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: April 2005

Sunday, April 24, 2005

04:57:46 pm , 538 words, 4859 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Animator

Atsuko Ishizuka

By Buntzen LakePutting aside the various vexations that have thus far blessed this new year and the neverending scramble for work that is the lot of the freelance translator, yesterday I took advantage of the weather to inaugurate my hiking year by vanquishing the small mountain (AKA large hill) that is Eagle Peak by Buntzen Lake, Vancouver's oldest reservoir. Picked up the latest issue of Kyoto Journal along the way at the neighborhood grocery store that somehow miraculously stocks the magazine, though it's been months since I saw an issue there and thought they had dropped it. In the meantime it looks like I've missed an issue. I was amazed by their Street issue, #55, my favorite so far. Just found an interesting page about the Japanese art scene, though it would appear to be a thing of the past.

Madhouse put up an interview with Atsuko Ishizuka on their newly revamped Flash site. I had to revamp my computer's settings just to be able to read it because of an apparent font incompatability in the Flash design or something - it requires a Japanese system setting. The interview answers the question that had long been on my mind about how she got into animation in view of her unusual style that is largely untainted by anime conventions. Simply put, she didn't come from the usual background watching anime and so on - she grew up interested in music and in graphic arts, and after considering which to specialize in, decided on design and entered an arts school where as a project she was offered the choice of creating video, which she chose simply because it offered her the chance to combine her two areas of interest. Thus she arrived at animation by an unusual route - from the fundamentals, as it should be, rather than the pervasive end product, which is undoubtedly what makes her work feel so different.

The sequence of events that led to the making of the Minna no Uta music video Tsuki no Warutsu (The Moon Waltz) late last year is also rather unusual. While in college she had created a number of short animated films entirely on her own, outside of classes, for the pleasure of it, and one of these, Gravitation, was featured on Digital Station, which along with another of her shorts brought her to the attention of that other NHK mainstay of independent animators, Minna no Uta, who were appreciative enough of the films that they decided they wanted her to animate one of their songs. However, by that time she had become a Madhouse employee, for which reason she felt it wouldn't have been right to accept a job on an individual basis, so she turned them down. But they were persistent and managed to convince Madhouse, an animation company, after all, to take on the project with her at the head - unusual considering her current position in the company, a production assistant. Though personally I'd think she has what it takes to make it on her own as an independent, Madhouse is an accomodating company, so hopefully we'll be able to see more work like this from them in the future that allows her unique aesthetic to come through.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

08:50:17 pm , 2157 words, 4565 views     Categories: Animation

Ken the Wolf Boy

As rumored, one of the questions on the "enquete" in the Toei Monochrome Kessakusen Vol. 1 is which show you'd like to see released in its entirety of the shows in the set. They'll be releasing one as a box based on the results. After seeing the set, I'm hoping for Ken the Wolf Boy (November 1963-August 1965, 86 eps) myself, much to my own surprise as a Yasuji Mori fan. Hustle Punch (November 1965-April 1966, 26 eps) was great as well, but Ken seems the more historically important and substantial.

Both first episodes are must-see to fans of historical animation. I think people would be surprised how interesting and well-done they are. The humor holds up and there's literally about four times as much animation per ep as the Mushi Pro animation that was being made at the same time, say about 4000 cels at Toei Doga to 1000 at Mushi Pro. Which is a bad thing for the company, but good for us.

Not to reveal my age, but I was watching the first episode of Ken for the first time. Show of hands: How many people out there saw it when it first aired, as suggested by the catchphrase on the cover? ("The animation we grew up with") As for how I liked it, I was surprised to find that I absolutely loved it. I haven't laughed so much watching an anime episode in a long time. Simply put, it worked great as an episode in every respect. It wasn't camp laughter either. The script was very funny (Takashi Iijima of Animal Treasure Island) and the humor still works. The animation was incredibly active and always interesting. The situation and characters were original and interesting. Overall it held my interest at all times. I can't say that for most anime being made nowadays.

