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: November 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

11:09:38 pm , 1685 words, 2697 views     Categories: Animation

Money Makes the World Go Round

Episode 8: Counterfeit Money Makes the World Go RoundToday my Goku no Daiboken DVD box arrived, and I've already watched the long-lost episode, which was essentially the only reason I purchased the thing. Aside from that, the surprise was the incredible richness of the liner notes, which go into great detail about the production system. I'd long wondered what exactly this "Art Fresh" studio that Gisaburo founded was exactly, and at least in the case of the time during which Goku was in production it consisted of one of the ten rooms of an abandoned kindergarten that was purchased by Mushi Pro to serve as Mushi Productions Studio No 5 where Goku was produced. It was re-abandoned afterwards. Next to the Art Fresh room was the room for "Onishi Productions", and next to it the room for "Fantasia Productions", a studio about which I'd heard that Hata had helped found but knew (and still know) absolutely nothing about. Studio No 5, then, was essentially a collection of various small studios brought together in one place for this series, which is very unusual. An entirely different production style was invented to produce an entirely different series. There were some comments from Hata about his legendary episodes, and he comes across as decidedly humble, practically dismissing them as mere juvenalia. That's what this show was: a conduit for youthful rebellion. The desire to smash the status quo. Gisaburo's primary influence at the time was the Nouvelle Vague, and it shows. Hata's work on the series embodies that rebel-with-a-cause energy.

In particular, I was delighted to see that the animation staff were listed. I don't think they were credited on the LD box, and I'd always wondered who did what. Well, now I know that Shigeru Yamamoto and Sadao Miyamoto did the animation in many of the episodes including Hata's, so we see where the team that went on to do so much work at Sanrio Films together got introduced. One surprise was to find that Renzo Kinoshita, most famous for his indie films like Pika Don and for founding the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, was involved as well. He seems to have been at Mushi Pro right from the beginning with Atom. Another surprise was to find that Sadao Tsukioka had been impressed by Gisaburo's intent and joined the show to help out. And how was he involved? How else: animating episodes singlehandedly. It was nice to disover that one of my favorite eps, 12, was animated entirely by him. Episode 21 was 100% Tsukioka: story created by him, directed by him, and animated by him. That's one thing that makes this show unique: early on Gisaburo threw most of the scripts he'd gotten from the scriptwriters in the trash, and had the animators come up with the stories themselves. When the direction of the show changed, that policy changed too, and Tezuka himself came in and supervised the scripts to make sure they made perfect sense, in the process sapping the show of its vitality.

One thing that attracted me so much to Dezaki's ep 4 in the show was the ferocious cynicism on display in the ep, for example the way he used a loop of animation to show the corpses of legions of minions being carted off into the distance after their usefulness to the boss had run its course. Human bodies are a limitless resource. A Vietnam reference in the episode is dropped as casually as the corpses pile up on the sidelines. Even the dead come back to life when they catch wind of a rumor of treasure in a faraway land called Japan. The ep is essentially an attack on the greed of nations, but what makes it effective satire is that it doesn't try to convince using logic. It leaps and cuts all over the place, breaking every rule it can get its hands on. This was apparently a style of filmmaking that ran counter to what Dezaki really wanted to do, and you can see what he really wanted to do, namely more traditional storytelling, in the other episodes, which simply don't fit into what this show was supposed to be about. It's a shame, because the Dezaki of ep 4 never really showed up again afterwards, and the ep hasn't lost any of its power after all these years, nor has anyone else tried to do this sort of thing since. The station triumphantly gloated when Golden Bat smashed the show over the head by cutting its amazing 30% first-season ratings in half, and things were smooth sailing on the airwaves from then on out. Gisaburo essentially stopped bothering after the first season.

What was supposed to be episode 8 got completely produced but was never shown on the air, which is fairly unusual if not unprecedented in anime. Usually things are halted at an earlier stage if something is deemed problematic. Thanks to the detective work of the producers of this box, we get to see that Dezaki had in fact gone the next step after ep 4, an ep that incidentally was very well recieved by fellow industry folks. This time he tried to take it to the next level with what he'd done in the earlier ep, and though I found the earlier ep more satisfying, this one is equally unhinged. Afterwards he gave up on this approach, so this ep provides an invaluable look into this facet of his early work. As before, what story there is is merely a coathanger for a series of cynical gags, like ambulances running over the killers on their way to save the other killers, but the death aspect is emphasized even more here. Various competing groups including the mafia, an african dictator and the Shinsengumi battle it out over counterfeit money. One character inexplicably blows himself up or is blown up repeatedly throughout the episode only to reapper a moment later in exactly the same guise, ad infinitum. What is meant by the character is totally open to interpretation, and like all great art the creator may not even know what he meant by it, but it takes on an interesting meaning seen today. After the counterfeiters are defeated, one quick shot near the end shows them starting all over again. The final shot has the ubiquitous man in the sunglasses grinning as he shoots himself in the head. The more things change...

There was some Muraki Circus in Eureka 7 32, this time with light beams. On looking over the show I noticed that Seiichi Hashimoto was involved heavily early on but did less and less and he hasn't appeared much lately. He was here, and I got the same vague impression of a slightly higher quality of touch with the characters that I got whenever he was in Planetes, particularly the scene in the hangar. The three shots where Renton runs towards Eureka were also interesting. The first shot was a short close-up with delicately observed leg movement in 1s, and in the next two Eureka walks in 3s while Renton runs in 2s on the same screen, which suits their respective speeds. I suppose the animator would have come up with the idea to do that. Seemed an unusually thought-out thing to do. Short sequence but nice effect. I also get the vague impression that more effort was put into the characters early on while lately there's been a lot more effort put into the mecha. Oh, and it's amusing to note the curiously high Hashimoto density rate in the show. Practically the only Hashimoto missing is my favorite, Shinji. Which I don't mind at all. This is definitely not his kind of material.

I got my Junkers DVD out of storage to watch Iso's scene again, which I haven't seen in a long time, and also just to enjoy the film, which has a lot of very nice work, even by Ohira, albeit less than one would have hoped considering how deeply he was involved in the initial stages of the project. Supposedly the ending animation was to have been a larger sequence than the two small bits that are currently there, but for whatever reason Ohira never got through with the sequence, despite having 6 months to do it, and those little pieces were all that wound up seeing the light of day. I'm curious whether it was because his enthusiasm for the whole thing had been dampened, but most of all I'd be curious to know/see how much of it he had completed. Ohira's style changed dramatically after he came back to anime several years after this, so it would offer the chance to see what would essentially be the culmination of the first half of his career.

Looking over the credits now I recognize most of the names except a handful, which jives with what I've heard about three other famous animators having used pen names in the film. Sakayori Takateru 逆寄隆輝 is definitely fake (Lain 6). Ditto for Shiono Kaji 塩野櫂 (Yawara 14). A little investigation suggests that the last one is probably Konoe Mamoru 近衛真守, which as far as I can tell may be the pen name of Habara Nobuyoshi 羽原信義. Episode 14 of Nadesico was directed/storyboarded by Habara; Konoe helped on structure and was AD; and animation was by two people: Kazuo Komatsubara and Habara. This would have been about a year after Junkers. Konoe/Habara animated the part in Junkers where Hiromi scares Junkers. This was supposed to have been done by Shinji Hashimoto, who did the surrounding scene, but he didn't have enough time to get around to it. One of the scenes I've always wondered about is the part where Hiromi is running in the snow. I wonder if this might not be one of the nickname parts. It kind of feels like Hideki Hamasu, or maybe Takeshi Honda.

