiveness. Interesting to note is that the maximum cel count for anime at this period was between 6000 and 8000, whereas the average nowadays is between 3000 and 5000. TV anime was much 'fuller' then than it is now.

In terms of the content, despite disputes with Zuiyo producer Shigeto Takahashi about how to do the adaptation (Takahashi wanted "No guns, no money, no fights" to be able to sell it overseas - he only got the "no money" part), the animators did it their own way and adapted the story to Japanese tastes by putting in elements they felt would be necessary to allow the series to compete with the action and thrills of standard TV anime fare. The result was a series quite different in tone from Tove's original, and it was never sold overseas. Nonetheless, the series paved the way for anime that would eventually prove that it was possible to do attract audiences with an interesting story without necessarily having to throw in superficial frills. Takahata and Miyazaki, who were still working at Toei at the time, and were highly skeptical that someone like Otsuka could do a series like this, were the ones most surprised and inspired by the final product, and it was one of the main factors that led them to leave Toei Doga.

Two people who helped Otsuka maintain a high level of quality were Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama, who are the central figures behind the two anime that are considered the embodiment of the A Pro style: Dokonjo Gaeru and Ganso Tensai Bakabon, about which more later. So what we have in this series is really still pure Otsuka, albeit different from everything we had seen from him up until now, and it paves the way for the A Pro style to come, which makes a virtue of the limits of TV anime to create some of the most appealing movement to have come out of Japan.

Lupin III (1971)

The reason Otsuka had quit Toei in the first place was to make a Lupin movie. To that end he and Masaaki Osumi, a person who was until then known mainly as a puppet theater director (an interesting figure who recurs at several points in anime history, about whom I'll say a bit more in a later post), had made a pilot and been going around trying to find interested parties. Not finding any, they did Moomin together. After two seasons it was transferred to Mushi Pro, and Otsuka then did various things including teaching the first Taiwanese animators and helping on the pilot episode of Tensai Bakabon (later broadcast as alternatively episode 1 or 32) until finally Lupin was picked up -- not as a movie, but as a TV series.

Again Otsuka was the main figure behind one of the pivotal anime series that affected everything that came afterwards. The first anime TV series with sophisticated storylines that could be appreciated by adults, it was so far ahead of its time that nobody knew what to make of it, and it failed dismally and was cancelled after two seasons. Not long afterwards it built up a huge cult following that resulted in another TV series and then a movie etc. etc. etc. and paved the way for the "anime boom" of the late 70s, which was the period when anime began to attract huge numbers of fans and became a social phenomenon worthy of being talked about in the news due to the overwhelming response to shows like Heidi and Yamato.

Needless to say, Lupin was a series much better suited to Otsuka's predilections for machinery and realism, and it's in this series that we have the first chance to see him fully putting his talents to use. Naturally there are many things going for the series -- appealing characters, stylish directing, variety of stories -- both in the early hardboiled, sexy Osumi episodes and the lighter but more dramatic late Miyazaki/Takahata episodes.

But in terms of the animation, in addition to the never-before-seen precision with which vehicles and weapons are drawn, there was a true feeling of newness there, something totally different from Moomin or any other anime up until that point: the way every drawing speaks and works on its own as well as within a movement; the attention to detail in every drawing; the improbable yet refreshingly new and convincing character movement; the rollicking, thrillingly choreographed action. Here we have animators finally doing something because they feel it's right, because it's how they'd do it, not just drawing characters because the character chart says that's how to draw them. That's one of the main things that makes the series feel convincing even after all these years. The animator lineup is one of the best of any anime in that period, including Toshitsugu Saida (head animator of Gauche), Osamu Kobayashi, Toshiyuki Honda (later to form studio Animaruya), Keiichi Kimura (Tiger Mask), and a still young Yoshifumi Kondo. Many of these animators would go on to work on the famous A Pro series of the next few years.

Dokonjo Gaeru (1972)

This was the series in which Osamu Kobayashi, who worked as a key animator on Tensai Bakabon over the preceding year, established his unique style of extremely simplified drawings and vigorous movement that would come to define the A Pro style. Key animators who provided great work in this series include Kune Motoki, Yoshifumi Kondo and Yoshiyuki Momose. The limits of the medium here are fully turned to an advantage, with the animators producing some of the most interesting and variety-filled limited animation ever seen in TV anime. Many of today's major animators, including Hiroyuki Imaishi, cite this as one of the anime that decisively influenced their decision to go into animation, and find it to be a continued source of inspiration. Kobayashi's co-animation director Tsutomu Shibayama would go on to perfect his own take on the A Pro style a few years later in the series Gamba no Boken, where he created an original and dynamic way of expressing the speedy movement of the small protagonist animals. One of the great classic episodes of the series is #146, Kan Kan Akikan no Maki, which reportedly combines artistic directing and the A Pro animation style to great effect.

