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, 11

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

08:13:20 pm , 863 words, 2566 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.