It looks like the official announcement is not far off, so it's probably OK to mention now that the old rumours appear to have been true that a Yasutaka Tsutsui double-feature was in the works at Madhouse. The "other director", guess who, will apparently be doing Tsusui's hit juvenile story Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, or The Girl who Could Control Time.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

03:22:43 pm , 83 words, 2496 views     Categories: Animation

Cajino trilogy

A note of the Yoshiyuki Momose Cajino trilogy staff:

Portable Airport
Shinji Otsuka, Shinya Ohira, Miwa Sasaki, Tsutomu Shibuya, Osamu Tanabe, Hideki Hamasu, Takeshi Honda, Toshihiko Masuda, Yasunori Miyazawa

Space Station No. 9
Minoru Oba, Shinya Ohira, Ken'ichi Konishi, Osamu Tanabe, Tetsuya Nishio, Shinji Hashimoto, Hideki Hamasu, Takeshi Honda, Toshihiko Masuda

Flying City Plan
Minoru Oba, Masashi Okumura, Masako Sato, Tsutomu Shibuya, Atsushi Tamura, Hideki Hamasu, Takeshi Honda, Atsushi Yamagata, Tadashi Yokota, Hideaki Yoshio

  渋谷 勤、田辺 修、浜洲英喜、
  本田 雄、増田敏彦、宮沢康紀

「space station No.9」
大場 実、大平晋也、小西賢一、
  田辺 修、西尾鉄也、橋本晋治、
  浜洲英喜、本田 雄、増田敏彦

大場 実、奥村正志、佐藤雅子、
  渋谷 勤、田村 篤、浜洲英喜、
  本田 雄、山形厚史、横田匡史、

An amazing lineup in the first two.

Friday, November 25, 2005

11:19:25 am , 629 words, 1678 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

Misc notes

I vaguely recognized the name of the animation director of Slime Adventures, Toshihisa Kaiya, but I couldn't remember what he'd done. On looking into it, I found that he's the CD of IGPX, which is probably where I remembered seeing his name. Recently he did animation in Mind Game, Jin-Roh, Memories, and was animation director of SAC 12, which also happened to be one of the eps storyboarded by Masayuki Yoshihara. In the past he was animation director of shows like Akazukin Chacha and Miracle Girls. He started out at Asia-Do along with Yuasa and is now at IG. Kaiya and Yuasa had already worked together a few years earlier on Fam and Ihrie, where Kaiya was CD/AD and Yuasa did layout.

I read something that helped to explain what it was that made Mushishi feel different. It's the fact that the base of the animation is 2s rather than the limited 3s of most TV anime, and the "mushi" are animated in 1s. People are so unaccustomed to seeing 1s on TV that reportedly many seem to have thought it was CGI, but no, it's all hand drawn. Aside from that, they put great effort into having the voice actors read their lines in as unostentatious and realistic a manner as possible, cutting out all of the overacting that usually defines voice acting in anime.

The finale of Noein 7 had some of the best quality work since the first ep. The animation was fantastic, but more than that the combination of animation, CGI, VFX and SFX there seems exemplary of what they're trying to do with the show. I was surprised to see Matsumoto in the credits, and thought it might be him at first, but judging by his low place in the credits it seems more likely that he only did two or three obvious shots in the jar. So I'm very curious to know who it was. Perhaps it was Takahiro Kishida. I don't know his style enough to be sure, though he seems the likely candidate, as the characters in all of the rest of the ep looked completely off-model while suddenly that part had the unique texture of his drawings. I was expecting to have to wait at least another month to see Matsumoto in the show, so it was a nice surprise. Rumor has it Utsunomiya may also be involved, so there may be a real knockout ep coming up.

It's interesting to see that though Kishida is the character designer he hasn't done any animation directing. He's only showed up as an animator. Supposedly he may be focusing on the layout, but unfortuantely nowadays there is no credit for layout so there's no way of knowing for sure. Normally the layout is drawn by the key animator in question based on the storyboard, but there are exceptions, among the more famous being when Miyazaki drew layout for every shot of every episode of Marco and Heidi. Controlling this innocuous element can decisively change the whole mood of a shot and hence show.

It seems the third piece in the Momose trilogy was in fact included on that Short Short DVD despite not being listed early on, perhaps due to the fact that it was still touring theaters. I've also heard that Osamu Tanabe's Doredore no Uta short included on the same DVD has been nominated for an Academy award or something. I'm curious what will come of that. Tanabe deserves the recognition. He's been doing some of the most interesting work at Ghibli for years now.

I watched 4°C's Fluximation shorts. Besides being happy to see Yasuhiro Aoki in there, I thought the realistic animation in the Hiroyuki Kitakubo piece looked like it might have been done by Ohira. Strange combination.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

07:47:00 pm , 3468 words, 17795 views     Categories: Translation

Yoshiaki Yoshinaga on Nekojiru

May 10, 1998.

Nekojiru is dead.

Cause of death: Suicide.

Born: 1967. Height: 153 cm. Weight: 37 kg.

Plain looking. Short-cropped hair.

She was she first suicide I knew.

Coming as it did right after the suicide of hide, lead singer of X-JAPAN, also by hanging from a rope tied around a doorknob, some fans and press speculated about the possibility of it being a copycat suicide.

I wanted to get down on record a few things I knew about Nekojiru.

Nekojiru as I knew her: A close friend, gone forever.


I first met Nekojiru in 1990.

I was just starting out as an editor and a writer. Things were going great. I was full of spunk, fascinated by everything, exhilirated by my work.

A movie nerd approaching thirty, I was free of worries, dabbled in drugs, and felt totally open to life.

One of the magazines I read at the time was Garo.

If I ran across a manga I liked, I'd call the editors to get them to introduce me to the artist and get him to draw illustrations for my magazine.

Takashi Nemoto and Hajime Yamano were favorites from Garo. I knew both personally and commissioned work from them often.

At the time, Hajime Yamano drew manga about poor, stupid losers in a gritty, realistic millenial theater of desire.

His way of relentlessly exposing the insignificance and smallness of the human creature in his manga in a despaired, nonsensical tone won him the ire of sensible people and a cult following.

Self-styled renaissance man and misfit, reading a manga artist like Yamano was for me a healing activity.

"Exactly... That's exactly how it is..."

A common refrain when I read Yamano's manga.

Years after his manga had stopped appearing in Garo in the 90s, one day Garo published a piece signed "Yamano + Nekojiru Mama". It was Nekojiru's debut.

The title: Nekojiru Udon.

A father cat barges into an udon shop holding a kitten in his mouth, and asks the udon seller to neuter the kitten. The udon seller is taken aback at first but finally grabs a knife and stabs kitty. Kitty dies. A customer walks in and places an order: "One kitty udon." The Udon seller perks up: "Comin' right up!" The end.

Cute cats doing gruesome things.

The characters were drawn with a wobbly, hesitant line that gave it a curiously powerful impact you didn't get from better drawn work. I remember being slightly dazed for a while after reading the manga.

"Wow, Yamano-san has started up again."

Right away I knew I wanted him to draw a crazy cat manga for my magazine, so I gave him a call.

Our meeting took place the next day in a cafe. He had brought his wife, whom he introduced.

She was thin, short, boyish. The type of character you'd expect to see in a Moto Hagio manga.

"Actually, that cat manga was drawn by Chiyomi (Nekojiru's real name), though I'm helping out a lot. It's a joint effort."

Nekojiru seemed a bit shy that day. But she left a good impression on me.

"My wife is usually pretty blunt with most people. She'll say it right to your face if she doesn't like you. So I just hope the meeting goes well..."

Despite his fears, Nekojiru and I hit it off right away.

We got together relatively frequently after that, but I don't remember seeing her wearing a skirt during the whole time I knew her. She probably didn't own one.

