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: February 2005

Sunday, February 27, 2005

01:27:49 am , 422 words, 3067 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

The Animation Show 2005

For those of us who don't go to festivals, the Animation Show is a nice chance to see a sampler of recent high-quality shorts from around the globe up on the big screen for once, and to support independent animation at the same time. I suppose it's a little naive for me to be surprised how many people were at the screening, but it was a nice thing to see anyway. Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt were on hand for a Q&A afterwards, and we got treated to some impromptu King of the Hill. I wasn't aware that they were going to be there, which was an added bonus for me.

The selection was more solid than I'd expected, but then it goes to reason when you hear that they whittled it down to 10 from 1022. So much animation is being made these days! I mainly wanted to see Guard Dog, because the teaser had made me laugh tears, but everything was worth seeing, even the CGI films. At the opposite end, Don Hertzfeldt spent four years animating The Meaning of Life, and, as a disclaimer at the end reads, "No computers were used in the making of this film." Kind of inspiring to see how much he can get out of stick figures and pencil and paper. I kind of wish I'd asked how he created the mezmerizingly beautiful starry effects near the end of the film, because until I saw the disclaimer I was thinking it was CGI. Interesting also was that Don stated that parts of the film were thought up along the way during that long four-year trek, so that it kind of evolved naturally. Pan With Us struck me as the most inventive and awe-inspiring, The Man with no Shadow as the most visually appealing, with its tour-de-force constant-moving-perspectives, warm coloring and flowing narrative style. I'd wanted to see When the Day Breaks by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis since I'd first seen a few pieces of it some years ago on the web and been totally taken by the look and feel of it, and I was not disappointed by the film itself, which was probably the most satisfying film in the show to me. It's great that Mike and Don had the good sense to get this film from 1999, the only one of the selection dating from more than 3 years, the distribution it deserved. That consideration was the other selection criterion after submissions. Everyone will have their own favorite, so you can't go wrong.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

08:34:47 pm , 376 words, 1406 views     Categories: Animation

A Scanner, Darkly

I'm kind of looking forward to this. (Thanks, Phil)

http://movies.yahoo.com/movies/feature/ascannerdarklyqt.html

It looks to be a slicker and hyper-detailed version of the animation process of Waking Life, with the added bonus of famous Hollywood actors and a plot. I actually quite liked the way Waking Life was devoid of both of those. When I first saw that film, it was one of the few times in my life I felt I'd seen something really new in animation, despite it being what most people would look down on as mere rotoscoping. I felt Linklater had managed to go beyond that criticism. Whatever reservations I might have had about it as animation, as a film it worked visually. Animation is just another form of filmmaking, of images in time, and I think people in animation tend to lose sight of that - of what is interesting and what works as a form of visual creation. Instead they fall back on the same old methods, and I felt Linklater's film shed light on that problem. I always felt that the most interesting new ideas in animation tend to come from people from other fields, and this was a good example. Interestingly, Satoru Utsunomiya is a big fan of the film.

Ran across that old Shinji Hashimoto interview for Animatrix. I'd forgotten all about it, so I'll make a link here. Not often you get interviews in English with interesting animators like this.

http://www.intothematrix.com/rl_cmp/rl_interview_hashimoto.html

Speaking of films in the works, I've always wondered what happened to Keita Kurosaka's Midori-ko, an hour-length film he's been working on for years. I heard that it was due for completion several years ago, but I haven't heard anything about it since. I'm still hoping to get to see his other films eventually. They sound quite unique and more experimental than those of the typical Japanese independent.

And Kihachiro Kawamoto's site reports that The Book of the Dead is now in the editing phase and is due for completion next month. It was animated at the Hachioji campus of the Tama Art School, where they just finished the wistful task of dismantling the various apparatuses and paraphernalia used in production.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

01:20:38 pm , 754 words, 2445 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Nobutake Ito

Ghibli has a new Yomiuri Shimbun ad airing, and I was right that the first one from last year was done by Osamu Tanabe, because so is this one.

