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: October 2005

Sunday, October 30, 2005

12:12:21 pm , 215 words, 3880 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

Ivan Maximov

I've been really digging the films of Ivan Maximov lately. His illustrations are great, too.

The quartet of Shuichi Kaneko, Yasushi Muraki, Hideki Kakita and Soichiro Matsuda did some great mecha work in Eureka 7 28. It was particularly nice to see some more work from Kakita, who did the memorable explosion in the second op. (Takashi Hashimoto did the roof explosions) His approach to form is unmistakable once you've seen it a few times.

I rather enjoyed Mushishi 1, and not just for Yoshihiko Umakoshi's unusually low-key but unmistakably nuanced and full animation. I'd heard about Hiroshi Nagahama before, but never could be bothered to look at the shows he did, but the directing here was quite impressive. Next year we'll get to see the story Otomofied.

There was some work in Noein 3 that reminded me of some of the better stuff I've seen so far. And overall again the quality was quite nice. Apart from Kishida, the only person I see who did KA in the op, 1 and 3 was Akira Takada, so I've got my eye on him. Fumio Matsumoto was also there, and he was at the top in 1, though I'm not familiar with his work. Seeing this ep reminded me that Jun Okuda was AD on a lot of the non-Ohira/Hashimoto Hakkenden eps.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

04:40:22 pm , 764 words, 815 views     Categories: Animation

Utsunomiya Eureka

I recently had the chance to revisit one of my favorite Russian shorts, Ballerina on a Boat by Lev Atamanov. Since the first time I saw the film the brilliant soundtrack by Alfred Schnittke had left a searing impression on me. It's not just raucous and modernistic but minutely detailed and constantly shifting, amazingly colorful, rhytmic like the Rite of Spring in parts and lyrical in typical Russian fashion elsewhere, daring to step into the foreground, unabashed, simply unlike any other animated soundtrack I've heard. I was already familiar with Schnittke's music, so the music itself didn't surprise me. It was the combination of that music with that animation that surprised me, and seemed incredibly refreshing and new. I got to wondering what it was that convinced Schnittke, who had a lot of experience composing film soundtracks, to go with such an approach for the film. Rewatching it this time I realized that without that soundtrack the film would almost certainly not have left much of an impression on me, though I do very much like everything about the actual animation, from the movement of the ballerina to the thick lines used to animate the ocean to the nice, simple designs to the freedom with which the characters fly freely around the screen as if on a ballet stage. Maybe that's what it is. He composed ballet music rather than a film soundtrack.

Satoru Utsunomiya's latest creation has come in an unusual place - the third season opening of Eureka Seven. One of the main selling points of this series has almost certainly been the drawings of Ken'ichi Yoshida, and Bones in general is known for having a very unified look to its animation, so it came as something of a surprise to see that they had left him to do the whole thing in his patented style. My first question was how this could have come about, and this was answered by Yoshida himself on his hime page. Yoshida just finished work on episode 26, which surely contains some of the finest animation in the whole series. He put a lot more effort into the episode than suggested by the simple credit of animation director, doing the various designs and layout and coordinating the art and animation and so on, in addition to doing animation and correcting the drawings, and this shows up in the final product. It felt like for the first time we were seeing what Yoshida was capable of, something that lived up to his CV.

It just so happened that the op was produced over the exact same time period, so it was impossible for Yoshida to correct the drawings of the op. In his own words, "Utsunomiya is an animator I have great respect for. He changed our whole notion of movement in the 90s. Both the director and I agreed that we wanted Utsunomiya to do the op in his own style. Utsunomiya has a very unique drawing style. Each line is precisely calculated to create a particular movement, and the moving result on the screen produces a tremendous feeling of catharsis. If I were to go in and correct the faces (and the proportions), that would completely change the whole dynamic of his drawings. I'd find it very rewarding if I could challenge that task one day, but that was impossible in this case... It was because Utsunomiya agreed to take on all tasks in the op that I was able to accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish in episode 26. So I'm very grateful to him for that, and I am completely satisfied with his work. I mean, what he's done is amazingly sophisticated. I think it's great. But that's just my opinion."

