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, 24

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

09:01:46 pm , 1296 words, 2894 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.