Nobutake Ito 伊東伸高 was in S. Champ. 21, and a thoroughly Ito episode it was. The Suzuki brothers were there, and the extended chambara was excellent, with a different flavor from Nakazawa's. The finale was a truly exhilirating animated twirl that just screamed Ito's very special talent. Ito did a similar spiral moving action in one of his earlier episodes. Although different in style from his work in Mind Game, the scene was what one would expect from someone who brought to life the incredible velocity of Yuasa's escape sequence, which is perhaps the major animated sequence of Ito's career thus far, where animation, directing and theme combine to truly electrifying effect. I was mildly reminded of Hamaji's Resurrection while watching, in terms of the atmosphere and the treatment of the characters, but it never went as far as Ohira did, much as I was hoping it would. You can see that tendency there. I got to wondering if he even bothered to correct the faces in certain spots, so obvious was the focus on the movement. It would have been nice to see Ito's Hamaji's Resurrection, though that's probably impossible on this show. As of yet I haven't seen anything that felt like it was 100% Ito. Ito wasn't director, so that's a factor. Ito has directed/storyboarded episodes in other shows previously, and in a number of those he showed a very unique approach full of unusually-angled perspective shots, measured pacing, and a focus on packing in an amount of detailed character acting unusual for TV anime, for example in Dai Guard 22, that makes me want to see something from him that goes further in that direction, because there isn't anybody else with his uniquely appealing thin-lined shadowless style of drawing and knack for minutely detailed acting. Ito is one of those people who can be relied upon to always create animation that excites as animation.

1994
   Akazukin Chacha 39, 52, 69
      key animation

1995
   Nurse Angel Ririka SOS 2
      key animation

1996
   Ninku 44, 48, 50, 54, 55
      key animation
   Evangelion 23 (TV version)
      key animation

1997
   Battle Athletes
      1: animation director
      6: co-animation director, key animation
      10: animation director, key animation
   AIKa 1
      key animation
   Rekka no Honou 1
      key animation
   Shoujo Kakumei Utena 38
      key animation
   Generator Gaul
      3: key animation
      5, 12: animation director, key animation

1998
   Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo 10
      animation director
   Lodoss Wars 8
      key animation
   Cowboy Bebop 26
      key animation
   Gundam 08th MS Team: Miller's Report
      key animation
   Sentimental Journey 8, 11
      key animation
   Akihabara Dennogumi op
      key animation

1999
   Yamamoto Yoko 17
      animation director, storyboard, director
   Dai Guard 22
      animation director, storyboard
   Arc the Lad
      op key animation

2000
   Digimon 02: Hurricane Touchdown
      co-animation director
   Ojamajo Doremi #
      key animation
   Ah My Goddess
      key animation

2001
   Hiwou Senki 10
      animation director, storyboard

2002
   Palme no Ki
      key animation

2004
   Mind Game
      key animation
   Kimagure Robot 10
      storyboard, animation

2005
   Samurai Champloo
      9, 14: animation director
      17: animation help
      18: key animation
      21: animation director, key animation

Friday, February 18, 2005

12:25:43 pm , 1004 words, 6103 views     Categories: Animation

Gosenzosama Banbanzai

Here is a list of the key animators for the said 1989 OVA series, which is the only anime that has ever brought together all four of the animators mentioned by Ichiro Itano in that interview I mentioned.

This series was the first and last time Satoru Utsunomiya had the chance to put all of his unique ideas about animation undiluted into one film with a long time format. It should be sought out entirely on its own merits as one of the most original contributions to the evolution of anime in the last two decades. The ambition with which Utsunomiya approached the task still comes through after all these years. Even if it's hard to pin down exactly what it is that makes the animation unique, one senses that the animation is like nothing else one has seen elsewhere, not just in terms of the unique, puppet-like designs but also in terms of the movement. He had a completely free hand in this series, so that what we see here is more purely him than other films like Peek and Hakkenden, where a number of factors wound up cramping his style.

Utsunomiya has a holistic approach to the characters. He gets into their mind, gets to know their history, and the designs and movement spring forth from that. When this process is hindered for whatever reason, that thought process wounds up stalled. That is reportedly what happened with Peek: he was saddled with an unsatisfactory version of his original designs, and was thus less inspired with ideas about character movements.