The situation and characters were interesting and original because they weren't based on a manga. They were created by Sadao Tsukioka. Yasuji Mori did the same for Hustle Punch in 1965. Soon enough Toei would start basing their shows on manga, for obvious synergy reasons. And Tsukioka, as I've mentioned before, was the main pillar of the series, animating and directing many of the episodes almost single-handedly. Considering the effort this requires, I was always suspicious if the episodes would work, but my suspicions were misplaced.

Tsukioka is probably the first truly great animator of the early limited era, and he exemplifies what's best about Toei's take on limited. Where with Mushi Pro we were really talking limited - stills for most of the time - Tsukioka focuses on coming up with interesting movement rather than pretty drawings, as you'd expect from an animator raised at a studio that had focused on full animated features up until that point. In the interview with Yoichi Kotabe and Reiko Okuyama on the Hustle Punch disc Kotabe talks about how the animators didn't really approach the job as real animation - they were just having fun, biding their time until they could get back to their real job as feature animators (they started working on Punch right after Horus was put on hold). I don't know whether it's despite or because of that, but the result is that these early shows are probably among the most interesting of the period in terms of the actual animation. This was the most active limited money could buy at the time.

Tsukioka seems to have taken hints from lots of places that were doing limited at the time, including Mushi Pro but also overseas studios, to come up with his own take on limited that feels unlike anything that was being done elsewhere, and that connects to what Yasuo Otsuka would go on to do in Lupin and so on. Otsuka himself was involved as an animator throughout the series, and Tsukioka is obviously one of the major figures contributing to his stylistic maturation. Interesting since just before Tsukioka had done the inbetweens for Otsuka's scene in Little Prince, yet here he's the one showing the way.

Otsuka is the only animator credited on two episodes on the disc, including one directed by Isao Takahata (14). I don't know how many other figures managed to do solo episodes like that, but Otsuka was definitely one of the first. There are three inbetweeners listed on the first ep (including Teruto Kamiguchi and Toshio Hirata, who soon went over to Mushi Pro) which works out to about 1000 drawings/person. Now you can imagine the powerhouse that was Otsuka - that's 3000-4000 drawings entirely by himself per episode. There was probably nobody else at the time who singlehandedly managed to packed this much animation into a single episode besides Otsuka. I assume there must be episodes done entirely by Tsukioka as well, though I'm not sure if anybody else did the same.

Otsuka's work is great as well, but Tsukioka already felt fully mature in his work in the first episode. The drawings are amazingly free and loose and constantly full of intersting ideas and movement. It's like he's been doing limited for years already. He knows all the little tricks and shortcuts. The episode feels like a textbook example of how to do limited animation. Tsukioka in fact wrote some animation textbooks recently, so perhaps it's no surprise. His achievement is notable because it was really one person approaching a new form and situation and coming up with his own approach. There was no past history to copy, the way people nowadays have a long history to consult. You can feel him groping for his way in the dark with the work, and that makes it feel really alive and full of unexpected answers.

I'm not sure why Tsukioka himself wasn't interviewed for the set, but I'm not going to complain because the interview with Takahata and Otsuka was one of the main reasons I got the set in the first place, and it was just as informative as I hoped. Takahata has a few gray hairs now, but he's still just as articulate and eloquent about the techniques and the history. Anecdotes abounded about the figures active at the period, about the pranks they played, technical talk about the animation and how it was done by Otsuka, talk about Takahata's virgin experience as a director on the show. Tsukioka was a notorious prankster - there'd be nobody in the studio, and he'd tiptoe up to an animator totally absorbed in his work at his desk and just stand there behind him. When the person turned around he'd get the shock of his life to see Tsukioka standing there with his face taped into strange shapes. That spirit comes through in his playful animation.

Ken is still interesting seen today, and it was also an important training ground for the development of many of the most important figures in anime, and you can see their work in generous helpings here. Tsutomu Shibayama, who later founded Asia-do, got his start under Tsukioka on Ken, and Isao Takahata had Seiichi Hayashi provide an animated sequence for one of his episodes, allowing him to do it entirely in his own style, which he later did again in Belladonna.