Plain was the perfect word to describe her.

Following her debut, Nekojiru quickly established a strong base of support among a handful of people in the industry. One music writer I knew told me, "I interviewed her once, and it was love at first sight."

Nekojiru was like a fragile little animal in need of someone to protect her.

But behind this endearingly feminine side lurked a curious darkness. Something strange and dangerous had taken root in the depths of her soul. I was speechless when I realized the chasm of opaque desire that separated us.


"I want a knife."

Nekojiru occasionally mumbled this under her breath.

Nekojiru was apparently gripped by a compulsion to arm herself with a weapon.

She would stand there in her army jacket with a completely serious look on her face and say: "I want a knife." What she wanted, really, was something to protect her from the world.

Once I got to know her, I felt I understood better how she could have come to the point of wanting to arm herself with a weapon.

To Nekojiru, the world around her was a dangerous place full of awful and repellant people and things. She couldn't let her guard down for a moment, so she escaped into her own world. When even that wasn't enough, she wanted a knife.

There were a few other special things about Nekojiru.

She was unrelenting in her criticism of others to the point of selfishness.

She could hardly eat anything. No fish, no meat. At restaurants, she would only order soup.

Once when she came to our house, my wife offered her an avocado.

"Try it. It's good."

Nekojiru seemed mystified by the strange fruit.


Nekojiru took a bite of the avocado.


A moment later, pieces of avocado were flying across the room.


Nekojiru was perfectly satisfied with food you could suck from a straw.

It's not that she was picky about food. She just didn't care about food.

In the end, she didn't care about living.

And, like my wife, she wasn't picky about gender in matters of love.

Nekojiru's first love was a young woman.

In her later years, she was on good terms with my wife.

We'd drop by her house often as newlyweds. It wasn't long until they were good friends.

We visited each other at home, and we talked on the phone.

You could sense that Nekojiru had only accepted my wife because of me. And to my wife, Nekojiru was like a family pet. She was constantly petting Nekojiru.

Seeing them glued to one another was prone to give rise to misunderstandings. They were like two young maidens in a film by Renoir - dazzling, beautiful, and erotic.

And now both of them are gone.


At one point I contracted Nekojiru to draw two pages of manga for a travel magazine I was editing.

I sensed it was best not to make too many demands, so I left it up to her to decide on the content. My sole request was for something in the vein of her debut; something with cats.

I was reassured by the knowledge that Yamano was in fact the co-creator and manager of the cat manga.

"After all this time I'm still amazed that she gave you the OK. Usually she never does." Yamano confided later.

Why Nekojiru gave me the OK, why she accepted me, I don't know. Usually she rejected anyone who approached her, and accepted only the people she had picked.

By some miracle, I was among the elect. Perhaps it was because we were both right-hemisphere types. Or perhaps because she sensed a kinship with me due to my childhood traumas.

I had some serious traumas regarding my relationship with my parents.

It was like Nekojiru's laser vision had bored right through my surface layers and into my soul.

That intuition impressed me. I was fortunate enough to bear witness to several other instances of her intuitive prowess as time went on, and came to look on her as something of a shaman.


One day I got up close and personal with the shaman in Nekojiru.

It was back when I was living in an apartment the north side of Tokyo, drowning in hard drugs every day. One day Nekojiru informed me:

"You'll be dead at 35."

I went completely pale.

Why am I going to be dead at 35? A drug overdose? A hit and run? I don't want to die.

I couldn't stop thinking about her ominous prediction.

She had seen the shadow of death hovering over me.

But her premonition, it turns out, had in fact been directed at herself.

Why did Nekojiru, a shy and antisocial person, warm to someone like me?

I also enjoyed talking to Nekojiru.

Nekojiru had almost no friends, and she spent most of her time alone. Exceptionally, she was friends with an Israeli stallholder. She couldn't speak a work of English, but they got along well.

Nekojiru didn't have any salaryman friends, and she didn't seem to want any. She was strict about acquaintances, and hard to please. For some reason, an Israeli stallholder and a freelance writer were OK.

When I asked her what she thought of the manga-ka Takeshi Nemoto, she was respectful:

"He's a sempai who draws interesting manga."

Not so much a friend as an elder she respected. Nemoto himself had a good eye for judging people, and he had seen her potential since even before her debut.

After her debut, as before, Nekojiru was unconcerned by the business side of her work. She had no interest in worldly ambitions like making money and getting famous.

But a humble woman she was not. I knew nobody as unpredictable or as selfish as Nekojiru. She knew exactly what she wanted, and took it.

Garo didn't pay for manuscripts, so anyone who drew for them knew not to expect remuneration.

Having only drawn for the pages of Garo, Nekojiru later confided that she was grateful to me because I was the first person who had paid her for her work.

I had become something of a big brother to her.

Yamano was a father and a mother to Nekojiru. She addressed Yamano as mom, and she addressed me as big brother.

We were like a real family.

It was short-lived, but it was real.


Nekojiru, Masaaki Aoyama and Saki Tatsumi. All three knew one another. All three are gone.

I eventually asked Nekojiru to draw manga for Abunai 1-go, a magazine Aoyama and I edited.

That's where Nekojiru got to know Aoyama, which is what led to him writing the afterword of her book Nekojiru Dango.

However, that had been arranged by the publisher. Nekojiru knew Aoyama through me, but they were never close.

In the early 90s, Nekojiru still wasn't too busy, and she was able to work at her own pace.

At the time I was in the habit of going over to Nekojiru's house and spending the night listening to techno/trance music. After discovering techno music, we often went out dancing at dingy clubs frequented by foreigners, or to Goa trance rave parties. We really loved the scene.

I'd go over to Yamano's house and the three of us would spend the night talking and tripping to the music.

This was before Saki and I got married. Nekojiru and Saki would drink, I would smoke weed, and we'd spend the night "music-tripping".

At the beginning I had to explain everything to them: "This is dub. It evolved from reggae. It's perfect with ganja." or "This is German Trance. It's all weepy sounding, with tinny synth."

Wrapped up in ourselves, we sat around all day doing nothing, just listening to music.

Sudden barks of vacant laughter, followed by endless reams of useless music trivia, and talk about our favorite artists, life and death.

Time flowing before our eyes , we were passengers on a ship of time bathed in a rain of music, riding into the light.

Seen from the outside, we must have looked like a bunch of degenerates.

Fearful but confident, at one with the universe, filled with ecstasy, we spent psychedelic days and nights dancing as if possessed. Worries about the future disappeared momentarily.

Nekojiru was open to just about anything at the beginning, but soon enough she got to know the music and developed preferences - "I like the faster stuff" or "I like the more screechy sounding stuff".

Finally, after listening to various things, she said her favorites were Aphex Twin and Hallucinogen, a Goa trance unit.

Hallucinogen is one of the best Goa trance units for tripping to LSD.

The only drug Nekojiru did while listening to music was Jack Daniels.

She couldn't stand the more melodic, emotional, weepy types of music.

The music of one of my favorite artists, Jam El Mar, seemed to please her at first, with its drugged-out sound and complex musical structures, but she later did a 180 and said she hated it because it sounded too "gay".

Near the end we usually wound up listening to whatever Nekojiru wanted.

Goa trance being dance music, I would often move my arms to the music, and I remember Nekojiru staring and looking very amused whenever I did.

Nekojiru never danced. She was the kind who sat still and went into herself.

I remember once, when we were listening to music, Nekojiru was in a particularly good mood and gave me a gift of a religious painting she had bought while on vacation in India, even though she was fond of the picture. She could be generous that way. We used the painting for the back cover of issue 2 of "Abunai 1-go".

Nekojiru went on vacation to India in 1994. I had said I wanted to go with her, but I wasn't able to get time off, so she went alone with Yamano.