Of course, Utsunomiya was the animation director in all of these films, and not an animator, so it's normal to be wondering why his films are talked about as if he was creating all the movements. The reason is, in Gosenzosama at least - where he was able to get into the characters, and had a director who allowed him to do as he knew was best for the quality of the production (including improvising a lot of movement that wasn't in the storyboard) - what he did was something of a reversal of what animation directors normally do. In the last episode, for example, where his correction schedule was comparatively tight (1 month), rather than correcting drawings of faces in close-ups, he did nothing but correct the movement. That's a reversal of normal procedure. That shows the degree to which he feels movement is the face of the character. Which is why, even in a film like Peek, every movement we see feels like it springs from the hand of Utsunomiya.

Lately Utsunomiya has been focusing on the capturing a feeling of natural movement by focusing on the unintended movements that make a movement feel real, and in Gosenzosama he was already consciously using a number of strategies to try to bring animation back closer to reality, such as placing shadows exactly where they should be according to the light source. Not surprising, then, how important a part shadows play in his latest film. Utsunomiya also brought a more three-dimensional approach to form to his animation than anyone had before, and that is probably one of the things that makes the animation in Gosenzosama feel so different. Without resorting to rotoscoping or increasing detail, Utsunomiya managed to breathe a new feeling of reality and life into his characters by discarding stylistic conventions and coming up with his own unique method using limited animation and simplified designs.

Besides the animation, this series has much else going for it. In fact, it's my own favorite item by the director, because, of all his works, it seems to come together the best as a whole, featuring him at his most eccentric and engaging. The script is a tour-de-force of outlandish theatricality that would not be out of place in a 1960s avant-garde theatre troupe's repertoire. It is matched by static directing that places the focus squarely on the figures walking around the stage, who are animated via a never-before-seen kind of theatrically expressive body movement that fully meets the severe demands placed by the gymnastics of the script. The visuals that result from this combination are quite unforgettable. Even the soundtrack is unique. Newspapers tear to the sound of shattering glass, and cows moo when chopsticks enter rice. The audio director was Chiba Shigeru, voice of the director's alter-egos Mendo and Shiba, who is the only voice-actor missing to complete the core Urusei troupe in this dystopian remake/pomo deconstruction.

As an added bonus, the opening is by Koji Nanke, the famous independent responsible for the Urusei openings, but the style here is closer to Fischinger than his earlier work. It would be nice to see a collection or retrospective of his work one day.

The obvious feature of the animator list is perhaps that there are 5 times as many animators in the last episode as in the first. Which perhaps makes sense, since the schedule was reportedly six months for the first episode, and two and a half or so for the rest. What impresses, then, is how much it's possible to acheive with a small number of talented animators.

1
Kusumoto Yuko, Tanaka Tatsuyuki, Yaginuma Kazuyoshi, Ohira Shinya, Tokiya Yoshinori, Futamiya Tsuneo

2
Kusumoto Yuko, Aoki Mariko, Oseki Noriko, Ohira Shinya, Tada Masashi, Tanaka Tatsuyuki, Hashimoto Shinji, Tokura Norimoto, Aoshima Katsumi

3
Yamashita Masahito, Aoki Mariko, Emura Toyoaki, Ohira Shinya, Kusumoto Yuko, Saga Satoshi, Tada Masashi, Tokura Norimoto, Murata Mitsunori, Yamauchi Eiko, Yamazaki Utako

4
Hashimoto Shinji, Aoki Mariko, Iso Mitsuo, Emura Toyoaki, Kusumoto Yuko, Hisataka Shiro, Tanabe Osamu, Tada Masashi, Yamauchi Eiko

5
Ohara Hidekazu, Emura Toyoaki, Okawa Hiroyoshi, Kusumoto Yuko, Saga Satoshi, Matsumoto Norio, Murata Mitsunori, Yamauchi Eiko, Yoshida Hidetoshi