Takahata's episode on the disc is interesting because right from the start of his directing career you can see the basic style - meticulous planning and research - that would come to characterize his work. Rather than a simple story that focuses on one character, the episode comes and goes between two sides of a battle, jumping between various points of view, yet managing to convey the information in a way that is not confusing. The range of the action is all planned out and kept track of on a map. The complex situation goes far beyond the simple comic or tragic stories that were usually played out in the series. Apart from that the series is interesting because there's no chief director - each director stands alone and does what he wants how he wants. Toei has long been known for this system, which started here. That's one of the things that makes this series so interesting when compared with anime today. You have one person playing around making an episode how they want, so each episode has a uniquely personal flavor.

Hustle Punch also features many of the great figures of the Toei Doga period, including Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama and Miyazaki. The first episode is truly wonderful and shows Yasuji Mori's work at its most characteristic, both in terms of the animation and the mood. The humor is just as good as the first ep of Ken, but now it's even more honed and witty. The writer was Hiroshi Ikeda, the other writer of Animal Treasure Island, who got his start directing and writing episodes of Ken, and his writing is very well suited to Mori's characters. Mori was animation director of the first ep, in which Otsuka, Kotabe, Okuyama, Akemi Ota (credited as Akemi Miyazaki by ep 14) and two others were key animators.

Okuyama was the animation director of a later ep on the disc, and she speaks of how it was a pleasure to animate Mori's characters, unlike many other designs. Her first AD was an ep directed by Yugo Serikawa near the end of Ken. This was probably a first for a woman at the time. Okuyama was valued for her exceptional skill at drawing characters on-model. Kotabe discusses what it was like to animate Mori's characters, and speaks of how the designs seem deceptively simple, but are incredibly difficult to draw. In the end nobody was really able to draw Mori's characters in a way that retained the right spirit, though Mori is reported to have stated in his later years that he considered Kotabe's drawings the closest in spirit to his own.

After doing his first work as an animation director on Ken, Kotabe worked as the "assistant animation director" on Toei's second b/w TV series, Shonen Ninja Kaze no Fujimari (June 1964-August 1965, 65 eps), handling mostly the guest characters that didn't appear in the original manga like the women and animals, leaving Daikichiro Kusube to handle Sanpei Shirato's characters. The series was the first of its kind in the rough ninja manga style, and the only person in the staff who had experience as a key animator was Kotabe. As a result, Shirato himself reportedly was unhappy with the drawings, saying they didn't look like his drawings at all, and asked for his name to be removed from the credits.

Kusube also had to handle the training for the inexperienced directors as well as animators, which included big Toei names of later years like Tomoharu Katsumata and Kimio Yabuki. Kusube wasn't interviewed for this set, but elsewhere Kusube relates how ridiculously tight the situation was in terms of schedule and staff. At one point a Toei person was coming around offering him large sums of money to animate two episodes a month. This highlights how well paid animators were at the time, presumably due to union activity. That money later went to help him found A Production. He was working night and day for the show until it got to the point that he was forced to quit Toei, though he continued to do contract work for Toei from his apartment. Takahata relates that there are lots of anecdotes about his legendary skills as an animator, for example the way a runner would come asking him for some urgent work and he would draw entire scenes right there on the spot - and complete inbetweened animation at that, not just keys.

Kusube also talks about the various specific technical discoveries that he made along the way as he tried to figure out a workable method of creating animation in such a short time frame. Kotabe animated a sequence in the opening where leaves are blown up by the wind and blow around in a whirlwind. For the part where the leaves are blowing around in the whirlwind, he animated the entire thing in sequence. Kusube felt that something was wrong when he saw that part, but he was completely shut off from the new techniques that had been developed in the Ken section because he wasn't involved, so it was only on studying the sequence afterwards that he came to the conclusion that rather than spending all those cels to animate the whirling part, it would be not only more efficient but also more impressive to animate it with a loop of three cels. By making a virtue of the limits of the medium, he could create a sort of movement that was unique to limited, an approach that has since become the norm in TV anime. These were the shows where most of the basic limited techniques were discovered on the spot to meet these particular circumstances. In the 1970s A Production would continue to build on the knowhow obtained during these shows.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

03:45:44 pm , 80 words, 1223 views     Categories: Animation

Chinese animation links

Found a page with images from lots of Shanghai Animation Studio's films, together with titles and main credits, so I thought I'd make a note of it here.