All in all, this has increased my respect for Ken'ichi Yoshida by several notches. You could sense a certain twinge of unfulfillment in his wording when he talked about how ep 26 was important to his continued presence on the show. Judging by the final product, it feels like the opening is not complete, and may be gradually added to as time goes on, so it will be interesting to see how it changes. I'm reminded of how they tweaked the timing of Utsunomiya's shot of the hands clasping in the first season op from the first episode to the second. Yasushi Muraki provided a bit of missile fun, as usual, and though always thrilling, it felt particularly nice here because of the different touch Utsunomiya gave it. The episode itself contained a bit of work by Yutaka Nakamura, which was as good as ever.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

02:24:57 pm , 250 words, 631 views     Categories: Animation

That op

After taking a closer look at that op, I'm starting to think it wasn't Matsumoto who did that shot. I was already thinking it was unusual-looking for him. It looks like he did some of the other ones. Which makes me want to know who did it. I can't tell from the credits. There's only a bit of overlap with the first ep (Akira Takada, Takahiro Kishida and Hiroshi Okubo). It's probably not Kishida. Takashi Mukaida supposedly animated the section immediately preceding Nobutake Ito's in Hosoda's Secret Island film. (I'm curious who did those neat missiles early on in the boat chase) Akira Takada was heavily involved in Haibane Renmei, including AD of the last ep. Masahiro Sato seems to be a new face. I don't think Kazuyoshi Yaginuma does that sort of thing, though I could be wrong. Hiroshi Okubo has been involved with the whole Kishida group often in the past. But I can't tell stylistically. I really have no idea. I'll just have to wait and see if he shows up in the series. There's already been a lot of interesting work so far here.

I must say that as a Tsutsui fan I'm rather excited about this new film. I don't know if I'm going to be able to restrain myself from reading the novel beforehand. I'm most curious how the animation is going to look, who he's going to pick for the AD and such. We've gone from Hamasu to Honda to Konishi. Who next?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

10:37:38 pm , 274 words, 2177 views     Categories: Animation

Noein 2

Went to pick up my Minori Kimura manga from storage a while ago. I don't read manga much any more, but of everything I've read, Kimura's has stuck with me, and I get the urge to revisit just hers every once in a while. I'd like to write about her some day. Feels like she deserves to be much more well known.

It's quite something when you can't even recognize the characters from one ep to another, even moreso when it's only the second ep. My hat's off to Noein for that. Satelight (or Kawamori) is already known for being accepting of ep-to-ep disparity, but it feels particularly strong here, like they're deliberately giving more freedom to each ep's AD to draw it his own way. Something almost youthful about the imperfect drawings here that felt really nice, though I missed all of the wonderful perspective and interesting movement in the first ep. And we have an op. Mostly reused stuff (to be replaced apace?) but one shot suddenly jumped out as incredibly amazing, and no surprise, it was Matsumoto. This bodes well. One thing I was pleased to see was that the whole feeling of going wild with the drawings in the action but keeping it toned down otherwise was retained in the second ep. It feels like they're trying for a new, more dynamic and visceral approach to drawing the movement in action. I was wondering how Matsumoto would adapt to that whole concept, and by god, he did it with vigor! I've never seen animation of this sort from Matsumoto before. Needless to say, I'm seriously looking forward to seeing more.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

11:48:14 pm , 560 words, 5175 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Movie

The Wild Swans

Of the various of the old Russian feature-length animated features, there's one that's always had a special place in my heart for some reason. Maybe because I wasn't born in time to watch it in the 60s in real-time, the more realistic and somewhat Snow White-ish approach of The Snow Queen never did much for me. I could identify much more with Ivan, though I haven't seen that film in its original version, only the mangled dub available over here, so I don't have a proper appreciation of it.

The only one that struck me on first viewing it - and stuck with me to the point of eventually making the effort of tracking down the Russian-language videotape so that I could watch it in its original version - was the seemingly underappreciated The Wild Swans (1962). I can see how it might not have become as popular as the latter films, as it can hardly compete in terms of nuanced characterisation and dynamic pacing, but it's always appeared obvious that it was trying to do something completely unrelated and much more deeply satisfying on so many levels. Here they weren't trying to make an animated analogue to a live-action film but revelling in the inherent flatness of the medium of animation and bridging the world of storytelling and the world of animation in a way that none of these other fairy tale adaptions seemed to do.