Ganso Tensai Bakabon (1975)

The old Bakabon series had been affected by station demands in such a way that the gags, which were the heart of the series, were edged out to make way for more conventional drama as the series progressed. Dissatisfaction with this dénouement on the part of the animators as well as creator Fujio Akatsuka, combined with the popularity of Dokonjo Gaeru, led to this continuation, which is the other anime that is considered exemplary of the A Pro style. This series went further with the gags than ever before, replacing the fun but rather harmless slapstick of Dokonjo with absurdist humor often bordering on black and surrealistic. The animators really got a free hand on this series, with veteran Ohashi Manabu providing a lot of his most memorable work, including one of the true cult classic episodes of this period, the infamous "Gekika Bakabon" episode, where he decided to draw all the characters in super-realistic yakuza-manga style.

New Lupin (1977-80)

The studio Telecom was formed in 1978 by Yutaka Fujioka for the purpose of eventually animating a full-length feature adaptation of Little Nemo. They hired animators by placing major ads in the newspapers, and Veteran Sadao Tsukioka went through hundreds and hundreds of applicants, weeding out anime fans, whom he considered "tainted". They started training these inexperienced animators by having them help out on the animation of the first Lupin movie, and in 1978 Telecom started handling some episodes of TMS's New Lupin series, overseen by Otsuka. The first of these, #72, Otsuka says flat out is the worst animated film he's ever been involved in. Horrified by the quality, he started recruiting people with experience, and gradually with each episode great animators -- most of them A Pro veterans -- came into the studio to work on these episodes, which get better as time goes by, culminating in the famous Miyazaki episodes. First Atsuko Tanaka and Eiko Hara came in, then Kazuhide Tomonaga, Nobuo Tomizawa, Tsukasa Tannai, raising the bar higher and higher... These would stay on to help turn Cagliostro, produced immediately after these episodes in the still record-holding span of four months, into the classic it is, in which Tomonaga handled the opening car chase, Tanaka the famous rooftop leap and the spaghetti scene, and Tomizawa the appearance of the assassins. In the TV series, besides the animation at the beginning of the last episode, Tomonaga also provided animation for episode 143.

Sugata Sanshiro (1981)

Yoshifumi Kondo, who got his start way back in 1972 with Dokonjo Gaeru and then contributed greatly to the original Lupin series as well as Panda Kopanda (which certainly fits within this flow, but is already quite well known) and then Future Boy Conan, was one of the figures who continued to breathe new life into the style he'd learned at A Pro as he moved from first Nippon Animation and then to Telecom. His animation in Tom Sawyer is perhaps the ultimate acheivement of this evolution. Immediately afterwards he provided one of the last examples of work that can be clearly placed on the A Pro evolutionary timeline, his animation for the TV special Sugata Sanshiro, which can be said to have pushed the A Pro style to its culmination. Afterwards he changed direction, and the age of A Pro, which was appropriately renamed to Shinei or "New A Pro" around this time, came to an end. This film also features animation directing by another of the great Telecom figures, Nobuo Tomizawa, and so it seems an appropriate punctuation mark for this sketch.

Monday, August 9, 2004

04:54:55 pm , 282 words, 1001 views     Categories: Animation

Fantastic Children

I talked about Nippon Animation's Peter Pan a while back. Well, Takashi Nakamura returns to NA starting next month with a new series, Fantastic Children. This time it's a purely Nakamura project, directed by Nakamura, based on an idea by Nakamura, designed by Nakamura. One interesting staff member to note is Nizo Yamamoto, the art director of Ghibli films like Laputa and Grave of the Fireflies.

I will remain skeptical so as not to be let down. Palme no Ki was a very mixed bag that left me longing for the good old days of Nakamura the animator. It had a lot of elements that I really appreciated -- the convincing sense of trauma and pathology motivating the actions of many of the characters -- but was overwhelmed by the hopelessly confusing story (repeated watchings do not help to figure things out) and the patchwork nature of the story. Take a little from Akira, Angel's Egg, Gandahar, Pinocchio and voila! Palme no Ki. Influences are fine, but they were not digested enough to make them work.

The animation was of a very high order, with quite a few excellent spots (key animators included Toshiyuki Inoue, Nobutake Ito, Michio Mihara, Hisashi Nakayama, Hideki Hamasu and Ohashi Manabu) but overall it just didn't have the sense of wonder or the unique bite of the early animation drawn by Nakamura himself, which is perhaps what disappointed me the most. All that said, there are better films that I don't like as much. I still enjoy the film, however incredibly flawed it is. Nakamura's valiant attempt should be saluted. Also, I loved the use of the Ondes Martenot in the soundtrack, and found it very affecting.