In Benares she saw holy men called Sado who would sit around all day smoking cannabis. "Why can't Japan be that laid back?" she asked me.

Nekojiru had never done drugs in Japan, but she tried cannabis in India and rather enjoyed its gentle intoxication.


Unsurprisingly, the reason Nekojiru got together with Yamano was because of his work in Garo.

Nekojiru personally came knocking on his door and forced her way into his life.

She had just graduated from beauty college, so she was around 18 or 19.

Though practically a shut-in, Nekojiru had made up her mind that she wanted to help Yamano with his manga. The problem was, Nekojiru's drawings looked nothing like Yamano's. Yamano's manga was drawn in precise detail, but Nekojiru could only draw simple figures that looked amateurish, almost childish. But her drawings nevertheless had a mysterious appeal.

Yamano had sensed something special about her drawings, so on instinct he collaborated with her on a story, just to see what would happen. That was how Nekojiru's debut came about.

From that point on, every once in a while she drew new episodes in the Nekojiru Udon series, and I commissioned one-pagers and illustrations from her for my magazine.

This was in the early 90s, before she had to worry about deadlines.

The stories were about Nyatta and Nyako beating a dog for no reason, or seeing a homeless bum getting drunk on a bus, running to tell their dad, and the homeless bum puking on dad... I enjoyed them because they were true to Nekojiru's feelings.

The editors asked me to "make it more accessible," but I sensed that these cats had real potential to take off, so I let her do as she pleased.

Before becoming famous, Nekojiru lived an irregular lifestyle, staying awake for thirty hours at a time or sleeping all day. It must have wreaked havoc on her circadian rhythm.

Nekojiru had a cat. Her way of training her cat was a bit hard to stomach. When he did something he wasn't supposed to do, she lashed him with a whip. She sometimes used an amount of force with her cat that was clearly animal abuse. As a result, the cat didn't listen to Yamano or I, but never failed to follow Nekojiru's instructions.


Nekojiru could be surprisingly persistent when she wanted something or someone.

Usually nobody interested her, but when someone did, she was unstoppable.

"I once forced a guy I liked to take my student notebook," Nekojiru told me.

Her first target was the lead singer of the funk band EP-4, Kaoru Sato. The second was Yamano. Later in her life she even fell for Aphex Twin.

Looks were important to Nekojiru. Richard D. James, AKA Aphex Twin, though not handsome perhaps, has a sort of boyish good looks. His music was very personal - beautiful at times, violent at others. His music made you wonder, "How much of this is planned out, and how much of it is pure instinct?" It was playful and free, not to say random.

Nekojiru fell for Aphex Twin through his music. Her feelings had become quite serious by the time the Richard D James Album came out. In accordance with her testament, they were joined forever in Nekojiru's casket.

Though Nekojiru could be aggressively go-getter with people she liked, most people interested her no more than food did. Her disinterest was impartial - pop stars mattered no more to her than did fans of her work. She was unpleasant to everyone equally; pure in her selfishness. She liked few things, and expressed her feelings concisely and emphatically: "I don't care." "I don't like it."

Despite a recommendation from Hyde of L'arc-en-Ciel on the cover of one of Nekojiru's books and widespread suspicions of her suicide being a copycat of X-Japan lead singer hide's suicide, the fact was, Nekojiru wasn't interested in pop stars like them. She could be just as much of an idol worshipper as anyone, but her idols weren't the popular kind. She had her own clear set of preferences that had nothing to do with popularity or musical quality.

"I love Jack Daniels nya~~!" read a line in her manga. Nekojiru loved to drink.

Once when we were at a restaurant, Nekojiru got drunk, and when the owner brought out a dish of grilled sweetfish on the house, Nekojiru became furious and made a big scene because "We didn't ask for it."

Otherwise, things rarely got out of hand when we got together to drink at Nekojiru's place in the early 90s.

But by 1997-98, at the peak of her popularity, Nekojiru had started to drink heavily.


Nekojiru had one other defining trait.

She couldn't lie. It was physiologically impossible for her. That's why she said it loud and clear if she didn't like something.

Once we were eating with a friend at a sushi bar that we frequented because we often came up with interesting ideas there. As we sat quietly eating, suddenly Nekojiru blurted out, "This roe is disgusting. I bet it's fake!"

The noisy restaurant went dead silent. The cook stood rooted to the spot in front of us, knife hovering in the air in mid-chop. Taken aback and uncertain what to do, I froze up.

Once the initial shock had worn off, the cook was able to respond, "I can assure you it's real..."

To try to save the situation, I gave it a good laugh to try to pass it off as a joke.

Nekojiru was always honest - sometimes to the point of rudeness.

Once she called up the editor of a major magazine in the middle of the night to make the following request: "I want a different liaison."

"Why?" the editor asked.

"Because he's fat."

The editor couldn't believe his ears, so he asked again and again for the real reason, but she wouldn't give any other reason.

Without solid justification for doing something so drastic, the editor must have been quite put out. In the end, I think she got her request.

Nekojiru could be impulsive in an endearing way, but also self-centered. But she didn't do it to be mean. She didn't have anything against fat people. Her body seemed to experience a kind of sympathetic resonance and began to sweat uncontrollably whenever she was around them. She was unable to cope with the slightest stress that others could easily endure.

She was too sensitive.

I imagine the editors of the big publishing houses must have had their share of problems with her. Kid gloves must have been the order of the day.

Can't stand most people, gets depressed when she has to be around people she doesn't like... What a small-minded, unkind person she must have seemed from a distance.

Natural and ingenuous to the point of arrogance, Nekojiru was baptised the "Child Queen" by Yamano. The title fit her to a tee - pure and easily hurt, without the immune system to protect herself, yet haughty, turning her nose up at this and that.

After molding her environment in her own image, all that was left for her to do was to shut her eyes and turn inward.

To be continued. Translated from Jisatsu Sarechatta Boku 自殺されちゃった僕 by Yoshinaga Yoshiaki 吉永嘉明 (11/25/2004, Asuka Shinsha), a book describing in simple, direct words three of the author's acquaintances who commited suicide within the last seven years: Nekojiru, Masaaki Aoyama, and his wife.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

10:16:45 pm , 515 words, 3316 views     Categories: Animation

Slime Adventures

One thing I never expected to see is Masaaki Yuasa's Slime Adventures short. I considered myself lucky enough to have seen his Nanchatte Vampiyan pilot. I figured it was just a little obscurity that probably could safely be confined to his past. It probably isn't that great anyway, I tried to convince myself. Having now seen it, I can't help but laugh. At the thought that this thing remained out of sight for so long. At the thought that Yuasa had actually gone farther in this little film than he has anywhere else before or after, and it's been seen by nobody. Seeing it showed me that I was right in suspecting that if Yuasa could be let loose with his own material we'd see something far more incredible than Mind Game. Seeing it made me really, really look forward to his short in Genius Party, not that I wasn't already. From everything I've heard, it sounds guaranteed to betray any expectations.

In a lot of ways this feels like the most 100% Yuasa film he's done yet. That feeling of incredible momentum, of being on an out-of-control roller coaster you get watching parts of Noiseman and Mind Game, and the little bits he's done here and there - the ending of this film blew it all away. I've only watched it once, so I'm probably exaggerating, but it was an amazing experience seeing that climax. The phrase that came to mind while watching it was: "kurutteru". Translated: He's gone completely crazy. I've never seen anyone capable of creating such psychotically thrilling momentum in animation. Part of this was no doubt in no small part thanks to the fact that Shinya Ohira drew a large portion of the climax. (it was great seeing the "O" of his name, meaning big, balloning all out of proportion with the rest of the names in the credits, no doubt for his incredible work and as a sign of respect) The significance of his presence here is all greater since this was probably the first thing Ohira did following his five-year hiatus from the anime industry after Hamaji's Resurrection. Since then there's been no stopping him.