A while back I also found a page with what appears to be a full list, with directing credits, of the animated films made in China since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

All in Chinese.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

08:55:56 pm , 476 words, 1224 views     Categories: Animation

Brush & Ink

Movement (2003) by brush and ink animator Reiko Yokosuka, a retrospective of whose 20 years of work as an independent dubbed The Sound of Wind, Drawn in Ink was shown during a snowstorm over in Sapporo last February 10. Her interesting short for Winter Days, in which she put traditional brush and ink into motion within a book of traditional Japanese paper by photographing the drawing on each page in sequence, made me hungry for more, but this is all I've found. She seems prolific, and each work looks original and appealing. Her work has a real sense of assuredness and technical mastery that places her among the more outstanding independents active today in Japan, though after all this time she still seems relatively unknown, an independent's independent. She handles a small number of lines deftly to hint at the elided object, with a great sense of form and balance and rhythm. If a DVD came out, I'd buy it. Her latest film, animated since she moved to Sapporo a few years ago when her husband was transferred there, was shown two weeks ago at a yearly amateur animation screening.

As one who couldn't get enough of Te Wei's brush and ink animation, I was pleased to see the several minutes of tests done in preparation for Where is Mama (1960) included on the DVD set mentioned here. Though the animation feels slightly tentative, to untrained eyes the quality is still amazingly close to the complete film. It's a real treat to find a film you like suddenly extended by a few minutes. It's a shame for the precious minutes to have been hidden from view all this time. The documentary that was included was informative about the period, though it felt like it could have been moreso. I wanted more technical details about how the actual animation was done. The surprise of the selection was one of his early films. Before he started experimenting with brush and ink animation, he produced Good Friends 好朋友 (1954), done in a completely different style closer to the early Toei Doga films by Yasuji Mori than to anything he did later. The contrast helps to see his talent more clearly, because it throws into relief the common thread. The film is conventional in style and content, but what makes it great is the same close observation of behavior and attention to small psychological details that gives his later films such richness. I haven't seen many animated films that managed to portray children in a way that felt real and convincing the way this film does, and that's a trait he shares with Yasuji Mori, who seems to never have lost what it felt like to be a child.

Sapporo Reijou - brush and ink animation of a different kind, by Hidekichi Shigemoto.

Bloomy Girls - fantastic trance-inducing abstractions blooming around a face. Link via Phil.

Friday, April 15, 2005

11:45:18 pm , 635 words, 5874 views     Categories: Animation

Kin no Makiba

The Minna no Uta Best Hits Collection is just that. To someone coming from an animation perspective it's lacking in most of what makes the series interesting. There's nothing of the more than a dozen pieces by Sadao Tsukioka, or Yoji Kuri et al. Nonetheless, there is The Moon Waltz by Atsuko Ishizuka, which is probably among the best pieces made for the show in the last few years. There have been literally thousands of posts on the BBS at her home page since it aired last October/November, and she made an appearance on Digital Stadium shortly thereafter. It's a very satisfying piece, still retaining the rough lines, momentum and dark fantasy of her earlier self-produced films, but backed up by the production force of Madhouse.

There is also Kin no Makiba (The Golden Pasture) from June/July 2003 by Osamu Sakai, which, on the other hand, hasn't received much attention, despite being a very nice piece of animation. Born in 1977, Osamu Sakai is a few years older than Ishizuka, and the same age as Kunio Kato, his classmate at the Tama Art School who created the wonderful Aru Tabibito no Nikki series that was recently released on DVD with additional material after first being made available online two years ago. Last October these two and Saku Sakamoto held an exhibition and showing of their films at the Mejiro Open Gallery entitled "Animation Three" (sounding like a nod to the Animation Sannin no Kai), where it was possible to see all of Kato's other films, which have won him three Yuri Norstein Prizes from the Laputa Animation Festival since 2001. After graduation both entered the company Robot, whose site hosts their home pages.

