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.
August 2004
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Archives for: August 2004, 09

Monday, August 9, 2004

04:54:55 pm , 282 words, 1009 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, 7255 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.