6
Aoki Mariko, Aoshima Katsumi, Iso Mitsuo, Emura Toyoaki, Okawa Hiroyoshi, Oseki Noriko, Ohira Shinya, Ohara Hidekazu, Kise Kazuchika, Kusumoto Yuko, Hisataka Shiro, Saga Satoshi, Takeda Kazuya, Tanaka Tatsuyuki, Tanabe Osamu, Tada Masashi, Tokiya Yoshinori, Tokura Norimoto, Futamiya Tsuneo, Hashimoto Shinji, Futaki Makiko, Matsumoto Norio, Murata Mitsunori, Yamauchi Eiko, Yamazaki Utako, Yamashita Masahito, Yaginuma Kazuyoshi, Yoshida Hidetoshi, Washida Toshiya

Thursday, February 17, 2005

11:39:09 pm , 318 words, 2488 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Jack and the Beanstalk

A lot of rare anime oldies have been released on DVD over the last few years. One slated for release next month is Andersen Monogatari, the 1971 Mushi Pro TV series directed by Masami Hata the year after he worked as an animator alongside Gisaburo Sugii on the 2nd Animerama film, Cleopatra. Another unique western fairy tale anime adaptation from around that time is the 1974 movie Jack and the Beanstalk, Gisaburo Sugii's feature directing debut, made after he left Mushi Pro in 1973 following the third Animerama (or "Anime Romanesque") film, Belladonna, to co-found Group Tac with Atsumi Tashiro. The Animerama films have been re-released, but Jack and the Beanstalk has yet to turn up on DVD. Apparently it's going to be released over here before it is over there, as Tsuka points out. It deserves to be counted among the most unique films in anime history for the way it used the genre of the animated musical as a springboard to create a uniquely Japanese hybrid awash in moody directing, witty dialogue, and psychedelic animation. The makeup scene is high on the list of most erotic scenes in an animated children's film. Perhaps not too surprisingly, it's acheived mild cult status over here due to an old TV broadcast. Kids know good stuff when they see it. I hope the DVD release will include the great director's commentary that was included on the old Japanese LD release, which would offer a good chance for people to get to hear the voice of the real Gisaburo Sugii discussing one of his best films. The Japanese DVD re-issues of the Animerama films included the commentaries that were on the original LD releases of those films, and Gisaburo was one of the people on the voice-track for the third in the series, his Belladonna. Now if only some company would tackle that one, we'd finally have all of Gisaburo's best films available.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

12:07:53 am , 615 words, 2942 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Norimoto Tokura

I've been reading a recent interview with Ichiro Itano that goes into considerable detail about his past work, more than I've seen anywhere else. It's full of interesting anecdotes about his early days, like the way he got in trouble for constantly drawing limbs flying on Gundam, or the way he got personally recognized once by Tomino when he drew every drawing in a shot at full 24 frames, and the director of that episode got mad at him and changed it back to regulation limited, and he went behind the back of the director and changed it back, and the director got pissed at him in the screening room in front of Tomino, but Tomino loved what Itano had done and told him to ignore the director, calling him a "nobody" in memorable Tomino fashion. At the other end of the scale, he talks about his most recent work, the flight sequences for the Ultraman movie remake, which was so successful that he's currently doing the same for the new TV series. He comes across as extremely confident about the knowhow that his new team has built up since they started out with the impressive flight action in Macross Zero. He feels he'll soon be able to take on Hollywood. Itano has an amazing memory, is very talkative and seems to just exude energy. He's the kind of person for whom the word karisuma animator was made.

The surprise of the interview was when he mentioned just about my three favorite animators, Shinya Ohira, Shinji Hashimoto and Satoru Utsunomiya, lamenting the fact, as I often have myself, that there's nobody in the industry with the good sense to step in and get some situation set up that would put the incredible talent of these people to use by putting them at the head of some interesting projects. Anything rather than having Shinya Ohira drawing waves in The Prince of Tennis because they don't want him touching people. In the same sentence he included one figure I'm not familiar with, Norimoto Tokura 戸倉紀元. That got me curious. If he's good enough to stand comparison with those three, then I probably want to see his work. Upon a bit of investigation, it turns out he's been involved in many of the big Hashimoto/Ohira projects. He was in both eps 1 and 10 of Hakkenden as well as Kid's Story. I ran across one citation that noted a similarity between the film he worked on in the omnibus Ai Monogatari (which tellingly featured Masaaki Yuasa as an animator) and the only films on which Ohira and Hashimoto have had total creative control, their episodes in the OVA series Twilight Theatre. So for reference purposes, here's a list of some of his work as an animator, though I know nothing of his style and don't know anything specific about what he did.