Monday, August 9, 2004

04:42:16 pm , 518 words, 7023 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

The Killing Stone

Here's an anime I'm willing to bet money nobody reading this will ever have heard of, much less seen: The Killing Stone (殺生石, Sesshoseki), an 81-minute film produced in 1968. There's not a single mention of it on the internet in English or Japanese. Okay, maybe it's mentioned in one of the English-language anime encyclopedia type books, so all bets are off. In any case, here's a film that never gets talked about, that failed at the box office and was promptly tossed in the dustbin of anime history. You would have to make serious efforts to uncover this one. There are a number of early anime curiosities like this that don't quite fit into the usual anime history narrative. Neither Toei nor Tezuka, they tend to be overlooked. For the most part they probably deserve to be forgotten. But still, one is curious. This one is rather intriguing.

The film was adapted from a novel by Kido Okamoto based on a legend surrounding a sterile patch of land at the foot of Mt. Chausu, an active volcano located in Tochigi Prefecture. Since the Heian period the spot has been known to exude poisonous gas (hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, arsenic) that has killed animals and people who happened to wander near the area. A legend arose at one time that long ago in China a kitsune transformed itself into a beautiful maiden, seduced the emperor and caused numerous misfortunes to befall the kingdom, then found her way to Japan, transformed herself into a beautiful maiden called Tamamo, and seduced the emperor etc., before finally being unmasked and killed. Upon her death she cursed her killers and transformed herself on this spot into a poisonous stone called Sesshoseki.

The film was produced by a studio called Nihon Doga, headed by one Gentaro NAKAJIMA, who also happened to be the president of Fuji Heavy Industries(?!). It was originally proposed to film studio Daiei as a live-action film starring Fujiko YAMAMOTO. Adaptated by two famous live-action screenwriters, Hideo Suzuki and Yasuzo Masumura, the film apparently benefited enormously from the considerable efforts put into the screenplay, which went through no less than seven versions before being finalized. The drawings were hand-traced with extreme care, and the film featured highly stylized visuals inspired by old Japanese emaki picture-scrolls.

The animation director and character designer was Taku SUGIYAMA. Makoto NAGASAWA, one of the more important Toei animators from Hakujaden to Gulliver, was also involved as the animation supervisor. (The credit is unusual, one I've never run across: 作画主任, which means "person in charge of drawings".) Latter-day World Masterpiece Theater character designer Shuichi SEKI was here as one of the animators, probably one of his first credits, as was Norio HIKONE, who was in the Toei films from Magic Boy to Doggie March.

The whole reason I even wrote all this was because I discovered that Masami HATA was one of the animators, a fact that had totally slipped by me until now, and which got me to want to look into this production. It'd be nice to see this one day, though I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, August 8, 2004

10:52:01 am , 1100 words, 5629 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Kazuo Komatsubara

Galaxy Express 999 Movie climaxToday I just had a few things to say about Kazuo Komatsubara (小松原一男). I apologize, this is a pretty rambling post. I'm hardly an expert on him, so if anyone who knows more than me spots any mistakes or can provide a better overview, feel free to post a comment.

After an illustrious career spanning three decades, Komatsubara passed away in 2000. His death was a second blow to the anime world, coming as it did two years after the equally premature death of Yoshifumi Kondo, whose career overlapped almost exactly with that of Komatsubara.

To summarize his career, during the seventies he focused on giant robot shows like Go Nagai's Mazinger and Grendaizer (1975) and then on Leiji Matsumoto series like Captain Harlock (1978). At the end of the decade he did one of his most famous series, the TV and movie version of Galaxy Express 999. In the eighties he was involved in a variety of projects, notably Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984), Tongari Boushi no Memoru (1984), and Hare Tokidoki Buta (1988), while in the nineties he was less prolific, his main works being Junkers Come Here (1995) and Chinese Ghost Story (1998). His last work was Dynamic Robot Taisen (1999), apparently some sort of homage to those early robot shows.

The early robot shows were big in France for a long time, and must have left their mark on French animation fans, because there was an exhibit of his key animation in Toulon, France in 1995, and another in April 2001 as a memorial, and there's a French web site that provides a detailed biography.

To most people Komatsubara is perhaps best known as the animation director of Nausicaa. Among Japanese animation buffs, however, his fame rests perhaps even moreso on his work as the animation director of these 70s anime, particularly Galaxy Express 999, especially the film version of 1979. The latter is perhaps one of the earliest and best crystallisations of the Komatsubara style, with its rough and dynamic lines and delicate attention to detail in the animation, and therefore presents a truer picture than Nausicaa of what it was that made Komatsubara unique and great as an animation director.

In addition, this film features one of the best pieces of animation by two of the best animators of the period: Yoshinori Kanada and Kazuhide Tomonaga. Together they animated the catastrophic climax. Kanada was perhaps the most influential animator of his generation, and would go on to work under Komatsubara as one of the animators in Nausicaa. Tomonaga, on the other hand, while a fellow animator of Komatsubara's at animation studio Oh Production, went in a very different direction, and there is little overlap of their careers other than this.