Each shot operates first and foremost as a beautiful creation in and of itself, with background stylization and animation calculated together to create a seamless unit. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, and when used is poetic in its succinctness, while the music creates a continuous flow from scene to scene that builds the tension to tremendously moving climaxes in the great tradition of the Russian symphonic poems. Just as in music something other than language conveys richly complex emotions, so here the nonverbal visual means of animation is used to create a powerfully moving living tapestry. Music isn't a utilitarian background prop but an integral part of the whole, in the foreground with the animation. When the two are left to their own devices, the results are breathtaking. The flight scenes, which are the high point of the film, and seem to epitomize what the creators were trying to achieve with the film, are among the most moving and beautiful animated sequences I've ever seen, attaining a state of grace that manages to go beyond the story being told.

Unfortunately, about midway through the film the astounding tension built up in the first thirty minutes is abruptly cut short and followed by about ten minutes straight of monotonous dialogue, following which the second half of the film somehow ceases to feel very magical. But if for nothing but those first thirty minutes of near-perfection, the film is a masterpiece. I haven't seen any other animated films that come close to the inspired tension they attained in those first thirty minutes. The film was recently released on DVD in Japan, so this will be a welcome opportunity to revisit the film to see how it compares with my memory of it, to say nothing of seeing the film in better quality and actually understanding what is going on. Understanding the dialogue may help elucidate the reason for the curiously fractured nature of the film.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

11:34:00 am , 377 words, 790 views     Categories: Animation

No 4

So many of Yasutaka Tsutsui's books are rooted in linguistic tricks and word play that it would immediately seem to rule out many of them for Kon's new film, such as his great Kyojin Tachi of 1981, where the whole point of the novel is the gradual disintegration of the fabric of the story by the gradual physical disappearance of the words on the page. Yume no Kizaka Bunkiten of 1987 is one of Tsutsui's best regarded novels, but it's not really sci-fi and again relies a lot on linguistic playfulness. 1989's Zanzo ni Kuchibeni was all about the phonemes of the Japanese syllabary disappearing one after the other, and with them the characters and memories of the characters. And then there was his recent Lautrec So Jiken of 1995, a murder mystery where the clue is hidden all along in the fabric of the text by a clever trick exploiting the ambiguity of Japanese grammar. I'm sure there's a way these could be made into film, but it would seem like at best a huge task, at worst pointless. The even more recent Asa no Gaspard was actually written interactively online and seems to share a lot with the concerns seen in Kon's recent films, and is a classic of late meta Tsutsui. There's also the popular but more juvenile Kazoku Hakkei and Toki wo Kakeru Shojo. And so on. The list could go on, as he's penned more than 20 novels, to say nothing of the hundreds of short stories and essays. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I haven't read Dasso to Tsuiseki no Samba, Kyoko Sendan or Paprika, so I'm not sure of the extent of their filmability in terms of this sort of thing, but Dasso to Tsuiseki no Samba is in the classic vein of early "dotabata" or wild-and-crazy Tsutsui, Kyoko Sendan seems like one of his best politically meaningful sci-fi stories (and is his biggest book), and Paprika seems like one of his best late meta novels - people have said it would make a good movie. I'm thinking maybe one of these three. In any case, it's really wonderful if Tsutsui is going to be adapted to an animated film, and by Kon no less, a person who has clearly shown Tsutsui's influence since his debut feature.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

04:16:39 pm , 262 words, 969 views     Categories: Animation

Paradise Kiss 1

This text sounds awfully familiar for some reason. It's curious how there seems to have been a resurgence of interest in Midori all of a sudden. I've counted at least three different showings in different countries just in the last year.

Satoru Utsunomiya said he was directing an upcoming op a while back, and people are wondering if it might not be the new Eureka op starting soon... I was hoping it might be Noein myself.