1986
   Saint Seiya 5, 9
   Windaria

1987
   Mister Ajikko 47, 52

1988
   Char's Counterattack
   Dirty Pair OVA 4

1989
   Gosenzosama Banbanzai 2, 3, 6
   Ranma TV 3

1990
   Maroko
   Hakkenden 1
   Devilman OVA

1991
   Gundam F91

1992
   Tekkaman Blade 31, 36

1993
   Moldiver 2
   Ai Monogatari (AD)

1994
   Hakkenden 10
   Metal Fighter Miku 2, 5
   Ta-chan 33

1995
   Slayers Perfect movie

1996
   X

1997
   End of Evangelion
   Vampire Hunter

2001
   Metropolis

2003
   Captain Harlock 1, 3, 5, 6
   Gungrave op, 1, 5, 7, 12
   Last Exile 3, 7, 15
   Animatrix: Kid's Story
   Bomberman Jetters 52

2004
   Paranoia Agent 1, 13

2005
   Aquarion op

Saturday, February 12, 2005

02:35:06 am , 423 words, 3355 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Animator

Te Wei

A long time ago I ran across a tape of various Chinese animated shorts, and recall being rather mystified and delighted by the experience of watching it. The variety was impressive, and the quality of what was presented was undeniable. It reminded me that there are undoubtedly animated treasures like this buried in the vaults of many countries. I've now managed to re-see most of the shorts of Te Wei 特偉, one of the most renowned of China's art animators, two of whose films were featured on that tape. I feel I must have been blind not to have been completely bowled over by the flawless artistry and refined sensibility of The Cowherd's Flute 牧笛 (1963) when I first saw it. Perhaps I've made progress. It feels close to both Norstein and even moreso Frederic Back, and predates them both by a decade or so. The animation is incredibly minute and delicate. The ox moves with an otherworldly beauty and serenity. The traditionally inspired watercolor backgrounds are perfectly matched to the animation, so much so that I'm extremely curious to know how he did it. Two other films that came later that took their own approach to this I've mentioned before - Toei's Taro the Dragon Boy and Tadanari Okamoto's The Soba Flower of Oni Mountain. I would also be curious to know more about what was happening around Te Wei politically when he made this film, which is as pure and clear as spring water. But the film that impressed me the most was one I hadn't seen before, one made more than two decades later, his last as far as I'm aware: The Feelings of Mountains and Water 山水情 (1988). The film perfectly evokes the fragile beauty of the mythical mountains and rivers of ancient Chinese paintings, using a minimum of strokes to achieve the maximum effect - much in little indeed. Every moment works perfectly, with music and visuals combining to create a truly seamless and inspiring 20 minutes. This is among the most memorable animated shorts I've seen, and it's a wonder it isn't more well known. Te Wei made at least three other films, including the well known Where's Mama?, which also deserve to be seen. He established his own totally convincing and original approach to animation based on traditional forms, and his films reach across national boundaries and are still extremely compelling after all these years. There is no dialogue in his films, so technically nothing should prevent their being more well known, except lack of availability. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

08:09:35 pm , 77 words, 1446 views     Categories: Animation

News from Venice

http://www.labiennale.org/en/cinema/news/2005/02-09.html

In July 2004, Miyazaki finished directing Hauru no ugoku shiro (Howl's Moving Castle), an anime adaptation of the children's book by the English writer, Diana Wynne Jones, which obliged him to cancel a planned retreat as a result of the sudden death of the project's original director, Mamoru Hosoda.