It's easy to see why Kato's films would have won so regularly at the festival, which Norstein presides over every year. Visually they're incredibly refined and convincing works closer in their graphic richness and craftsmanship to Norstein than to the bulk of Japanese production. Although his Tabibito series was produced in Flash, you would hardly suppose so at first blush. His production method for the series was somewhat unique: he drew each drawing on paper, scanned it into the computer, and left the white space around the figure intact rather than cutting it off as one would normally expected him to have done, which accounts for the handmade look of the series. As one would hope, considering the comparative quality of the films that inevitably loom behind the prize, Norstein does not go easy on the contestants. No Grand Prix has yet been awarded, to my knowledge, because as of yet no film has been deemed to merit it. Since last year Kato himself has stood on the judging panel.

Sakai's film shares the picturebook density of texture of Kato's films, and the resemblance to Norstein is even more obvious, with the huge cow, golden apples, dense sketchy visuals and cutout characters. The movement is spare, but he manages to evoke a lot with little real action, and the film leaves a good aftertaste. In only a few minutes you get a feeling for the unique world of the characters. You can feel that he still has a ways to go, but it's the right direction, and I can't recall another Japanese independent short that had quite the same atmosphere. It was really like a picture book come to life. A few months before this piece he provided another to the series for October/November entitled Time ~Toki no Shiori~. Last October, around the same time as the "Animation Three" exhibit, a picture-book version of Kin no Makiba illustrated anew by Sakai himself was released coupled with a DVD of the video. I hope he doesn't go completely to drawing, because the animated version of Kin no Makiba was too full of promise.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

11:55:09 pm , 555 words, 1022 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Movie

The Planet

Of all the animation scenes from around the world, the Argentinian is hardly the one with which I can claim to be the most familiar. But the 2001 film The Planet (dir. Pablo Rodriguez Jauregui) makes me wish that were not so. The 51-minute film is a collection of shorts by various Argentinian animators and visual artists of widely varying stylistic proclivities, from character-based animation to action painting, set to the music of guitarist Fernando Kabusacki. The film was released on DVD in Japan not long ago. This probably hints more strongly at an interaction between the music scenes in Argentina and Japan, where in the past Kabusacki has collaborated with Seiichi Yamamoto, among others, but Juan Antin's 2002 feature Mercano the Martian has made the rounds there as well -- it's currently on the programming at the recently mentioned Uplink Factory (which released the The Planet DVD) -- so it's not a totally isolated phenomenon. It's a strange way the world turns, to undergo my Argentinian animation baptism via Japan.

The film feels like it was made for me. It's just the sort of thing I wish people did more often, getting together to create animated jam sessions like this. Seeing it, the first thing I thought was: I wish the NFB would get together their animators and make a film like this. It's the Argentinian answer to Winter Days, before Winter Days. Though of course there are differences. In this case the music is much more compelling, and the extremely high quality of the music really does a lot to increase the impact of the film. It's a perfect marriage of images and sound. The various artists in question reportedly based their animation on or were simply inspired by the same-titled CD by the musician - in the beginning was the chord. The animation is lo-fi in the best sense of the term. This is animation that is all about the personal touch, and it all feels warm and real. Some are narrative, some timed closely to the rhythm of the music, some mirror the sounds with abstract images dancing across the screen. One was a short loop animation by a small boy. The way it was photographed, with the camera focusing on one piece of the image to the next, magifying the jittering lines in a way that got us to almost look beyond the external shapes and look at the lines anew, really highlighted the basic joy of animation, and the music with which it was coupled gave the section real impact. Like Winter Days the variety of the images is its main asset. This film is music-video-like and unencumbered by words -- the images all speak for themselves -- and the fifty minutes pass by all too quickly.