Osamu Kobayashi's Paradise Kiss was even better produced than I'd thought it would be, even surpassing the quality of his first Beck episode. If there's one thing that is going to keep me from getting into this show it's Nobuteru Yuki's drawings (though he's a perfect pick for this material), but the parts that were done by Kobayashi (like the first minute, and little shots here and there) were just great, and overall it really felt like he'd molded it into his own creation again while still managing to keep close to the original. Impressive how he can do that. Watching the ending I thought Kobayashi had gotten a lot better as an animator, but then I realized it was Hiroyuki Imaishi and Yusuke Yoshigaki doing the animation, as I'd been told already but forgotten. Speak of the devil, I noticed Tokura Norimoto was in the op. I suppose those photos in the avant were taken by Kobayashi himself. I really liked that whole sequence. I wound up wishing the whole ep had looked like that and the ending, but he's too mature to do that.

Friday, October 14, 2005

08:40:57 pm , 575 words, 812 views     Categories: Animation, TV

Noein 1

The first episode of Noein was certainly the most interesting TV episode I've seen in a while. The animation, the color scheme, the designs, the directing, everything came together very well to form a convincing and gripping whole. It's obvious that they must have spent a long time producing this first ep, which the director says he's very satisfied with. He had apparently been warming the project with designer Takahiro Kishida for more than two years now, and you can feel that he's got conviction about doing it, as this episode does a good job of really pulling you in. It felt like after Aquarion Satelight was swinging the pendulum back from CG-centric to something strongly animation-centric.

The animation was quite remarkable and unlike anything I've seen on TV. It was deliberately aiming for a sort of rough and dynamic style full of extreme perspective, giving the impression that they'd digested and understood the essence of what people like Yuasa and Matsumoto were doing. It could certainly go further, but there was an excellent balance in the way it seemed to swing back and forth between the tightly drawn and the completely unravelled. I loved the wonderful disparity of drawings from scene to scene. Though by his own account inexperienced, animation director Ryo Nakaya did a great job keeping it all together while retaining each person's individual style. Clearly he was indispensible to this ep, as the second episode, presumably not done by him, looks starkly different judging by the preview, full of pretty drawings the absence of which were what made the first ep so pleasant to watch.

I'm not familiar with most of the names in the credits, though many are presumably also in Arjuna and Haibane Renmei, but the impression I got here was that everything was interesting, even the parts that didn't move that much, which is really the ideal. But the opening battle was spectacular, well animated and effectively directed. Near the beginning it looked like something Yutaka Nakamura might have drawn, but the great rough and deformed touch of most of it felt different and very satisfying. Animated backgrounds were used at surprising moments very effectively. Seeing the strong impact that was created by simply having the background moving at a surprising moment makes you think about the power of animation, of movement. A few of the shots in the cemetery stood out as being unlike anything else in the ep, with wobbly full frame movement that reminded me of two shots in Mamoru Hosoda's Secret Island film that I'd long been wondering about, where a character trembles fitfully in full frame to incredible effect. I'd been wishing I could see more animation like that, and the cemetery scene fulfilled that wish somewhat. I'm very curious to know who did it. I hope he does more.

The coloring really stood out. The red-and-blue-hued scenes reminded me strongly of Mind Game, as did much of the animation. It felt like they had learned the open approach to animation that Mind Game seemed to suggest, omitting the needless detail, dropping the tons of shadows, really going for the bravura effect of bold, sketchy drawing. The angular but simple, realistic yet cartoony way of drawing the characters reminds a lot of Yuasa's Shin-chan work, which it feels like you can see shards of in various places over the last decade. Even Tetsuya Takeuchi's work seems kind of descended from Yuasa, probably unconsciously.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

09:10:00 pm , 674 words, 3408 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Looking for Tokura

I checked out a few of the new season's shows. I rather liked the pre-opening movement of Blood +, but I have no idea who did it. I don't recognize anyone in the credits. For the life of me it looks like Hashimoto corrected by Kise, but Kise's only credited with the op and Hashimoto isn't there. It would be nice if there was a young new face that I haven't heard of who can create that kind of movement at IG, since I've heard that they're looking to foster the new talent with this show rather than relying on the old names that usually are the major attractor to an IG production. I kept snapping awake every few minutes thinking, "Damn, that avant animation was nice..." Amazing that they're going to be showing this for a whole year at prime time. What happened to the unspoken rule against showing blood on prime time? Firehose blood is OK?