I think I speak on behalf of Mamoru Hosoda when I say this: "The rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Thursday, February 10, 2005

02:57:47 pm , 953 words, 2157 views     Categories: Animation

Nanchatte Vampiyan

Before there was Cat Soup and Mind Game, there was Nanchatte Vampiyan. This TV pilot was Masaaki Yuasa's first foray into directing, so it serves as a good starting point for his current, mature period, which was preceded by his first decade in the industry working mainly as an animator. Having only just seen it for the first time, after having seen all of his subsequent work, first of all I'm surprised by the degree to which the patented Yuasa style that defines Cat Soup and Mind Game is already clearly and firmly established in his first film. This really is like a slapstick, light-hearted version of Cat Soup - or rather, it stands exactly between the wry humor of his Shin-chan work and the bleak nihilism of Nekojiru's fantasy world. The pacing, the timing, the ideas, the color, the stylization of the animation - everything is of the highest order, totally up to the level of quality of his followup, so anybody who couldn't get enough of Cat Soup should check it out. (though obviously the material is different; those are not his designs) An absolutely brilliant and delightful 18 minutes full of all sorts of original ideas that, looked back on now, foretells what was to come.

In a short span, he managed to do lots of things that I've never seen before in anime, and create a great self-contained film, which is surprising given that technically it wasn't even meant to be seen by audiences. (This naturally makes me wonder about the Slime Adventures short he directed next.) The reindeer made me laugh in a way that only the best Ren & Stimpy has ever made me laugh, and the finale was an extended soaring moving-perspective action sequence (natch, Yuichiro Sueyoshi was present as an animator) that one-upped the animated elation of Yuasa's early shorts for Chibi Maruko-chan and his great finale for the Shin-chan Hender Land film. This is what Yuasa talks about when he says he likes it when the character runs and the background moves with him. There's nothing out there that quite matches that giddy feeling you get when you soar around the screen with him during these animated roller-coaster rides. His shot in Champloo is but the most recent example.

One of the people in the credits is Shinji Arakawa (planning), who went on to direct the Vampiyan Kids TV series. He was visual designer of Windy Tales. He's most well known for the character design of IG's yarudora Yukiwari no Hana. Prior to the pilot he and Yuasa had already worked together for Shin'ei Doga on Shin-chan throughout the 90s. And at the very beginning of Yuasa's career, prior even to starting on Shin-chan, Arakawa and Yuasa had collaborated on a 30 minute OVA called Ahoy There, Little Polar Bear, an adaptation of a picture book by the Swiss Hans de Beer. Arakawa directed and wrote the short film, and Yuasa was animation director and character designer. There were only three key animators, and Yuasa is listed first. (another is Chie Uratani, who went on to join Studio 4°C) In interviews Yuasa talks about how he joined Ajia-Do because he thought he would have the chance to work on one-shot films that the studio regularly produced, and this is presumably one of those.

This being one of Yuasa's earliest projects, there are none of the hallmarks of the later Yuasa style. One of those hallmarks is the striking use of extreme perspective. There is virtually no perspective in this film. Much to the surprise of people who might imagine that that sort of thing came naturally to Yuasa, seeing how naturally he does it now, in fact perspective is something Yuasa relates he learned from Shinya Ohira while working on Hamaji's Resurrection, where Ohira famously made extremely free and original use of perspective, for example seemingly having two or three different vanishing points in some shots.

That said, the systematically stylized picture-book flatness of this film is extremely appealing, as is everything else about the film. The animation by Yuasa is wonderfully simple, with just the right nuances. The lilt in the jaunty walk of the city cats, the bear's cute lumbering walk, all of these are handled extremely well, with an eye for small details and a knack for making every little motion count in a way that is typically Japanese in its economy, yet bears no comparison with any contemporary anime in its look and spirit. The film's story is completely understandable without any dialogue, though some redundantly self-explanatory lines were added presumably as clues for small children. This is an early example of a trait of Yuasa's later work - wordless narration through images.