This film is a chocolate box to fans of animation, and it's great that it got to see the light of day outside of its country of origin, although unfortunate that it took this long and hasn't recieved much attention anywhere else to my knowledge. The country understandably has other more pressing issues to deal with. There ought to be more projects like this in different countries, because the format offers a compact way of seeing the work of a variety of artists from different walks who would otherwise remain nearly impossible to discover.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

02:03:07 pm , 276 words, 3174 views     Categories: Animation

Speed Grapher #1

Hisashi Mori and Hiroyuki Okuno, the two figures responsible for one of the more unusual creations of recent memory, Samurai Seven #7, are credited with "design works" on this new series, which makes a promising beginning with this first episode. The flat look of the animation will be familiar to anyone who has seen Mori's past work, particularly his stint as animation director/character designer for Mamoru Hosoda's 2000 film Children's War Game. Hosoda's latest film also reportedly shares a similar feeling due to the similarly-inclined animation directors involved. The basic stance seems to be to focus on the form - outline - of a shape rather than its inner details, in order to get more movement out of every moment, which is something Masaaki Yuasa was already doing as far back as his early Shin-chan work. Hosoda mentions that shadows were not used in order to enrich the colors of his film, but obviously this tactic also helps to focus on movement over detail. Not all of the animation is up to par in this first episode, but much of it is, and overall it makes for a more compelling approach to the animation. Hopefully Mori will be doing some actual animation in the series. He's too interesting an animator to relegate to mere design work.

In addition to these two figures, the character designer of the series and director of the episode, Masashi Ishihama, has a lineage stretching back to Hakkenden, FLCL, Jin-Roh and even Yoshinori Kanada's episode of Popolo Crois. The directing is convincing, and there's a refreshing feeling of distance and aloofness in the pacing and framing that sets it apart from similar fare.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

01:42:18 am , 804 words, 6019 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Avant-Garde, Animator

The art of Takashi Ishida

Gestalt (1999, Takashi Ishida)

On the other side of the continent today starts Toronto's 18th annual Images Festival, which is devoted to independent and experimental film, video and installations from around the world. The filmmaker who won the Best International Film Award at the festival two years ago was Takashi Ishida, who on this side of the continent picked up the Award for Excellence four years earlier at the 1999 Vancouver International Film Festival. On the other side of the ocean last Friday a retrospective of his films was shown at the Uplink Factory in Tokyo (where a 7-program Stan Brakhage retrospective starts this Saturday).

Takashi Ishida's work is an example of the sort of animation we don't see often in Japan, if only because it understandably fails to reach our eyes because it doesn't get any sort of distribution beyond the festival circuit. Even most independent animation, if Digital Stadium is anything to go by, tends to fall back on story rather than trying to go back to the fundamentals and look for new expressive possibilities that truly exploit the unique nature of animation. Takashi Ishida's work seems to be one of the best recent examples of animation that does just that. What makes it exciting is that it offers a stimulating personal stab at the question: What is animation?

Spheres(Norman McLaren & René Jodoin, 1969)The Art of the Fugue(Takashi Ishida, 2001)

The simple answer is: Pictures in time. Takashi Ishida's work is about exploring the basic notions of time and space using sequential pictures. The film that first brought Ishida to the attention of a wider audience was probably the 7-minute Gestalt, from 1999, in which Ishida set up a camera in a Tokyo University dormitory a certain distance from a wall next to a window, and over the span of one year repeated the ritual of painting a picture on the wall, going to the camera to photograph the picture bathed in the unique play of light falling onto it from the window at that moment, then going back to the wall and painting the next picture, photographing it again, and so on at a pace of several seconds of footage a day, until in the end he had in effect captured on film the texture of the space of a year's passing.