I was recently able to see an old short called Lion and Pelican from 1993's Ai Monogatari omnibus, done by Norimoto Tokura, a figure I wondered aloud about some time ago, and I came away feeling that it single-handedly gave me the key to his style. I've since looked over the rest of his work again out of curiosity and did successfully manage to pick out a few very obvious spots based on the very dramatic stylistic traits on display in the short, but for the most part I didn't find anything that seemed to live up to the level of that short, at least in terms of the movement. The movement in the short struck me as very impressive and unique, the human body moving in a very detailed, deliberate and closely observed way, with a great sense of weight to the movement. It's full movement that doesn't feel needlessly fluid like later Madhouse work. At first I thought I was watching Takashi Nakamura, as the full way the characters moved and the round way they were drawn felt reminiscent of the early Nakamura of The Order to Stop Construction. Tokura's movement is calmer and more closely based on reality, but it has that same sense of depth, of three-dimensionality. There's a certain way Nakamura's arms and particularly his hands are drawn that is just unmistakable, and the same applies to Tokura. I spotted his bulbous, pillowy fingers in several shows as disparate as Herlock and Last Exile. He has a way of drawing faces quite realistically using few lines that is also unmistakable.

I could see why Itano had mentioned him in the same breath as Hashimoto and Ohira, though he has a completely unrelated approach, and honestly out of everything I saw there was nothing else that lived up to the quality of his early short. However, I'm still not sure what part he did in X and Metropolis, for example, and these are films in which he seems to have done a lot of work. (though I was happy that I managed to spot Hashimoto's shots in Metropolis on rewatching it looking for Tokura) But it makes sense, judging by the direciton he was headed in in his early work, that he should eventually have gone to work at Madhouse.

You occasionally see some rather humorous names in credits, as it's apparently perfectly OK to use a fake name if you don't want your real name to appear. Lots of well-known directors do it. Mamoru Hosoda was Sodama Moruho in Utena, for example. Well, I noticed someone called "Tochigi Ichigo" in the last ep of Speed Grapher - Mr. Tochigi Prefecture Strawberries. Hisashi Mori might or might not have done some uncredited (or aka) work in the series, I don't know, but in any case it's disappointing that there was nothing on the level of Samurai Seven 7, as I was really looking forward to something new from him. I still am and hope he gets to do something eventually. He's one of the few people doing anything remotely interesting on TV right now.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

08:15:49 pm , 881 words, 1871 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

Alt anime

Atsushi Wada, Day of Nose

Tonight I was supposed to go see the Hungarian animated film Nyocker (The District), but was feeling tired and under the (rainy) weather, so I couldn't bring myself to make the by now thoroughly exhausting 30-minute plus trip downtown that I've been repeating daily for what seems like ages, thus wasting a ticket...

The first screening I attended at the VIFF this year was the Alternative Anime Strikes Back selection, at which several of the young creators represented were again present and said a little hello beforehand - namely Atsushi Wada, Hiroyuki Mizumoto and Kei Oyama. The theater was full like last year, and there were some video glitches like last year, and it was a satisfying selection, but it felt less novel this time simply because many of the same people were represented. At the same time the repeaters were among my favorites in the selection.

Nobuhiro Aihara's Yellow Night was longer and better balanced than last year's Memory of Red, which you wanted to go on for longer than it did, and do a little more, though the animation of what there was was superb. The film here feels just the right length, with just the right variation of textures and techniques, satisfyingly flowing between the chaotic and the ordered. The technique of throwing lots of different motions onto the screen into a big massive squirming scribble is apparently something of a familiar motif in his work that goes back to his early days in the 80s. There was also another animation battle with Keiichi Tanaami. These ongoing collaborations seems to be giving the work of both a revitalizing kick.

Naoyuki Tsuji was back with a trilogy of charcoal films about clouds after having been invited again to the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes this year. It seems the star of his popularity among the art animation set continues to rise, as a DVD of his films will be coming out on November 23.