Technically Yuasa wasn't the designer or animation director, but it sure as hell looks like he was. The whole setting looks straight out of one of his image sketches, and the style and texture of the drawings throughout feels incredibly close to his TV work on Shin-chan and elsewhere, much moreso than the Vampiyan pilot in any case, which had the drawback of not looking like Yuasa at all. There's no room for doubt that most of the designs apart from the main characters had to have been drawn by Yuasa. Combined with the typical Yuasa genius for hilarious gags and great timing, this really is unadulterated Yuasa. It's been about a year since I first experienced Mind Game, and this gave me back a little of the high I got seeing that film for the first time. Ahh, there's nothing like a new piece by Yuasa to set you back on your feet.

Friday, November 11, 2005

07:48:50 pm , 824 words, 1353 views     Categories: Animation

Gegege no Kitaro

Though his key animation debut goes back to 1985 in Ninja Senshi Tobikage, the earliest piece I've been able to see from Mitsuo Iso is Wataru 27 from 1988, just because those early shows are that rare. Interestingly, one of those shows is coming out on DVD, namely the third anime version of Gegege no Kitaro, from 1987 (the fourth from 1996 had a few eps directed by Mamoru Hosoda), one of those Toei TV series with no chief director, for which he did inbetween work on ep 88 and then key animation work in four episodes in quick succession near the end. This offers a welcome chance to see some more of his work at this early period, as well as some early work from other people who were starting out at Toei at this time and have gone on to make a name for themselves, like Yasunori Miyazawa (33, 47, 71, 95, 100, AD+KA in 107, the second-to-last episode). Ep 3 has the intriguing combo of Shinbo Akiyuki, Shinsaku Kozuma (his only ep) and Katsuichi Nakatsuru, so perhaps this is where Shinbo got to know Kozuma, whom he later called on for that ep of Yu Yu Hakusho... Also, I've always been curious to see more of the work of Yoshinobu Inano, whose work I know mainly from the non-Itano mecha action in Be Invoked, as he's got a big reputation as one of the more unique animators of the period, and he did a lot of work in the show, including a solo ep. He'd been active with his unique style since many years before, and he reportedly influenced Iso, among others. He animated the ending of the Galaxy Express 999 movie, the parts not done by Iso at the beginning of Gundam 0080 1, and the part where Amuro and Char are talking to each other on horseback in Char's Counterattack, among many other things.

Shigeru Mizuki has long been a personal favorite manga-ka. I don't know how well known he is over here, but I was always amazed by his achievement, which was to handle serious themes like death and war, treated in a totally serious and uncompromising way, totally in his own style, and yet manage to do so in a way that was addressed to all ages and not just adults. He seemed to combine the avant-garde graphic sensibility and focus on psychological and social issues of Garo artists with a broad appeal that none of them had, together with a seemingly bottomless well of brilliant fantasy ideas. His figure drawings aren't really that great, but they have incredible power to convince, and when you get used to them they become downright beautiful. What made him really unique was that he combined these crudely delicious figures with photorealistic backgrounds of run-down buildings and hyper-realistic jungles. The combination was very important to the theme of his stories: The physical detritus of society is the home of his protagonists, who are by association human detritus produced by that society. It's interesting to me that he seems to have become known as a simple teller of children's ghost stories considering the uncompromising subversiveness of his message.

The backgrounds were drawn entirely with pen and with little or no shading, the way Yoshiharu Tsuge did (I think he worked as an assistant under Mizuki for a while, and there's a period when their work looks nearly identical), which is indispensible to the feeling of reality he was trying to achieve. Because despite the way the characters looked and the fantasy that was on display, you always got the feeling that it was grounded in reality. That feeling is something that seems to have been lost these days, probably because people nowadays simply haven't experienced the things that Mizuki Shigeru experienced and depicted in his manga. Through all this he creates an eerily realistic atmosphere that no other manga can approach.

Gegege no Kitaro is his most famous and long-lived story, but it's actually the one I'm least familiar with. I've long avoided the anime versions of this and any of his other work for the obvious reason that what makes Mizuki great cannot be transferred to any other medium. It simply has to be drawn by Mizuki's hand (the poor man only had one; the other was lost in the war) or it's not Mizuki. Where manga nowadays seems drawn to facilitate animation, Mizuki's manga seems to resist animation. His genius was non-transferrable and irreplacable. Now that I think about it, it would be a great achievement if someone could transfer what makes Mizuki great into animation. In that sense, I've long wanted to see Toshio Hirata's version of Sanpei the Kappa, one of Mizuki's masterpieces, to see if he managed to do it, because if anybody could, he could, though at the same time I think that even in hands as capable as his it's still an impossible task.

An interview with Mizuki Shigeru:

Thursday, November 10, 2005

10:39:57 pm , 476 words, 2436 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Revisiting Palme

For those of you who, like me, couldn't get enough of the music in Palme no Ki - a stream of a recital of Ondes Martenot pieces by Takashi Harada from 2002. Rewatching the film today I think I might have been able to spot a few places that look like they might have been done by Hisashi Nakayama, mainly scattered shots of smoke. I was also on the lookout for Hideki Hamasu's bit, and the part with the big dinosaur looked like kind of a shoe-in, though it seemed like a lot of great work for him to have been listed third-to-last. I've never been able to figure out Michio Mihara from the movement, though. In a movie as assiduously corrected as Palme he's too hard to pick out. It's his drawings that are great. Other than that, of course, the real star of this film is Toshiyuki Inoue. Though there are plenty of other films where you can see loads of his great work, this one has it in what seems like unusually large helpings, and it's tremendously great stuff. The scene where Popo tries to free Palme of his roots is surely one of the best scenes drawn anywhere in the last few years.

I have to admit that the serious Takashi Nakamura grows on me the more I see this film. I can't think of anybody else who's made animation that is as psychologically probing as him, transposing as he has here the Pinocchio story into a film examining various forms of childhood trauma and how they affect different people in different ways. There was a period a while back when I was ill and thinking a lot about mortality, and I had to stop watching Fantastic Children, which I was trying to follow, because it was making me sick to my stomach. Watching the show felt like staring into the face of death. I got lost in the forest once, and it was a similar feeling to that. The best way I can describe it is: your insides go white and cold. There are certain things you don't want to be reminded of at times like that. Nakamura has an uncanny ability to create drama that dwells in that liminal place, to evoke feelings that no other director can evoke. There are few enough people willing to tackle things this head-on, and in the end what I most want to see is filmmaking of this kind that attempts to tackle the experience of being human in a psychologically sensitive, honest and nuanced way, so it's a precious talent he has and I hope he gets to make more films. Or at the very least, that other people begin to go in this direction. Animated filmmaking tends to be too confined to the broad strokes while only providing psychological nuance in token amounts.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

05:20:30 pm , 196 words, 1098 views     Categories: Animation


I had a look at Square of the Moon today because I heard Hisashi Mori-- I mean, Hisashi Nakayama was involved in 2. Ecchi anime doesn't usually do the trick for me, unfortunately, but this one did, though in a different sense. It was pure Nakayama, and one of the longest sections I've seen from him after Samurai 7 7. The series was directed by Hiroyuki Okuno, so I should have suspected he might be in there. The two have been involved in the same projects for more than a decade now.

