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, 10

Thursday, February 10, 2005

08:09:35 pm , 77 words, 1457 views     Categories: Animation

News from Venice

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, 2191 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.