Mizumoto Hiroyuki was there with a strange film in three parts. Before the screening he cautioned not to think too hard about the film, stating that it was basically just a "monster movie". The first part was live-action and very talky, featuring lo-resolution video footage of a protagonist wandering around the city babbling to himself pseudo-philosophically about monsters and their relation to humanity, while the second part was a jarring and headache-inducing animated bit, and the third was a coda reconciling the two. Overall I found it a bit of a stretch, but with his willingness to try daring large-scale experiments like this there is obviously some nice potential there.

Atsushi Wada's Day of Nose was a surprisingly enjoyable bit of surrealism, with salarymen patiently lined up to have their noses pinched and people lunging at goats and so on. Wada is interesting because he's mentioned that he didn't get into animation because he cared about animation per se. He says he's probably not even got what it takes to be an animator. He's probably right. It all started from the germ of simply being curious to see how a crude sketch would look if it moved. His films have the naive freshness and unpredictability of kids' drawings. What he likes to call "ma" - the sense of timing or pacing - is the key to his films, rather than the drawings, which could conceivably be any other media and probably have the same effect. He's got a unique sensibility and a good sense for the absurd. Koji Morimoto apparently liked Wada's Yellow Person enough to award the film the prize last year on Digital Stadium.

A nice contrast with Wada's laughable drawings (I mean that as a compliment) was the highly polished and rich visual world of Consultation Room by Kei Oyama. Close-up photographs of skin create eerily lifelike, repulsive textures that evoke the horror of disease and infection. Oyama has an original vision - a dark vision, but one that feels like it addresses inner issues in an enlightened and enlightening way. He has a strong sense for what he wants to say and how to say it in a way that is effective as animation. Being a squeamish person, I can't say it's a film I'll probably want to revisit often, but it was technically a very accomplished film and Oyama is obviously a name to watch. This was his graduation film from the Tokyo Zokei University, from which Naoyuki Tsuji graduated in 1995.

Finally, it was a pleasure to see Iki Norihito's Goodbye Song up on the big screen. I'd seen a sample of it previously, and felt uncertain about it because it was only a short clip that didn't make much sense on its own, but seeing the film whole everything fell into place. It was a delight of a film. Norihito is one of my favorite of the young generation active right now. He has a vision that's warm and focused on the world around him (he's a photographer as well), yet filled with wonder, and a talent for formal inventiveness. His films stay with you after you see them. Norihito actually spent two years interviewing and filming the children seen in Goodbye Song. Koji Morimoto again was the one who selected Norihito's film Ghost Story on Digital Stadium two years ago.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2005

10:34:22 pm , 556 words, 1265 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

Anima Vision

I found a site that states that the release of the Norman McLaren: Master's Edition DVD box has been tentatively set for the end of October.

An unexpected bonus coming so soon after my viewing of Lee Sung-Gang's Texture of Skin was a short entitled Bicycle Trip by Lee among the shorts in the omnibus If You Were Me: Anima Vision, which is the third in a series of omnibus films commissioned by the Human Rights Commission to highlight issues of discrimination. Although the other shorts had their merits, Lee's stood out as easily the most memorable of the lot for its narrative assuredness, effective use of end-to-beginning structure and his usual feeling for infusing moments of poetic beauty in everyday things. It was the only film that didn't feel overwhelmed by the message it was trying to convey.

Day Dream had a tender visual touch and joyous simplicity that sensitively complemented the subject of raising deformed children, but it felt like it failed to live up to the demands of the material in terms of the way it told its story. It fell back on stereotypes and simplifications that might be acceptable for conveying the subject to very young audiences, but as an adult it only felt manipulative, when there was no need to be with such a subject. Even so it's a beautiful achievement in that it bursts with feelings of simultaneously such power and serenity that you sense that only a father with first-hand experience in this matter could have made the film. In that sense it's a film of rare sincerity and heart in animation. It encapsulates my contradictory feelings about the omnibus as a whole, which addresses tough subjects that should be addressed in animation, but often fails to do so in a way that I feel really would advance the issues. The problem is that if a film doesn't go beyond didacticism, it won't work, unless we're talking very little kids - and even then I have my doubts. Since the whole project is about getting across a message, it's kind of pointless to criticise that aspect, but it feels like its greatest weakness.