After his involvement in the Digimon movies his personal style seems to quickly become more and more pronounced and foregrounded, as if he had undergone some kind of eureka moment and realized his calling, and we begin to see the incredibly beautiful approach to line and form that characterizes every single piece he has done since then. His piece in Square is one of the earliest, best and most extended pieces of this mature period, so it was thrilling to discover it, as I wasn't aware of its existence. It made up a bit for not having seen any major animation work from him in Speed Grapher.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

12:23:05 pm , 1663 words, 8999 views     Categories: Animation, Denno Coil, Animator

Mitsuo Iso

RahXephon 2Only a decade behind everyone else, today I had the opportunity to see Mitsuo Iso's part in End of Eva. This was reportedly the sequence that got many interested in Iso specifically and in animation generally, but ironically it's among the last of his mature pieces that I've seen.

In short, it was spectacular. Seeing it, I realized that that memorable bit of animated mecha action in Aquarion 19 was an homage to Iso's bit, with the way the spear flies through the air from the background to crash into the earth directly in front of the camera, throwing up clumps of dirt in the style that made Iso so unique.

There is much other great animation here, but Iso's stands out from the rest of the action fundamentally in some way. It just moves differently. Having a close look at it reveals that he alternates between 3s and 2s. None of the other sections have that unique impact that 3s can have in the hands of a master, which is what Iso is. Drawing every drawing the way he does and leaving it all open requires conviction, because he lays himself bare by doing so.

And then there is the movement itself. Iso knows how to create movement that is real but that simultaneously feels incredible. This is a classic instance of movement based on reality that achieves an effect far surpassing any that could be achieved in real life with the same movement. There are legends about how he captured a spider in a glass and observed it for hours in order to get down the movement of the spider tank in GITS. Similarly, there are stories about how there were days when people heard all sorts of loud crashes and thumps coming from upstairs, as if people were brawling or throwing the furniture around, from the room where Iso was animating this section.

Having seen most of the rest of his work, I'm familiar with the approach on display here, so it didn't have the effect of surprise it probably would have had if I had seen it when it was made, but rather it just made sense and fit within his evolution as I've been able to look back on it. It's certainly one of his best pieces. You can tell he really put his all into it. It's animation where you can almost see the blood of the animator that went into it. Here is a person, you sense, who literally became what he was animating. It's animation that can be hard to get to the heart of just by describing how it was made. Without even knowing about that, it grabs something in you the way only animation can at its best, and that's what makes it great. Iso is the one who awakened many to this approach in Japan. Figures as diverse and Toshiyuki Inoue, Yoshifumi Kondo and Tatsuyuki Tanaka were awestruck by the revolutionary nature of his work when he appeared on the scene. Since then there have appeared people who have similarly rethought the entire concept of what animation should be the way Iso did, but none of them quite reach the elemental level that Iso's work does. Iso really helped to redefine the idea of animated movement in Japan.

To begin an appreciation of Iso's work, it might be best just to start at the beginning. Not quite the very beginning, ie, when Iso was working at studio Zaendo on various TV shows, but a few years into his career around 1989 when he did the first piece that really brought him to the attention of other animators and serious anime enthusiasts: the first episode of Gundam 0080, specifically the attack on the base at the beginning. One of the things that set Iso apart was that his animation was all about creating a flow of movement, not going from pose to pose, as had been the norm in anime up until that point. Like animators like Yoshifumi Kondo before him, Iso also went to the extreme length of drawing most of the drawings in his sequences himself in order to retain as much control over the movement as possible. Both of these traits can be seen in this famous sequence, where he manages to create a convincing feeling of weight in the movement of the mobile suits. Afer all, these are humongous mechanical contraptions. They can't just fly around like birds. Iso was one of the first to bring things back down to reality and assess systematically how the various parts of the objects he was animating would move in real life, and to put in the considerable effort required to translate that into animation.

Soon afterwards Iso did two sequences in Satoru Utsunomiya's Gosenzosama Banbanzai, and here we can see different application of Iso's approach to creating through-conceived movement. In one of these he turns what might otherwise have been handled as a static shot of monologue into a scene full of dynamic acting that showcases his skill at coming up with movement that is realistic as well as interesting as animation. The way Iso conceptualized the acting in the scene seemed fundamentally different somehow. Over the next few years he continued to evolve and explore his approach to movement. In Like a Cloud, Like the Wind he created some nice wobbly movement that seemed to have taken in a bit of Utsunomiya, in Hakkenden 1 he created characteristcally realistic movement like the corpse toppling over, in Hashire Melos and Jojo's Bizarre Adventures he created dynamic action, and in Junkers Come Here he created a one of his most powerful sequences of realistic human acting, with a character doing a monologue in a static shot over the length of thirty seconds.

In Jojo's Bizarre Adventures there is one particularly memorable shot where the camera is following a running character from a distance away, and various objects lying on the ground zoom by, appearing in the frame for single drawings, which for some reason creates an uncanny feeling of reality in the sequence of actions. Iso knew how to create a feeling of reality using the bare minimum of material. In Hashire Melos he animated a sequence back to back with Satoru Utsunomiya, the other great figure who helped to revolutionize the way people conceptualized movement at this period, and there must surely have been some mutual influencing going both ways.

Finally we come to one of the most laboriously animated pieces of his career up until this point, the climax of Ghost in the Shell with the tank. Around this time he begins to do other things like designing and script writing, and we begin to see his style gradually changing, becoming more and more all-encompassing in his handling of all of the phenomena on the screen. Next, in Eva he did the beginning of 1 and the end of 19, as well as writing script for the first time, which he has since only done once. His work in 19 is particularly striking and what makes it unique easier to grasp compared with some of his other work. The beastly way the robot moves is closely observed and very convincing in the timing and in the particular actions taken, for example the timing of the way he raises his head and looks around blinking. The close-up shot of the robot biting off a piece of flesh is a classic example of the concept of "full limited" animation that Iso developed, whereby he draws every drawing in a shot in order to maintain control over the movement. Every single drawing contributes to the movement, which jerks dramatically every which way over the screen the way such a shot would undoubtedly look zoomed in with a camera lens from far away.

Continuing in the direction of this work comes his action in the film, which brings together everything that had been seen in his work in the past: drawing everything himself, realistic movement that is full of dynamism as animation, moving everything on the screen. Besides the awe-inspiring way the figures move on the screen, with an almost balletic beauty and an incredible feeling of presence and weight, the unique way he drew the earth being thrown up as clumps was apparently influential and widely imitated. Here we see the entire screen utilized, with a great feeling for depth, and the characters move all over the screen, as if the camera were barely keeping up with the action. In just the short span between his work on 19 and the film it feels like you can see a huge evolution in the quality of his work.

From here on out, in all of the little shots he did here and there, in the swimming in Golden Boy, the water in Blue No 6 and the clouds in FLCL, his work is unmistakable and has a new feeling of assurance. Particularly notable is his scene in Voogie's Angel 3, which is one of his most hair-raising and powerful in effect, combining his genius for effects animation with his nuanced approach to character animation. Finally we come to the hangar scene in Blood, which signaled the beginning of a new phase in his work, with its seamless combination of his realistic style of animation and digital processing. This finally led to Rahxephon 15, in which he combined all of his preoccupations into this one film that stood out as a unique and powerful creation within the series, with its memorably subdued tone and measured pacing. The combination of realistic digital processing and traditional animation in this episode seems to be the culmination of what Iso had been working towards since Blood. The episode was also his directing debut. In view of the fact that he's been virtually out of sight for the last three years, it seems likely that he's working on a big project, probably directing, so it seems just a question of time until his name becomes more well known.