In 2001, on a commission from the Aichi Culture Center for a video to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the death of J. S. Bach, Ishida created what, at 19 minutes, is his longest piece to date: The Art of the Fugue, a visual performance of Bach's late score famous for its lack of any indications about instrumentation. A white oval appears in the center of the screen, changing shape in response to the score throughout the piece, representing the cantus firmus. Around it bright lines representing the upper voices gradually creep into view from out of the darkness and go through their melodies before melting back into the darkness, converging and diverging to create a pulsating, everchanging audiovisual texture. By basing his animation closely on the actual score, he explores and bridges the space between the aural and visual dimensions and thus goes one step further than the free interpretations of Bach by famous predecessors like Norman McLaren.

Scroll (Takashi Ishida, 1995)Scroll 2 (Takashi Ishida, 1996)Darkness Scroll (Takashi Ishida, 1997)

Going opposite this procedure is the entirely improvised Darkness Scroll (1997), in which extemporaneously sketched drawings were thrown together and photographed using back-lighting and then improvised upon with music to create a linear audio-visual dimension out of randomness. Exploring the idea of the the forward march of time using the more traditional method of the animated transformation is his earliest film, Scroll (1995), which consists entirely of an upwards scrolling movement animated on the fly without a storyboard. Between these two came Scroll 2 (1996), in which he first used a procedure that would reappear in The Art of the Fugue -- namely, photocopying and then re-photographing each drawing to create a sort of reptition within progress -- and at the end of which he reversed the situation later seen in Gestalt by integrating actual photographs into the center of the two-dimensional drawing space.

In the last few years Ishida has completed a few more short films and put together a few installations and been shown at festivals around the world. Last August he held a four-day animation workshop at the Aichi Culture Center where he provided instruction in the basics of creating movement. He's the tip of the iceburg of the experimental cinema scene in Japan, but it's probably not going to get any easier to find his work or that of others of his ilk anytime soon.

~ Filmography ~

Scroll 絵巻 (1995, 8mm, 8 minutes)
Scroll 2 絵巻その2 (1996, 8mm, 5 minutes)
Darkness Scroll 闇の絵巻 (1997, video, 7 minutes)
Gestalt 部屋/形態 (1999, 16mm, 7 minutes)
The Art of the Fugue フーガの技法 (2001, 16mm, 19 minutes)
Fire/Extension 火/延長 (2002, 5 minutes)
Seat and Screen 椅子とスクリーン (2002, 8 minutes)

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

07:16:22 pm , 273 words, 2457 views     Categories: Animation

Tadashi Hiramatsu's making a movie

It looks like Tadashi Hiramatsu has made the transition from animator to director more quickly than expected. 8 years after his debut as character designer on an anime version of a shoujo manga, he'll be mounting his feature directing debut with another shoujo anime: Ghost Rhapsody. I've been curious to know what he would do with a bigger project from the scattered episodes he's directed here and there, which showed him to have a definite talent for directing, particularly for cooking up convincing drama that has a real feeling of tension. The episodes in Here and now, then and there that always impressed me as the best I later realized were the ones done by Hiramatsu. With his ep of Genius Party to boot, this year looks like it'll be a good year for discovering a new side of Tadashi Hiramatsu.

In addition to the ten members of Genius Party who were known, two names added in at the bottom of the poster displayed at the TAF appear also to be involved in some fashion. One is the satire manga artist Yoji Fukuyama, who was perhaps not coincidentally mentioned by Tadashi Hiramatsu in that interview. Coincidentally, I just received a book of his manga yesterday. His work has a line that's curiously reminiscent of Otomo. He's a fine caricaturist, and I can understand what Hiramatsu meant about his work providing helpful clues about how to get closer to reality in anime. The book juxtaposes his political/social satiric one-pagers with a story manga featuring a character who curiously manages to look like a quintessential Japanese salaryman and Woody Allen all at the same time.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

09:40:11 pm , 501 words, 897 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Masami Otsuka's animation