Part of the problem seems to be a failure to identify the target audience. Some of the films are aimed at very small children, and are of little interest to adults, but may therefore very well be effective with their target audience. It's just that, seen back to back with the other films, the whole feels uneven and dissatisfying. At Her House, for example, told the story of an overworked housewife very effectively using a minimum of drawn lines, no colors and few words, and did a good job of making her pent-up feelings palpable in a way that made you relate, while Flesh and Bone used CG and relied heavily on laconic narration to paint a bizarre family history of obesity using surrealistic visuals and twisted humor. Both are effective and very different films and I enjoyed them, but the target audience seems clearly different from Animal Farm, a Nick Parkish story about a goat trying in vain to join a racially exclusive pen of sheep that was clearly aimed at small children. Nonetheless, it was still a visually varied and thought-provoking film, and an interesting new take on the possibilities of the indie omnibus.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

06:00:39 pm , 758 words, 1628 views     Categories: Movie, Live-action

Texture of Skin

Q & A photosAs I was driving back home through the rain from seeing Lee Sung-Gang's film today, my iPod happened upon some music by Isang Yun, which seemed appropriate. Not just because they're both among the best Korean artists I'm familiar with, but because there seems to be a tangible spiritual kinship there, in their sensual romanticism that isn't Hollywood but uncompromisingly personal and modern in its idiom.

Lee's first live-action feature falls perfectly in line with his past work. Up until directing his animated feature debut, his early films were inward-turned explorations of individual anomie, of people with "something missing" looking for that other half - or losing it, as the case may be, as in one of his most recent and most accomplished early shorts, his 1998 Ashes in the Thicket. The latter now seems to directly forebode his feature directing debut, as the two have numerous obvious similarities - the loving focus on capturing the sensual beauty of naked skin in natural lighting conditions, stories of desperate love and loss shot in the half-light of dimly lit apartments. After having just seen the film I find that I had difficulty recalling whether Texture of Skin was shot in black and white or in color, which attests to how close the sensibility is to that of his earlier black and white animated short.

What's wonderful is that he was able to capture that same spirit in two completely different media, almost one after another. It doesn't feel like he's just jumping around doing things to make himself look like a renaissance man. It feels like he's got a personal vision, and each situation happens to require different expressive means. That's something I find lacking in most animation, even of the nominally artistic persuasion. It's good for a piece of animation to have been conceived specifically for the medium, but there almost seems to be too much of a focus on the animation at times, when the animation should be there to express something. Lee himself mentioned that this was precisely the case in the Q & A after the screening - he chooses whatever medium is necessary to express the idea at hand. He wasn't trained in animation or filmmaking but in psychology.

The dichotomy between his personal films and his commercial films is obviously striking, and it was aptly noted that the Lee present today was the Hyde to the Jekyll of Mari (though Hyde came first in this case!). But even comparing his personal films to Mari it's not impossible to identify the creator behind both. Both focus on the drab, ordinary lives of people living in a specific and culturally unmistakable place, whose lives are affected in some way when their dream-life begins to seep into their reality. One of his most telling comments was made in response to someone's question about how a person who made a film as innocent as Mari could have made a film like Texture of Skin. The translation of his response to the question was: "Generally people tend to think that there's a pure and innocent side in animation, but I think there's just as much pureness and innocence in Texture of Skin."

While watching the many love scenes in the film, I couldn't help but compare how the scenes were shot to the way such scenes are traditionally shot in Hollywood films. There every detail is precisely calculated and exposed and framed and lit to achieve the most sensuality possible, like a sexual version of food photography, coming across as completely artificial and sterile, whereas in Lee's film everything seemed natural, with normal lighting conditions and very spontaneous and unostentatious shooting. It felt like one of the film's central statements, and Lee specifically addressed this afterwards, saying that it was his way of trying to show the everyday beauty of sex, which is something that is literally mundane, something part of people's everyday lives. He was trying to bring it back down to earth from the plastic wonderland of pulp celluloid.

I was very excited about seeing this film, and I was happy to find that it was very close to what I was expecting, in the sense that it's back to the personal filmmaking of his early shorts. That he didn't consider those films an early aberration, something he'd outgrown, something of the past now that he had gone Big Time. It shows that he will continue to make the films that mean something to him, regardless of whether they're safe, saleable commodities. At least, I hope so.