Komatsubara had the ability to bring out the best in an animator like Kanada, because he understood how to integrate Kanada's idiosyncratic style into the fabric of the film's animation without compromising the unique flavor of Kanada's drawings and motion. During his time at Toei Doga apparently Komatsubara had been taught by Yasuo Otsuka, which is where this ability may have sprung from. Otsuka also taught Komatsubara the value of variety, of forcing yourself to do lots of different projects with different styles so as not to grow moribund in your little niche, and the large variety of the projects in which he was involved in the 80s and 90s is certainly indicative of his continued efforts towards this end.

Komatsubara's name will perhaps be remembered among western fans due to one of his last jobs as an animation director, Junkers Come Here (1995), directed by Jun'ichi Sato, with whom Komatsubara has been associated at least since Tongari Boushi no Memoru (1984). Personally I have mixed feelings about the film due to certain aspects of its production history, but Komatsubara provided the film with a compellingly universal character design and an incredibly even level of animation, showing that he retained his magisterial skills right up until the end, so it would be ridiculous to dismiss the film, which is a very good film with solid directing and a good story and deserves to be seen. The film was lost in obscurity for too long and fully deserves the attention it's finally getting.

Junkers Come Here Pilot

My problem was that this film could have been the feature debut of Shinya Ohira, who did the pilot. Ohira was removed from the job and replaced by Komatsubara because he spent too long on the pilot and was deemed unfit for the job. If Ohira had had the chance, this film would almost certainly not have been merely the good film that it is now, but instead might have become downright revolutionary. But you never know when misfortune may lead to fortune, and as it happens, this misfortune gave Ohira the opportunity to create one of the most important films of the 90s, episode 10 of the Hakkenden OVA series, and afterwards to go on exploring the new frontier of realism that he had pioneered in the pilot. Instead, we are left with a truly worthy parting gift from one of the great masters of the last 30 years. And that's good enough for me.

The film's animation is obviously altogether different from that of the pilot due to the different animation director, but it nevertheless features all of the animators from the pilot providing high quality work: Osamu Tanabe (dinner scene), Shinji Hashimoto (Hiromi coming home from school), Mitsuo Iso (Hiromi confessing on the beach), Manabu Ohashi (flying over the city) -- even Shinya Ohira himself is there (the extremely detailed animation of Hiromi riding the bike that accompanies the credits). Oddly enough, I noticed that Takashi Nakamura is listed as one of the animators. How did he get involved in this??

There used to be a really cool page at that provided a bunch of key animation scans, including yellow-paper corrected key animation by Komatsubara. It was a really great site, but it seems to be gone now, perhaps due to the intervening release of the DVD in Japan about a year ago. Up until that it was a fairly unknown film. It had been badly treated on its original release, with just a few weeks in the theaters and virtually no publicity, so almost nobody had seen it, which was a shame considering the high quality work that went into it. Because of that there was a big fan movement behind the film right up until the DVD release, with lots of web pages devoted to getting the film better known, fans holding screening of the film, petitioning for its release on DVD and so on, which I guess finally bore fruit.

Saturday, August 7, 2004

06:29:46 pm , 441 words, 948 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Mind Game: Day One

Mind Game Official SiteSpent a lazy Saturday enjoying a cool breeze and listening to John Dowland songs.

Mind Game has now opened. Here a few snapshots of the man himself on the occasion of the talk he gave before the Cine Quinto première. He's flanked by the voice-actors Koji Imada (Nishi) and Toshio Sakata (Yan's father). Love the life-sized Yan-chan! After the talk Yuasa was off to the next stop on the campaign trail -- er, I mean... you know what I mean -- to present his next talk at the Osaka première.

Mr. Sakata was reported to have made a comment regarding ambitions towards something called the "Academy Award".

I've already read tons of Japanese reviews of the film from people who saw the preview screenings. One of the common threads throughout the reviews, besides the flood of superlatives, was the way many of them stated, without embarrassment, even proudly, that they left the theater in tears. Not tears of sadness, but of joy. I cried after Grave of the Fireflies, but those weren't tears of joy. I can't think of a film that has ever made me cry tears of joy.

One of my favorite reviews also happens to be the only negative one I've read so far. Well, nominally negative. After establishing his basic stance early on in the review, the reviewer goes on to write what, for the life of me, sounds like a rave review, capping it with the comment, "Damn, I feel like I'm handing ammunition to the enemy. In any case, there's no doubt that to certain people this film is going to be one of those rare towering masterpieces that comes along maybe once a decade, if you're lucky."

I've done my civic duty and purchased the Mind Game Remixed DVD, soundtrack and original manga, but they're all up on the top shelf until after dinner. In other words, I'm waiting until I see the film to look at them. From everything I've read, and from what I've seen of the manga, it appears to be a masterpiece in its own right, so I hope it gets translated after the movie comes out. It's clear that Robin Nishi is a truly original mind, and that his comic is one of the great Japanese comics of the last fifteen years. Which makes it all the more miraculous that a movie has been made of this manga, which was languishing in obscurity for ten years, and that the movie has reached equally towering heights in its own medium. A movie masterpiece from a comic book masterpiece. That's sort of like getting all the planets perfectly aligned.