All in all, also a great little film, with its simple, slow pacing and delicate, lush images, though it's obviously aimed at small children. In many respects it falls in line with other similar short musical children's anime films like The Acorns and the Wildcat and the Unico pilot, films that stand out as among the most original and timeless anime I've ever seen - precisely because they're so innocuous and harmless at first sight, yet bear repeated viewing due to the great care with which they were made, and the style of narration where you just kind of float along with the music. I like these films because they're uninfected by either western or eastern stylistic conventions. Some of the most original and interesting animation has been made for children, as should be clear from the example of Tadanari Okamoto. Yuasa has mentioned that he wants to focus on children's fare in the future, which comes as less of a surprise when one knows his past work.

Monday, February 7, 2005

05:09:10 pm , 767 words, 2905 views     Categories: Animation, Animator: Yoshinori Kanada

Happy Birthday, Yoshinori Kanada

If you were to try to pin down the single most famous animator working in commercial Japanese animation over the last thirty years, it'd probably be Yoshinori Kanada, who turned 53 on Saturday. In various ways he fits the bill - influence, uniqueness of style, consistent quality. Regardless of whether people have seen his work, they tend to know his name due to numerous factors including the fact that he's been active as an animator continuously for more than 30 years, during which time he's been regularly covered in animation magazines and talked about among fans because of his revolutionary and inimitable style. This is remarkable considering that he's been active almost exclusively as an animator. There's almost nobody else for whom the same could be said. His fame is based purely on his animation. He was one of the first animators to gain a degree of recognition in the late 70s/early 80s as a unique creator entirely on the basis of his work as an animator, thus paving the way for other 'karisuma animators' who appeared on the scene in the years that followed in the early 80s, including Takashi Nakamura, Yamashita Masahito and Ichiro Itano; and later figures like Takeshi Koike and Hiroyuki Imaishi. He's among the few karisumas who's been continuously active for that long without getting distracted by directing, and there's no sign of him letting up.

Over here the name Yoshinori Kanada will most likely be known more than anything because of the fact that artist Takashi Murakami has included stills of Kanada's work in films like Genma Taisen and Galaxy Express 999 at exhibitions of his artwork, citing his work as an influence. Otherwise there are probably few fans who have a real idea of who he is as an animator. The reason for this is probably quite simply that, despite his massive output, most of the shows on which he worked have not been shown over here, so people haven't had the chance to get to know his work, and to follow its stylistic evolution, the way fans over in Japan have. What is available often does not show him at his most idiosyncratic and interesting; he was the main animator in most of the 80s Ghibli films, but what we see in these films is the ruly, slick version of Kanada, rather than the wild and unruly Kanada of Genma Taisen. There are exceptions; you can see Kanada at his most idiosyncratic best in Genma Taisen and Galaxy Express 999, and Birth was recently released over here. But these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Among the other places one can sample Kanada at his best are the opening of the 1981 TV series Ginga Kifuu Braiger, various late 70s/early 80s TV series like Zambot 3 (5, 10, 16, 22) and Don de la Mancha (6), and the 1992 OVA Download. I particularly recommend the early work, where he was still working out his style. This is when his work felt at its most dynamic and free, as he was in the process of gradually discovering the patented style that makes him so unique, with its rough drawings, extreme perspective, crazy posing and unpredictable timing. His work at its most extreme hasn't lost any of its power to surprise and delight in the intervening 30 years, despite the fact that his style is probably the most imitated in anime. Most of it is pale imitation beside the real thing. Seeing his work helps to understand where the animation in Dead Leaves came from, which is among the first anime successfully based on the Kanada style. It didn't appear out of a void. In 1994 he created the opening for the TV series Tottemo! Lucky Man (coming to DVD in a few months). This is a good introduction to Kanada's work, because it's from his later period, when he had honed his style to perfection, with even more exciting acrobatic posing and extreme perspective dynamism than his early work. Two years ago he did the Popolo Crois episode 6 and opening for the game Hanjuku Eiyu, both among his most characteristic pieces. This year he did the opening for the continuation of that game, which reportedly is no disappointment and goes even further than the previous in pushing the envelope of his style. It's good to see that Kanada hasn't abandoned the personal approach of his youth, perhaps heartened by the appearance of other unruly animators obviously influenced by Kanada's style in recent years. He's less prolific now, but still among the most interesting animators in Japan, and his impressive body of work deserves to finally be appreciated among fans over here.