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: December 2004, 11

Saturday, December 11, 2004

11:33:10 pm , 967 words, 2431 views     Categories: Animation


I've been hearing a lot about Minna no Uta recently, though I can't see it over here. Tomomi Mochizuki (dir), Katsuya Kondo (anim) and Naoya Tanaka (art) did this month's piece.

I finally saw the Sci-Fi Harry op, and it looks suspiciously like Ohira from Hakkenden and Ghiblies. Unfortunately nobody wants to reveal the identity of Shinnosuke Harada (dir/storyboard/AD), so I can't say for sure - not even Shinji Hashimoto, who admits to being one of the animators, who were collectively credited as "Harada-gumi" because of some kind of restriction from other obligations at the time. It'd be neat to see the same team do a Minna no Uta episode. But I won't hold my breath. It's quite an incredible piece, reminiscent of Shinji Hashimoto's Kacho Oji op.

For the longest time I've wanted to see a 20-minute film called Sea Cat that was made at Oh Production in 1988 by Toshitsugu Saida, the studio's star animator who did Gauche. The story is about a cat who gets lost at sea, is raised by a sea otter, and is finally abducted by a UFO when a war breaks out and the oceans are evaporated by a nuclear holocaust. What's interesting about the film, besides the story, is the production method: each shot was done by a different animator. They went around looking for animators who were interested in contributing a shot of animation; when they found one, the animator would do the shot, and they'd be off to look for another to do the next shot, and so on until it was done. At twenty minutes, the animator credit list must be quite long. It's a fascinating idea, and I'd really like to see the result. Like Gauche, it was more of an independent pet project than a typical corporate-sponsored anime project. And also like Gauche, it was not distributed theatrically as is normally done with a film, but instead lent out for small screenings, in what they call "hall projection". So unless Anido decides to release it, it will probably never see the light of day. The spirit of its production is very close to that of Gauche: slowly, on the side, as a labor of love. I've heard of entire shorts that were done by one animator, but this is an amusing reversal of that extreme. I get zero hits in Google, so I guess I won't be seeing it soon. It's a shame, because it sounds interesting. Oh Pro is a neat studio.

Somewhat similar to Sea Cat in terms of having been produced by studio animators on the side, outside of the well worn tracks laid down by a monolithic production-and-distribution system, is a short feature from almost two decades earlier: Tsuru no Sugomori (Nesting Cranes), a 17-minute "hall" film completed in 1971. Situated in a crane community on a faraway desert island, it tells the story of two nesting cranes whose death at the hands of a weasel is avenged by their closeknit brotherhood of cranes. It was produced by the Japan Broadcasting Industry Labor Union, which enlisted more than 80 union animators at Toei Doga and various other major studios for a period of 3 years to complete the highly symbolic film. Based on the date of release, it can be presumed that production would have begun immediately after the theatrical release of Horus, a film that was deeply rooted in the trials and tribulations of the labor union activism of the syndicated animators who would in turn produce Tsuru no Sugomori. At the head of the creative end was A Pro animator Tsutomu Shibayama, who wrote, directed and was animation director. Over the period during which this film was produced, he would have been primarily occupied with the A Pro classics Moomin and Tensai Bakabon alongside ex-Toei Doga animator Yasuo Otsuka, who, on the other hand, as far as I know, was not involved. This is another intriguing curiosity that has long been and remains utterly unknown and unavailable.

Another similarly tantalizing long-lost project in which Otsuka was involved, and in a big way, was Sogen no Ko Tenguri (Tenguri, Boy of the Plains), a 1977 PR short commissioned by Snow Brand Milk Products. Intended as a way of explaining the historical origin of cheese to kids sightseeing the company factories, it tells the story of a boy living in a village on the Mongolian grasslands who decides to release his beloved pet calf into the wild to save her from being killed and eaten by the villagers, who know of no other way to survive the harsh winter than to kill their livestock. Many years later, when he has grown up, he meets the calf again, now grown into a cow, and learns from her the secret that will make it possible for Tenguri's people to put the killing behind them. This was Yasuo Otsuka's first directing project. Like Cagliostro, it had to be produced in an extremely short time span, in this case one month, and in adverse conditions that had a permanent curbing effect on Otsuka's directing ambitions, which since the experience of Horus he had largely been abandoned anyway. This caused Otsuka to appraise the project negatively in retrospect. Nonetheless, it features work by most of the luminaries of the ex-Toei Doga group at that period - Hayao Miyazaki did a third of the layout, Yoichi Kotabe animated the protagonist, and Yoshio Kabashima animated the calf - and it is one of only two films directed by Otsuka, so there is clearly merit for releasing it, yet it is not currently available to the public in any format (it has been released on that outrageously-priced DVD set). In this case, it can be expected that this will in all probability happen one day, since a DVD release already exists.