Friday, August 6, 2004

04:33:47 pm , 931 words, 1429 views     Categories: Animation, OVA

Eternal Family

Studio 4°C's mini-mini-series Eternal Family (1997-8) is finally available, and thankfully not in a limited edition like many of Studio 4°C's releases. I've watched it twice now to catch everything and figure out the story. I could accept people complaing about the story, that it's not well developed, that it's difficult to follow; but really that's like complaining that Tarkovsky is slow. That's just the nature of the beast. It certainly isn't for everyone.

It's for me, though. I loved it. For me this is probably the first piece longer than 3 minutes by Studio 4°C that I felt truly reflected the real spirit of the studio. That unchecked experimental spirit that just throws in every interesting idea. Experiencing the labyrinthine world of this anime is similar to wandering around that crazy Beyond C web site of theirs.

The way the series came to be actually is pretty easy to figure out, once you've watched it all. I suppose that beforehand they set up the basic outline, maybe some details, just to have in the back of their minds; then they just came up with funny gags and let the person in charge of each episode have fun with the characters. That's really the heart of the series: letting the animators have fun with the basic premise and set of characters. One animator draws each episode. That's what I like most about this series. That every time you get to see the personality of an animator fully expressed.

One of the big reasons I was looking forward to this was to see Tatsuyuki Tanaka in action as an animator. He's one of those animators whose reputation far outpaces the actual volume of his work. Since he drew his first key animation in Battle Royale High School (the one cut of the school exploding) he did Tetsuo's arm in Akira, then the classic smoke-through-the-nostrils scene in Download, the opening gunfight of Green Legend Ran, and the dojo fight in Hakkenden #9... but not that much else. Since then doing Eternal Family five years ago he's been busy working on his feature film debut at Studio 4°C, as well as drawing illustrations and manga. (Tanaka's fertile imagination also being the reason why he's been called on to do a lot of layout and conceptualization work for various anime, like Roujin Z.) So the fact that the total number of cuts (shots) he's animated can practically be counted on the hands and feet goes far to suggesting the special, truly outstanding quality of his animation. For animation buffs like myself, he's remained an animator first and foremost, so it's been lonely not seeing him animating, and I hope he comes back to animation one day.

Here I think he's done some of his best work. I have a list of exactly what he did in his episodes thanks to a memo on Yuichiro Oguro's diary, though his episodes are easily identifiable once you've seen the whole thing through twice.

11 - Dad apologizing to doll (animation)
13 - Mom doing aerobics (animation)
19 - Changing the lightbulb (animation)
20 - Fishtank (storyboard, directing, animation)
24 - Family in the water (animation)
29 - Children finding doll (storyboard, animation)
32 - 2 million reward offer (storyboard, animation)
38 - Dad bellydancing (storyboard, animation)
44 - This way to the bathroom (storyboard, animation)
52 - Crazy boss dance (animation)
53 - Dad running (animation)

The most conspicuous is #20, for which he did everything. The ideas, the layout, the sepia tone - everything is totally, unmistakably the work of Tatsuyuki Tanaka. It's like one of his drawings come to life. Animation-wise the most impressive are the ones where Tatsuyuki draws vigorous body motion, eg, the episodes with mom and dad dancing. I was stunned, to be honest. I knew he was incredibly good, but I wondered if his work here would measure up to his other work. Not only does it measure up, it proves decisively that he's one of the best animators of realistic physical motion in Japan. This is one of those guys who was good right from his very first key animation. After his fourth episode he storyboarded most of his episodes, and the wonderful atmosphere he creates via his storyboarding leaves one feeling one has had a tantalizing foretaste of what is to come in his film, if it ever gets done.

Interesting to notice that here he was given another underwater scene to animate. Presumabily this is due to the excellent quality of the underwater scene he did just before in Noiseman. There's a part in the latter where there's a psychedelic, distorted zoom-in on the protagonist's eye. It looks like it could have been done by CG or camera tricks, but no, he drew it all himself. Another animator from Noiseman we find here again is Jiro Kanai, with whose work I'm not well enough versed to be able to pick it out.

And I'm happy to even see Aoki Yasuhiro! He's one of my latest discoveries, if you'll rememember my comments on his episodes of Studio 4°C's current TV show Tweeny Witches. Eternal Family is his earliest work I know of, coming as it does a few years before Animatrix, which was immediately followed by Tweeny.

Also, one of the things that makes the series work despite its very one-off, fragmentary nature, is the zaniness of the writing. Even when the jokes are really crass, they're funny because of the deftness with which they're presented. I got the same feeling from certain episodes of Samurai Champloo - which? Yes, Dai Sato's. He co-writes the series with director Koji Morimoto.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

05:55:22 pm , 1041 words, 1828 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Yasuo Otsuka documentary

First of all, thanks to Cartoon Brew and Alan for really nice write-ups of my blog!