Mitsuo Iso Filmography

Monday, November 7, 2005

07:20:07 pm , 1001 words, 1242 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

Animator memo

It looks like they did the old switcheroo on the credits for 1994's Miku, so I thought I'd make a memo of a few people:

1 - Kazuto Nakazawa, Futoshi Fujikawa (CD of Aquarion)...
2 - Masahiro Kase, Tadashi Hiramatsu, Tadashi Sakazaki (2nd Eureka op), Norimoto Tokura...
4 - Tatsuo Yamada, Tadashi Hiramatsu, Masahiro Kase...
5 - Futoshi Fujikawa, Tokura Norimoto, Hisashi Ezura (top 3), Mamoru Kurosawa, Masahito Yamashita, Nobutoshi Ogura...
6 - Kazuto Nakazawa...
13 - Honda Takeshi, Yo Yoshinari, Nobutoshi Ogura, Masashi Ishihama, Katsuichi Nakatsuru, Shinji Arakawa, Hiroyuki Okuno, Shinsaku Kozuma...

Particularly nice to see Shinsaku Kozuma there, as I think what I most liked about Yu Yu Hakusho 58 might have been done by him, and I haven't seen anything else by him. His other work would be worth looking into, as it looks like he was doing some pretty interesting work in the late 80s/early 90s. A lot of nice action in the last ep from Honda, Yoshinari, et al. They went all out, with 22 key animators. A lot of touches that are very Shinbo. This comes right after the early Shinbo of Yu Yu Hakusho and before the all-out Shinbo of Soul Taker 1. Feels like by this time he's becoming more adept at controlling his stylistic quirks. He storyboarded/directed 13 and 4. I absolutely love that he's been able to go all-out with his directing recently, and I love Hirobumi Suzuki's work as AD, but I've kind of missed the animation wildness of his early work now that he's taken the route most great directors seem to take in controlling the animation much more closely and making it subservient to the directing. Also, it's interesting to see Tadashi Hiramatsu and Masahiro Kase in there. I suppose this is one of the various shows Hiramatsu did while he was working under Kase at Studio Curtain, as he relates in that interview.

Finally got a chance to see Mitsuo Iso's bit in Golden Boy 4. Bliss. I was in heaven. Absolutely magnificent, one of his best shots, a textbook example of the "full limited" style. Over the span of a single 30-second shot we see a continuously evolving action full of all sorts of fantastic shapes and movements, each one distinct, each drawing contributing to the effect, without any repeats or other wimping out. Just brilliant. The texture of his line is also fantastic and identifiable. I also recently caught his shots in the Rurouni Kenshin op, and they were also magnificent and in the true through-conceived and -drawn Iso style. I've been going through Iso withdrawal, so I've been going back and looking for all the little bits of Iso I can find. I hope he finishes whatever it is he's doing soon. In contrast with these mid-period pieces, I also revisted his ep 2 of RahXephon, which shows the fully developed current Iso of Blood - a maximalist who tweaks every aspect of the visuals to achieve the perfectly harmonic image. Iso seems like Ohira in the respect that they both seem to go through a life's worth of evolution within the space of just a decade and a half, completely revolutionizing their styles several times along the way.

Some time back I looked at the section done by Osamu Tanabe in 3 and didn't feel that impressed, but looking over it today I was bowled over by the delicacy of the movements and the richness of the acting. It's very like his sequence in Junkers in that it takes a while to get to the point where you can fully appreciate it because what makes it so great is so low-key. Speaking of Tanabe, I recently had another look at Ghiblies 2, this time watching the whole thing rather than just Ohira's and Utsunomiya's parts. I was looking for the foot race bit, which I learned was done by Hideki Hamasu. Hamasu was the only person left in the show whose part I was wanting to figure out. When I first saw it I wasn't familiar enough with his style to pick it out, but this time it was patently obvious, as I've become a little more acquainted with his style from various other things I've seen in the meantime.

Having heard that Iso was involved, I had a look at ep 2 of the Rin Taro Final Fantasy, and the animation was just fantastic. Lots of really wonderful work, and indeed a lot of bits I would have thought only Iso could have done going by the shape of the smoke and the limited and very lively and protean character acting replete with unexpected deformations, but he's not listed. It would explain a lot if Iso was this Hideo Nieta in the top spot, as rumored, because the name only brings up 8 hits in Google and only turns up in one other anime, Kattobase Dreamers, a Madhouse production from just a few months earlier, so it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch. I also noticed Norimitsu Suzuki in there. This is the first time I remember spotting him doing regular ep work. I became aware of him recently from his impressive work singlehandedly doing entire endings.

I rather enjoyed the piece as a whole, too. Has a rather nice Takashi Nakamura-esque colorful light fantasy adventure vibe going. And Yoshinori Kanemori has always been one of my favorite Madhouse figures. I think I prefer this approach to the style that's come to define the franchise.

I've always been curious to see an old OVA called Dragon Slayer from 1992, which has a bit of a reputation as a cult classic for the insane speed of the action. I noticed Koichi Arai, one of the major theatrical animators of the last decade, did some nice designs for a similarly titled OVA from 1988, Xanadu: Dragon Slayer. Tellingly, he was in only one episode of Hakkenden - Hamaji's Resurrection. Atsushi Yamagata, the original character designer of the series, did a movie called Dragon Quest: Emblem of Roto in 1996 that has clean designs somewhat reminiscent of the earlier designs by Arai.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

04:13:58 pm , 637 words, 1121 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Movie

Sinyaya Ptitsa

Vassily Livanov's 1970 animated adaptation of The Blue Bird is certainly the oddest adaptation I've yet seen of the story, and one of the oddest animated films I've ever seen, period. A good film it's not. It's a total mess as a whole. But piece by piece it's full of so many interesting visual ideas and has such an unusual approach to animated filmmaking that you want to love it even though you can't. It dares to try to combine different media in ways that you would normally never associate with animated filmmaking, getting off to a bold and powerful start using collage technique only to suddenly switch to cell animation, so if for nothing more than its sheer audacity you come away wanting to give it the benefit of the doubt, just to applaud their bravado. I have to admit that I'm a sucker for films that get too big for their britches (Metamorphoses springs to mind). I come away feeling: at least they tried.

The animation is rather unique. Shadows dominate throughout, creating a wonderfully evocative and dark dreamscape that seems to stretch to eternity. Light is used sparingly to delineate the outlines of the characters. The layout is particularly memorable, using unexpectedly oblique angles to produce a nice rhythm and variety in the presentation of the action. The flow of action is slow and characters wander in and out of static shots, creating an eerie sense of vast space that lends a feeling of reality to the surreal situation. The ominous sense of something just beyond the darkness creeping up on you, as death is embodied in many of Maeterlinck's early works like The Intruder and The Blind, feels very well expressed here, but in the end the space occupied by the melancholy mystical longing that was the very essence of Maeterlinck's best work is here replaced by a villain stand-in for capitalism, which is far from the spirit of the original material. It would be interesting if one day we could see a film that really did Maeterlinck justice, on his own terms, though his brand of earnest, portentious symbolism is probably rather out of sync with the times. In the meantime this is certainly one of the most interesting stabs I've yet seen on film.

Aside from the technical details that I found interesting, what I probably most liked about the film was what I can only think to describe as its narrative freedom. This is what made it feel really different from the usual animated film. The way you don't have the characters in the frame at a set spot doing an action for a set time in a set fashion as you see in most animation being produced nowadays. The camera is free to be positioned in odd places, and the narrative doesn't have to push every button a pre-tested studio audience reacted to in advance screenings. The narrative style follows from the material, and consequently breaks with the conventional style of storytelling. You can have photo collage at the beginning and shift to cel animation if you want. The camera doesn't have to hyperactively follow the action. There can be long stretches with no dialogue. It's a film for children, yet the mood throughout is elegiac and poetic. In other words, it feels like filmmaking rather than animation. And yet, at the same time, the animation is extremely inventive and effective as animation. It manages to be interesting as a film and as animation. So although an odd and strangely shaped little film, it offers some interesting hints. Part of the excitement of perusing the animated films of the rest of the world is the anticipation of the possibility of a stimulating encounter with a strange new approach to animated filmmaking, and this film is a good example of that.

