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: August 2005, 16

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

03:01:26 pm , 809 words, 1453 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Mamoru Hosoda and the Secret Island

This year's Naruto movie features a few surprising faces. Hiroyuki Okiura is there. Norio Matsumoto finally participates in the film, and he's listed third. Koichi Arai, regular at 4°C and famous for his effects, is there, as is the big name in FX and regular in Naruto (ops), Takashi Hashimoto. Disappointingly, Takeshi Honda, who gave us the most idiosyncratic scene in the first film, is not. Perhaps by way of compensation, however, we have this surprising face: Shinji Hashimoto. His scene near the end is reportedly what one would hope it would be. I look forward to seeing it. And Tetsuya Nishio is actually the main animation director this time, though he's helped out by a few other people. So oddly enough, I'm looking forward to seeing this film. I'm very curious to know how Shinji Hashimoto got invited to the film. The big fighting anime of the moment would obviously provide him with a great chance to create some vivid movement, but I haven't heard of him doing fighting anime before, so in that sense it's kind of an event. I love his nichijo shibai or everyday acting animation, like his incredible scene in Tokyo Godfathers, but I've also always wanted to see more vivid movement like that he provided for Animatrix and Spriggan, and it sounds like I'll get to see it here.

I've been reading a recent interview with Mamoru Hosoda, and it's the most interesting stuff I've read in a long time. Many fans noticed that it didn't feel like that big a stretch to infer in the titular Island a pretty overt metaphor - Ghibli. It was fun to think about the film in that sense, and I figured there probably was some of that there, in the background, but reading the interview, I realized it was far more important an element than I suspected - it's practically the point of the film. That experience truly and literally molded the film into its present form. I'd read some off-color comments by the writer on his home page about how his script had been changed, but I'd never known in what way and to what degree. Well, it appears all the basic elements in the final film were there in the original - the trials, the various groups - but Hosoda completely changed their organization, created more complex character relations, and emphasized the dramatic element of being torn away from your companions to find yourself alone in a way that wasn't remotely present in the original. What was a mere light-headed adventure Hosoda transformed into viable drama with real human resonance.

What does that have to do with Howl? Hosoda goes to Ghibli at their invitation. He finds everybody busy on Spirited Away. Nobody's available to start working on the film. He's the director, not the producer, but he has to scrounge up all the staff himself. So he goes around talking up people, trying to get them onboard. Not just animators, even the art section he had to find for himself. He's got no clout, he's putting his rep on the line with these people, but he wants to create the best film he can, and he knows the most important element in doing that is the staff. I'd noticed the incredible effort he put into finding great staff for Omatsuri, and apparently he had done the same for Howl. But then, poof, the project goes up in smoke, and all these people are hung out to dry. Unfortunately Hosoda doesn't talk about why the project imploded, but the end result is Hosoda finds himself isolated and alone. His ship was sunk. That's how he felt. All hope lost, he goes back to Toei, resigned to just get by. Like the count, he's lost his crew. Without them, he can't do anything. But stretching their hand out to save him from the island come new friends, Sushio and Chikashi Kubota, animators in Doremi 40, the first light to shine into the long dark tunnel of that experience. They said they'd be in if Hosoda did a movie. The rest is history. It's not necessary to know about this to appreciate the film, but it certainly adds a layer of depth to it.

What I like about the treatment of the theme of interpersonal relations in the film is that it doesn't end in a simplistic surface treatment, the 'friends always stick together' cliché, which is what it was in the original script. It shows the way people - even when connected, as we have to be - are all individuals who will always follow their own priorities in the end. Relationships are pragmatic contingencies. Films are webs of individual situations, like any group endeavor. This film plays off that underlying drama to make a statement on an aspect of life that affects everyone.