My ship came in from the Amazon a few days ago, and so far I've had a chance to watch Eternal Family and the Yasuo Otsuka documentary I talked about in a previous post. Seeing as I'd mentioned a lot of Otsuka's animation in the Toei Doga posts, I thought I'd start with the latter. Everyone with an interest in either Toei Doga or Ghibli or anime history or even just animation in general should pick up this documentary if it's tempting. It's got English subs, and it's a solidly-made documentary offering a good look into how a master animator animates.

The film progresses in simple chronological order, beginning with Otsuka's childhood sketching steam locomotives, and ending with his latest endeavor as the head of Telecom Animation's online animation school Anime Juku. For me the most moving part of the film was seeing Otsuka in action drawing Goemon. I was impressed by the speed with which his pencil flies through the drawings, and the perfect clarity with which he explains how he comes up with the movements. This is what makes him a great teacher -- a knack for knowing how to clearly articulate his methods, and showing you exactly how to do it. It was also really neat to see him flipping through his old childhood sketchbooks. I already knew that he had taught himself how to draw by continually sketching jeeps and trains and things from an early age, but they were far more impressive than I'd imagined. It makes you realize that certain talents really are more nature than nurture.

As a fan of Otsuka, it was nice to finally get to see the real live Otsuka, after having reading so much about him and seen just about everything he's done. He comes across as just the sort of warm and effusive person you would imagine from his work. Maybe that's something that can be said about most great animators -- that their personality comes through in their work. It can certainly be said about Mori (viz Otsuka's interesting comments about Mori's "introverted" and Daikubara's "extroverted" drawings) and about Toei Doga-era Miyazaki, with all his barely restrained energy and free-flowing ideas.

As I thought, the film also doubles as a good capsule history of Toei Doga, covering a lot of the basics covered in Otsuka's autobiography (and my posts), even delving quite deeply into Yasuji Mori's importance. Also, watching this film really makes you want to try your hand at animation. Otsuka's openness is very encouraging. The way the film steps you through the process of animation, one drawing at a time, at various moments throughout -- particularly so the scene where Otsuka goes through the entire process of conceptualizing and drawing Goemon drawing his sword -- really gives you a feeling for the rush of creating movement from still drawings; or, as the film's title is cleverly translated, JOY IN MOTION. It was so nice to see those students tittering in innocent glee upon seeing the sequence they just drew move, "My drawings moved!" and to hear Otsuka respond "That's the reaction we all had when we started out as animators."

One thing that I learned from the film was that Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Gainax regular and CD of Evangelion) got into animation due to Otsuka, having joined Telecom circa 1984 as a student in order to study under Otsuka (they showed his impressive student pieces), which creates an intriguing link between Otsuka and the animation in Honneamise.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is the one where Otsuka is giving a lecture at the Multimedia Art Institute. What he says in this scene captures one of the things I like about Otsuka's approach, and conversely, what I dislike about most anime, so I'm going to transcribe the english subs for the scene here.

While drawing on a white board to explain how most people draw characters in Japan:

Everyone tries for perfection. Nine out of ten draw these beautiful characters. They put in a lot of details with a fine pen. You've all seen this kind of character. They add pretty highlights to the eyes. They pick a hair style. The person at the next desk is doing the same. Maybe ponytails, or parted in the middle. Here's what I do with a character like this. I just fill in the eyes. Add a nose, eyebrows and a mouth. Takes a few seconds to draw. That's a character too. If you follow the crowd, you won't think of this. Everyone in Japan draws the same big eyes. Cute hairstyles with lots of detail. Maybe this looks like heresy. But it's original. It stands out.

It's funnier when you're watching it.

Finally, listening to Otsuka urging students at Ghibli to learn to draw things roughly, quickly, freely -- to learn not only the virtues but the appeal of rough drawings -- I got to wondering what Otsuka will think of Mind Game. Because I can't think of a Japanese animated film in the last decade that better embodies the ideas Otsuka talks about in this film. At least, that's my interpretation. Mind Game goes much further than Otsuka would, admittedly, and towards altogether different horizons, but I think the fundamental idea behind the film -- the thrill of animation that effectively integrates kinetics -- comes from Otsuka, if you go to the fountainhead. Yes, I've heard of Disney, but, as this documentary reveals, Otsuka was an assiduous student of animation techniques who, while learning the ropes at Toei Doga, slowly and carefully studied and digested everything that came before him (he copied out by Preston Blair's Animation by hand as a mnemonic aid!), thereby gradually discovering his own very distinctive and personal approach to animation -- sparer yet more realistic, rougher yet more thrilling -- that was to go on to exert a major influence on all Japanese animation that followed. So, if you go out on a limb with me here, it's not too difficult to see in Mind Game merely another stage in the evolution of the style pioneered by Otsuka. But I'll leave that thought in the interrogative.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

04:38:11 pm , 801 words, 745 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Only two more days till Mind Game!