One of the animators I've been into lately is Masami Otsuka, whom I mentioned before. Unfortunately it's hard to find his stuff over here because he's mostly worked in Shin-chan (and I'd suspect his episodes would have been left out of foreign releases due to the nature of his work anyway) and Doraemon. He was an inbetweener in the first Dora movie in 1980 and key animator in a TV special shown last month. He was in most of the Shin-chan movies. His work that caught my eye recently was the ending of Hare-Nochi Guu Deluxe. At least, what I think is his work. Not having been able to see his work in Shin-chan, I've never been able to really pin it down, but I'm thinking he did the last shot of the old man. Besides Yuichiro Sueyoshi's bit of Shin-chan running up the stairs in Keiichi Hara's 2000 Adult Empire Strikes Back film, the part in the old town a third of the way through always caught my eye, particularly the short but wonderfully nuanced movement of the old man and woman, which has a flavor unlike any other movement in the film, and I suspected Otsuka, though frustratingly I'm still not sure. Sueyoshi was also in the ed in question, and his part (?) of the singing at the beginning is great too. Then there's also Shizuka Hayashi, who I've long heard much good things about but never been able to really pinpoint. The superfast dancing in the op? I've heard she's great at timing, and I remember seeing lots of that sort of movement in Shin-chan. Shinei Doga is a unique studio for the way it has produced lots of very interesting animators who each have their own unique approach to movement.

There was a show from around 2000 called Weekly Storyland, and one of the eps, "The Genius Cockroach", was apparently interesting enough animation-wise to get mentioned in the print Anime Style 1. It was done by one Fumio Tadao, which is probably a pen name. The studio credit is Shinei Doga, so the possibility exists that it might be Otsuka. Masuji Kogami is also a suspect. Otsuka collaborated with Masaaki Yuasa on the Shin-chan endings Barijona Daisakusen and Do-Shite, which well indicates his predilections. As I mentioned before, Yuasa himself holds Otsuka in high esteem and was probably influenced by him.

After Mind Game Yuasa actually did a bit of animation in the most recent Doraemon movie. Another animator Yuasa has singled out as one of the best animators he saw at Shinei is Masaya Fujimori, whose action in that film is reportedly rather nice.

Other things I've enjoyed recently were Tetsuya Nishio's opening of the just-finished Otogizoushi and Norio Matsumoto's bit in Beck 25, particularly the hand-waving. I also give a big pat on the back to Osamu Kobayashi for all the work he put into the latter, writing every episode and storyboarding and directing quite a few. The last two eps showed the level he could reach at his best.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

08:00:04 pm , 370 words, 1807 views     Categories: Animation, Director: Yasuhiro Aoki, Director

Yasuhiro Aoki's directing

On rewatching Soultaker 1 today it popped into my head that Yasuhiro Aoki's recent artistic coming out in Arusu reminds me of the appearance of Akiyuki Shinbo on the scene 13 years ago in Yu Yu Hakusho. I hope Aoki has the chance to go as far as Shinbo has in Le Portrait de Petite Cossette, which, as unlikely as it may seem, was probably my favorite item from last year after a certain film. The subject matter isn't really the point. It's all about the style. I don't think I've seen anything in a long, long time, much less in anime, that was such a virtuosic and unrelenting onslaught of unpredictable shots and gorgeously baroque composition, and I applaud the producer who gave him the chance to finally do something 100% his own way. Shinbo is one of the most talented directors that nobody's ever heard of in anime, though there are plenty of those.

One obvious quality Aoki shares with Shinbo is the predilection for stringing together unpredictable compositions in a way that some might say distracts from the story but to me enhances it. A story can be told entirely via dialogue, but as Tadashi Hiramatsu mentioned in this interview, the locus of excitment in directing is the space between the shots, and the compositions. Aoki knows that, and that's what sets him apart. It nagged me for a while what it was that made his work feel different, why the work of the other people in the show felt boring in comparison and worse animated, and finally I hit on the simple fact that he always avoids having a character doing the goldfish on the screen. He plays around with the angles while they're talking in order to avert one of the most common and unsuspected mistakes in anime. Nobody thinks it's a mistake, but he noticed that it was, and figured out a way around it, which shows that he's thinking about his art and not just churning it out on automatic. That small invention immediately hides the quantitative limits of the animation, as he saves his resources for one of those quintissentially anime bursts of full animation that give his episodes a truly powerful feeling of buildup.