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Thursday, November 3, 2005

05:27:15 pm , 629 words, 9162 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie, Movie

Propavshaya Gramota / Okiura memo

The Lost Letter, V. & Z. Brumberg, 1945I mentioned the beautiful scene with the horse flying about in The Humpbacked Horse, which was made in 1947. I recently saw the film The Lost Letter from 1945, and it also has a very beautifully animated scene with a horse flying around and twisting and turning in much the same manner as in the later film, so it felt like there might have been an influence there. Unlike the other quite famous Russian features, I'd never heard of The Lost Letter, but I thought it was just splendid, totally unlike any of the other films I've seen, and very successful as a film, with an unusual approach that still worked more some sixty years later, and this right after Russia was coming out of the war. The film was directed by the sister team of Zinaida and Valentina Brumberg, who were born at the turn of the century and had a long and prolific career making animated films, with a focus on mid-length films like this one, right until the year before Valentina's death in 1975. I don't know of any other female filmmakers who have left behind that kind of legacy in animation over the same period. The Lost Letter is somewhat different from what I've sampled of the rest of their filmography in that it stands up solidly to viewing by an adult, with its darkly humorous tone, whereas most of their films are squarely aimed at children, with moralizing messages aplenty - though to be fair, this seems to be a common trait of most Russian animated films of the period. Based on a Gogol story about a Cossack who leaves to deliver a letter only to find himself on a demonic journey after a drunken binge, what immediately catches the eye are the brilliantly charicatural designs that vividly capture the look of Russian peasants of the 19th century. I've never seen designs quite like these used in an animated film. Folk motifs may be a commonplace in Russian animation, but stylization is usually very strong. What's impressive about these designs is that they strike a fine balance between the realistic and the stylized, gravitating more towards the realistic. The animation is typically fluid for this period, the forms loose and elastic, but the acting is reined in and lacks the homogenous overreaction that puts me off to a lot of animation of this period, focusing instead on realistic expression and creating a feeling of realistic movement less through body weight than through close observation of gestures. The animation felt much more potent for being focused. I've noticed that the Brumbergs tend to have a different approach to movement in each of their films depending on the story and style, but it's always nuanced and closely observed like it is here. All in all a very stimulating film.

Hiroyuki Okiura has made a few appearances in IGPX - 1 and 5 so far. The last time he showed up on the tube was in the last ep of the first, Mashimo Popolo Crois in 1999, and before that 5 years earlier in the G Gundam op, so it's kind of an event. He usually spends so much time creating shorter scenes of awe-inspiring density for movies, so it's good to see him doing little pieces like this here and there. The scene in ep 5 here was kind of amusing, as it felt like a cardboard-box version of the building collapse in Akira. If they'd done a pan down follow it would have been nearly identical. The only other moment I found bearable was the bit with the colorful lines at the beginning. Ogura? Or was that CG too?? I noticed he was in 5 as well. Sad what he's reduced to now that there aren't any interesting projects like Dead Leaves at IG.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

04:42:29 pm , 273 words, 8542 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

The 5th Annual Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema


Frank & Wendy

Two weeks and a day from today over in Waterloo, Ontario, the fifth edition of the young Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema will be kicking off its four-day run, giving people a chance to see a number of significant recent feature-length animated features from around the world up on the big screen in the theater, where they deserve to be seen. The lineup is outstandingly well balanced, with films in various different media from Estonia, Hungary, Denmark, Russia, Japan and the US.

It's been several months since Mind Game has been seen at a festival on these shores, and I'm glad to say that this is something the WFAC '05 will be rectifying. Bafflingly without any kind of release whatsoever in sight, this is not a chance to be missed. But really, none of the lineup feels like it's to be missed - particularly so Frank and Wendy, a full-length feature written by none other than Priit Pärn.

Also on the lineup: The much-talked-about Danish feature Strings; Alosha Popovich and Tugarin the Serpent, a Russian feature that looks to harken back to the classic Soyuzmultfilm features; the Hungarian feature Nyocker, which I regret having missed at the VIFF this year; and a CG feature from Denmark. An excellent selection that really shows off the diverse possibilies of the medium.

There will also be what should be a fascinating lecture on traditional animation, and last but hardly least, a Kihachiro Kawamoto retrospective - a rare chance to see his films up on the big screen that is definitely not to be missed. Congrats to Joseph on putting together a great little fest.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

09:00:39 pm , 635 words, 3855 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Movie

Konek Gorbunok

The Humpbacked Horse, Ivan Ivanov-Vano, 1947I had a chance to compare the two versions of The Humpbacked Horse recently. To begin with, I was surprised to find that there even was a remake. I mean, the folly of remaking what was already a classic seems obvious. And the remake did indeed seem to sap away everything that was good about the original, destroying the speedy feeling and great rhythm going from slow to fast to slow to fast that made the original so great. I don't know for sure, but it felt like they actually slowed down the animation for some reason. Perhaps it was simply all redone. I haven't compared closely. The fish scene that was added seemed rather pointless as well. In any case, it's a mystery what prompted IIV to do this.

I think what I most liked about the original was that it seemed to do something that has now become impossible in this gloriously bountiful and culturally levelled post-historic global marketplace, and that's create a narrative style rooted in a specific culture. Attempts could certainly be made to do that today, but they'd be self-conscious in a way this film isn't. This film has a naive freshness that few other animated films have because of that unselfconscious folksiness. In an age when all animated films seem to be cut from the same mold, it's refreshing to see a film that has a totally alien rhythm and pace like this one. Besides that, the animation of the horse flying about in the air at the beginning is certainly one of the best sequences I've seen in any animated film, Russian or otherwise. The litheness of the horse twisting and turning in the air in that sequence is just amazing.

If I've got a favorite character from PA, it would have to be Maniwa. But not just any Maniwa, the Maniwa specifically of ep 12, the Maniwa of Michio Mihara, with his gaunt neck, crooked gape, half-tucked-in shirt and dirty stubble. None of the other characters seemed half as endearing and fascinating as Maniwa in the hands of Mihara. He's got a brilliant eye for drawing just the right details that make a face interesting and unique. I'd love more than anything if one day we could get to see a whole film full of his characters. I was thinking he might be a possibility for No 4, but it feels like his strongly personal style of drawing might be a little too overpowering in this case. The last thing I'd want to see him do is water down his incredibly characterful and idiosyncratic drawings.

Some screenshots from IG's recent double-feature. The staff were asked what their favorite scenes were, and it's interesting to see that director Tsutomu Mizushima picks Ohira's while animation director Kazuchika Kise picks Hashimoto's. (top two pics in second box from the bottom, also in the box atop) Ohira's short tidal wave sequence in the shorter feature was similarly popular among the staff, with the photography director relating an amusing anecdote about how an "Ohira Special Ops" section had to be set up to handle his animation. Other than that Hiroshi Okubo and Chikashi Kubota were involved in the action, as well as a young face, Shioya Naoyoshi, who handled the bird finale. There's also an anecdote about some rascal having gone and tried to use 600 drawings for a single shot. Now I wonder who that might have been...

Speaking of whom, since before seeing Noein I'd been eyeing Hiroshi Okubo as probably being one of the people who'd be responsible for the good work in the show, having looked into his past work and noticed that he'd been involved closely with the Suzuki-Kishida-Matsumoto team in the past, and lo and behold, it seems probable that he was the one who did the opening of 1.