Mind Game Official SiteI'll be keeping an eye on things to follow people's reaction over there as Mind Game finally hits the cineplexes -- er, I mean the cinematheques. All the difference in the world, unfortunately. Let's hope word of mouth will get those seats filled. The film will almost certainly reach at least discerning moviegoers looking for the most original film of the year, but I hope it reaches much, much more people than that, because it's a movie with the scope to speak to just about anyone, not just cinephiles. Whenever the movie hits our theaters -- which it should, due to the Joel Silver thing (sometime next year hopefully?) -- I'm hoping word of mouth (well, the internet) will have done at least a bit to help towards getting people out to see the film. This is one of those rare cases when the underdog has shown that he can make a film 10 times better than the big guns, so it absolutely deserves the whole-hearted support of fans.

To help build up the excitement, I thought I'd pass along an amazing anecdote that comes to me via Anime Style; more specifically, from Dezore-san, el capitán of the Mind Game Cheerleader Squad (応援団), of which I happen to be enlistee #00001!

There he was, strolling along in the broiling heat one summer's day around Asagaya, when suddenly he remembered, "Hey, Madhouse is around here!" So he decided to head over to sneak a peek at the famous studio. As he was walking along the main road, he began to notice the festive sound of a taiko being drummed, and caught sight of a group of figures standing by the side of the road wearing matching jogging sweats, apparently rehearsing some kind of cheer routine. On each of their backs was embroidered a set of mysterious golden letters, such as "MM" and "DN" and "DH". Baffled, he continued to watch. When all eight figures finally turned their backs to him, he was finally able to see all the letters lined up properly, and he was stunned to realize what the letters said: "MADHOUSE MINDGAME".

He later learned that these madmen were Madhouse employees out on the street advertising Mind Game. Apparently a certain famous Madhouse producer had seen the test screening and been so overwhelmed and moved by the experience that he decided to start a Mind Game Cheerleader Squad!

Don't beleive me? Look at Madhouse's home page: They've put up a "SPECIAL!!" page to support Mind Game!

Do you realize? Madhouse had nothing to do with Mind Game. They were just so friggin' amazed by the film that they decided they were going to start doing tons of activities to support the film and get people to see it!! Like standing out on the road during the Tokyo summer wearing sweats with "MADHOUSE MINDGAME" written on the back!!! I'm pretty sure this is a first, folks. A studio going all out to publicize a film they had nothing to do with. Maybe now you realize the magnitude of the event at hand. I've never heard of a film that has the power to energize people this way.

Way to go, Madhouse!! Rah rah rah!

I was so moved by this that I'm going to translate the text on their page for you (I know it sounds wooden, but I'm trying to keep it literal):

Mind Game, the new movie by genius animator Masaaki Yuasa, opens shortly on August 7. What Masaaki Yuasa has created here in this film, which is staffed by the cream of the crop of today's animators and features the offbeat voice talents of the Yoshimoto Kogyo, is nothing short of a colossal masterpiece. After dying a humiliating and pointless death, the hero of our story, Nishi, ignoring God's pleas, hurtles himself back to life in a mad dash of sheer will power, vowing this time to live life to its fullest, "straight ahead, with everything I've got!" How will Nishi deal with all the hurdles thrown in his path?! Uninhibited imagination and astonishing storytelling combine with a massive impact that will invite tears of gratitude! A visual experience of super-colossal proportions awaits you!!


With that out of the way, well, there you have it: We've decided to start a Madhouse Mind Game Cheerleader Club. Nobody asked us, we just wanted to. Isn't it normal to want to support something that's good? How can I convey these feelings? We just had to express our support somehow. Even on the sidelines is fine, just please let us!! Anyway, that's all for our first column. Today was just an introduction to the film, but next time we'll start telling you about the many activities we have in store to cheer the hell out of this film, so check back in a while.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

12:03:33 pm , 455 words, 1333 views     Categories: Animation

Goku no Daiboken DVD box

Scenes from episode 4I made a statement in a previous post about how the Japanese aren't very good with extras on their DVDs. Well, one exception is the recent DVD box release of the classic Goku's Big Adventure (悟空の大冒険 / Goku no Daiboken), my favorite PTA-boycotted anime series (which I talked a bit about in the context of my Masami Hata filmography). This release is actually pretty emblematic of a new trend of releasing impressively produced DVD box sets of classic old anime series. Presumably fans over there have played a large part in bringing this about.

The Goku set is surely one of the most impressive releases so far. Usually in a good case you may get some extra archive material, maybe some bonus footage, maybe an interview. Well here they dug up an entire episode that got produced but never aired, and hence was not released on previous occasions, like for the LD box.

I've talked about episode 4 in my review of the series, the way it's one of the single most striking and unforgettable anime episodes I've ever seen, considering the date at which it was made. Well, the bonus episode in question was also done by Osamu Dezaki, the person who did episode 4, and reportedly it goes infinitely further in terms of exactly the things that made episode 4 so great: the elliptical storytelling, the surreal humor, the joyously cynical satire, the political subtext. So far, in fact, that the TV station flat out refused to air it.

