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.
July 2005
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Archives for: July 2005, 23

Saturday, July 23, 2005

02:00:09 pm , 1099 words, 2455 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Omatsuri Danshaku to Himitsu no Shima

Haruomi Hosono's grandfather was apparently the only Japanese person on the Titanic. He mentions this in an interview in the mook. Fascinating connection.

Ah, what a great ride Mamoru Hosoda's first full-length feature was. One of those films where you just can't wipe the smile off your face while you're watching, and you want to rewatch soon afterwards. It's the most fun I've had watching a feature animated film in a while. Everything combines perfectly. The backgrounds are very impressive, the coloring is incredibly nuanced and gives the film such a feeling of spatial depth and richness. And most of all, the animation and directing are absolutely brilliant and a sheer delight from start to finish. You know that Hosoda's in control from the opening shots, and not for a moment does that control feel like it flags. The material may have its limits, but Hosoda's directing and the animation easily make up for that. It's a model example of how good directing and quality production can turn anything into something interesting that overcomes any problems in the source material. Just as Hosoda has always done, he turns the material into his own creation by modifying the contours rather than the actual material. In other words, the film is enjoyable to both people who care about the franchise and to people who don't.

The way the animation throughout was constantly interesting was one of the ways it reminded me of Mind Game, though here it was much fuller throughout in following with Toei's style. Otherwise it shared a lot of the feeling of the animation in Mind Game in terms of the wonderful freedom and exaggeration that you could see in almost every shot. The drawings were always interesting, and the animation full of attention to the creation of just the kind of movement that I most want to see in animation - movement that feels good. Among the more prominent cases of overlap is Ito Nobutake, who was listed quite high, perhaps second, I don't remember. I mentioned all the other incredible names. I was able to spot only a few, however, but the animation was all so interesting that for the most part I didn't care who did what. I think I spotted a bit of Matsumoto smoke, Hisashi Mori near the climax, maybe Yo Yoshinari, but that's about it. Watching this I realized what it was about the animation in Howl that left me less than excited. For a Toei production, there was a surprising degree of wildness and tension in the animation, whereas things seem to have gotten so homogenous in Ghibli's animation in recent years that it's lost a lot of excitement for me. In Ghibli's film the only places that I found exciting as animation were Shinya Ohira's and Shinji Otsuka's. Everything else seemed to be moving for the sake of moving, rather than for the sake of being interesting. In Hosoda's film most of the movement that there was was interesting, and it was combined with the directing to create an irresistible effect only Miyazaki comes near to being able to achieve.

Hosoda's style is, of course, about as far as you can possibly get from the latter, full of oddly humorous symmetries in the cutting and framing that he must have had tremendous fun coming up with. Yet they don't end in mere indulgence. The directing carries the film, while the animation fills it out, which is the ideal balance for an animated film. The film is excellently balanced dramatically, flowing from yang to yin almost imperceptibly over the length of the film as the situation changes, creating an incredibly satisfying experience, fun and hilarious in the first half and emotionally wrenching in the second. The different pieces of the film don't feel like pieces; it all comes together like one continuous flow. He continuously jumps between different characters' points of view just as masterfully as he did in Children's War Game to play out the different threads that eventually converge into the weighty finale. It was a relief and a delight to see that Hosoda had neither toned down his stylistic idiosyncracies nor been overwhelmed by the task of creating a full length film. If anything he's expanded his palette. The film feels effortless. It works as an accessible film and is unmistakably Hosoda, moreso even than any of his previous films.

Ironic then that Hosoda wasn't even present at the talk after the premiere, which was included on the DVD. Only the voice-actors were there, which seems very indicative of Toei's current priorities as a company, and their general attitude towards their 'product'. Honestly what I felt when I heard that Hosoda was moving to Madhouse (I don't know if he's freelance or what) to make a film was: "It's about time". It seemed obvious from the variety of projects he was involved in over the last few years that he'd have to find some other company to be able to make the sort of films he was obviously capable of and wanting to make. His first attempt to do something outside of Toei turned out badly because that studio apparently has an image to uphold or something (even though people who saw his storyboard said it was brilliant), but hopefully things will go better from here on out. At least at Toei he got to make films. There he was able to create a number of pure Hosoda gems over the last few years, capped by this one, so it wasn't all bad. It's a fitting end to an era. From here on out can we hope for even better Hosoda? I hope so, and am already looking forward to next summer's film.

An interesting thing I noticed was that there were only seven inbetweeners for the film, compared to about fifty key animators. I've never seen anything like that before. That's a very small number of inbetweeners. Usually the inbetweeners far outnumber the key animators. And Toei is notorious for its short schedules, so I'm not quite sure how they did it. Considering how active it was I was expecting lots of inbetweeners. Instead, lots of key animators. Perhaps that's what accounts for the high quality of most of the movement throughout the film. Curiously that's exactly what I dislike about most of Madhouse's films - lots of Korean inbetweens to fill out the movement, which just makes it more fluid without making it any more interesting, though that apparently is good enough for most people. I hope Mamo doesn't succumb to that style of doing things.