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, 18

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

11:48:14 pm , 560 words, 6283 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, 794 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.