That's the main attraction of this release, but as an added bonus the DVD set even includes the comic version of episode 4 drawn by Dezaki and published at the time. Needless to say, until now it has been merely an obscure footnote that nobody had the chance to see anymore. Nobody even knew there was a missing episode until now. All in all, this DVD set is great news for one of the greatest anime series ever.

This is just the sort of value-added purchasing incentive that you'd excpect from a box set, and you could never have expected something like this from a US production due to the rarity of the source material. So it's a really welcome release. The only problem being the exorbitant cost of DVDs in Japan. Japanese LDs were outrageously priced, and I hoped, moving into the DVD era, that Japanese DVDs would be more moderately priced, but by and large, especially compared with prices over here, such has not turned out to be the case. Owning the LD box already as I do, $500+ is simply too much to pay for 23 minutes of anime and a comic. And it seems highly unlikely that a series like this will ever be released here. Oh well.

Monday, August 2, 2004

06:43:54 pm , 288 words, 1363 views     Categories: Animation

Animatrix key animator memo

I'm always trying to remember who was in what in Animatrix, so here's a simple memo of the ones that interest me.

Kid's Story
CD/AD: Shinji Hashimoto
KA: Hidetsugu Ito, Shinya Ohira, Kazuto Nakazawa, Hideki Hamasu, Miwa Sasaki, Norio Matsumoto, Shin'ichiro Yamada, Masashi Ando, Yasuhiro Irie, Osamu Tanabe, Norimoto Tokura, Kyuma Oshita, Shinji Hashimoto, Chie uratani

This lineup never fails to amaze me. Ohira's chase. Matsumoto running into the bathroom. Hashimoto landing on his feet. I wonder who did breakfast? Nakazawa?

In an interview about the piece Hashimoto made the statement, "If you've got good key animators, you don't need an animation director." Which sums up what I like about the piece. You really get to see everything in the raw.

AD: Takeshi Honda
CD: Koji Morimoto/Takeshi Honda
KA: Makoto Yamada, Satoru Utsunomiya, Ken'ichi Yamaguchi, Jiro Kanai, Ushio Tazawa, Hideki Futamura, Hideki Sekiguchi, Yasuhiro Aoki, Isao Oishi, Chie Uratani, Atsuko Fukushima, Yumi Chiba, Takeshi Honda, Daisuke Nakayama, Koji Morimoto

Honda's AD is so good it's hard to figure out who did what. (where's my smirk smiley?) The only one I can guess at is Utsunomiya - talking on the phone?

Second Renaissance
AD/CD: Mahiro Maeda/Hideki Futamura
KA: Yuichi Tanaka, Mahiro Maeda, Yuichi Takayama, Chie Uratani, Taro Takagi, Hideki Futamura, Hiroshi Nakanishi, Takeshi Honda, Naoto Takemoto, Daisuke Nakayama, Hideki Sekiguchi, Masae Nakayama, Kazuya Nomura, Jiro Kanai, Yasuhiro Aoki, Masaji Tada, Minoru Murao, Toyohiro Okada, Kazuto Nakazawa, Hiroyuki Okuno, Yasushi Muraki, Takehiro Noda

Interesting to notice Yasuhiro Aoki in both Second Renaissance and Beyond now that I've seen Tweeny Witches. I wonder how long he's been active? I've always wondered who did the part where the robot lady gets attacked on the street. Honda? Maeda?

Sunday, August 1, 2004

05:19:34 pm , 312 words, 1893 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Movie



Honey: A short film by Evan Cagle

Today I have the pleasure of being able to bring your attention to a remarkable new independent animation project. Honey, the debut creation of Austin-based independent animator Evan Cagle, announces itself as one of the most distinguished fruits to come to bear from the cultural cross-pollination that is the west's ongoing love-affair with that nebulous and enigmatic thing we call anime.

Not here the litany of clichés that more often than not defined the stillborn assays of other western fans, but rather a thoroughly original creation informed by a compelling and well-defined vision that immediately convinces. Nor is it a corporate co-opting of a profitable fad, but an individual labor of love borne of inner necessity; a moving personal tribute to the artistic creation of another culture.

I can't help but be reminded of a certain man who planted trees as I contemplate the vast labor embodied by the film in its present state. Simply consider that one person worked for several years in total obscurity to produce the images you see in the trailer (which is only a fraction of the extant material). Every background; every drawing; everything was done by one person. The final product successfully combines 3D animation with designs that look and feel hand-drawn to produce evocative, moody visuals that are quite pleasurable, and leave one looking forward to the full story.

Honey is an independent production; the work of one person. But there is only so much one person can do, in terms of effort and in terms of financial self-sacrifice, no matter how dedicated. Which is why a studio has been formed, and they are now looking for animators to help complete the film. So hop on over to the newly-created web site and have a look at the impressive trailer, and then help spread word about this film by telling your friends about it.

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