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: February 2006

Saturday, February 18, 2006

07:45:23 pm , 1266 words, 5484 views     Categories: Animation, Studio

Animaru-ya

Re-watching The Biography of Gusko Budori today I got to wondering why they don't make more films like this anymore. Down-to-earth, simply made films that have a universal appeal and actually make an attempt to create honest, moving drama. I'd particularly like to see director Ryutaro Nakamura doing something more in this vein. What is immediately apparent when watching the film is that the motivation behind it is what sets it apart from the majority of productions. The motivation is that of Gauche - a small subcontracting studio gathers its forces in one spurt in order to make what they consider a quality film that they want children to watch, and to represent what the studio stands for in terms of content and quality. What Gauche was to Oh Production, The Biography of Gusko Budori was to Animaru-ya, a small subcontracting studio founded in 1982 by 7 ex-members of Shinei Doga including Toshiyuki Honda and Hiroshi Fukutomi.

Both Honda and Fukutomi joined A Production in the early years, working as inbetweeners on Kyojin no Hoshi and Lupin III, and were two of the figures behind all of the classic A Production shows that followed. After working for several years as an inbetweener, Fukutomi soon became more interested in directing, drawing his first storyboard on Yasuo Otsuka's Samurai Giants and going on to direct episodes of many classics of the 70s including Ganso Tensai Bakabon, Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi and some particularly well-regarded episodes of Hajime Ningen Gyators. Honda, on the other hand, was bumped up to key animation in his first year while working on Kyojin no Hoshi, and stayed focused on animation throughout his career, working together with Honda throughout the period on the same shows - doing some excellent work on 1975's Gamba's Adventure that makes me want to see the rest - right up until the formation of Shinei in 1978. Both Honda and Fukutomi were deeply involved in the early TV and movie Doraemon, including the classic first film, which had Fukutomi as director and Honda as animation director. After then seeing through Shinei's next two Fujio F Fujiko productions, Kaibutsu-kun and Pro Golfer Saru, the two left Shinei to form their own studio, Animaru-ya, moving into the old Shinei studio.

At Animaru-ya, Fukutomi was very active directing a variety of productions for other studios while Honda focused on layout for the Doraemon films. By 1990 the staff had grown to the point that they were able to handle all major aspects of production on their own. In 1993 the studio produced The Biography of Budori Gusko to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the poet's death. Honda was involved as an animator alongside Shinei mainstays like Hiroshi Kugimiya and Yuichiro Sueyoshi. (Even Manabu Ohashi was there with a fantastic cloud shot.) In 1996, on the occasion of Kenji's centenary, the two finally came back together to work on one of the three episodes of the three-part Kenji Miyazawa omnibus Kenji's Trunk, Fukutomi directing and Honda providing the designs. The other two shorts were directed by Setsuko Shibuichi and Ryutaro Nakamura, the latter of whom had directed the 1993 film. The experience of working together again on the short, entitled The Cat's Studio, is presumably what led to the drive to do more productions of their own, outside of the commercial system, in a way that allowed them complete freedom over content and distribution. This in turn is what resulted in the studio's first 100% in-house production, the Daruma-chan series for young children.

As Oh Production had done before with Gauche the Cellist more than two decades earlier, the studio adopted a completely open production style for the series, begun in 2001, which consists of 6 15-minute episodes. The work was done completely on the side of commissioned productions, with no schedule and no sponsors. Since there was no schedule to speak of, they could afford the unheard-of luxury of putting exactly as much effort as they felt necessary to produce the film that satisfied their goals. Once the films were completed, the problem remaining was: Where to show them? Since the films had been produced outside of the circuit of commission and distribution, naturally the studio would have to cover the costs of showing the films if they wanted them to be seen by anybody. Following in the footsteps of Tanaka Yoshitsugu, director of Perrault the Chimney Sweep, since 2001 Animaru-ya has organized free screenings of the films at elementary schools and community centers throughout the nation. Why would they do all of this for free? In the end their motivation for leaving Shinei was to produce the films they wanted, and after twenty years of work that's finally what they're doing. The films represent their entire reason for working in animation.

Building on this experience, Honda took it to the next level with the next in-house production, deciding on a mid-length feature that would have a broader audience appeal. When Honda was growing up, he and his friends would each buy a comic and circulate them among the circle of friends to save on money. One of those friends being a girl, he got to read some girl's comics too, all of which left little impression on him. Except for one - a comic written by Toshiko Ueda entitled Fuichin-san. Born in Tokyo in 1917, Ueda spent her formative years in Manchuria, repatriating after the end of the war. In 1957, at age 40, she began drawing her comic based on her experiences in Manchuria. The comic told colorful stories about the ever-cheerful protagonist, who must have been a beacon of light to children who had grown up surrounded by poverty and privation. The designs were unusual for the day, with a modern, stylish look that stood apart from everything else. Looked at today the designs haven't aged at all and still look wonderfully alive and contemporary, which can't be said for much of the manga of that era.

Tired of the ordinary look of most current projects, and nostalgic when he rediscovered the comic when it was reprinted, Honda decided that this would make a perfect next project. The project had in fact been in planning since 1998, well before the Daruma-chan series. The current director, Yoshitaka Koyama, came onboard in 2001. Together they started hammering out the script in January 2002, and the hour-long film finally hit theaters in 2004. Already a small, in-house production to begin with, the film was completely buried beneath the deluge of big films that year and eked out a few showings at small theaters like the Tollywood short film theater, which holds a screening of Canadian animated shorts every spring and fall. Nonetheless, Animaru-ya continued to hold their own free screenings of the film, and recently put out their own videos of the Daruma-chan series and Fuichin-san, which can be ordered online from within Japan.

Animaru-ya isn't just anime. In addition to putting together screenings of their films, they also put on shows with various kinds of performances to entertain kids. Honda has been known to say that what he most wishes that kids will get from his films is the urge to stop watching TV and go outside and play. The studio is unique in that everything they do seems to be governed by a uniquely holistic vision about the nature of what they do and the effect they have on their audience. Animaru-ya's productions breathe the air of another era, with a fresh simplicity and clarity that has disappeared of late. They're among the few small studios nowadays with the devotion to put so much effort into producing and distributing their own projects like this, so they're a precious commodity.

Friday, February 17, 2006

07:30:08 pm , 630 words, 1624 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

Sunset Blvd.

Weird how just seeing a sunset can be revitalizing when you're starting to feel like a pile of sludge on the inside. It helps you get outside of yourself for a moment. Is there anything more hackneyed than a photo of a sunset? Yet why is there this urge to want to capture a beautiful sunset in a photo? To stop time, perhaps.

I don't know how long I've been waiting for Iso's new project to be announced, so I have to say that I'm excited about this. I haven't looked forward to anything this much in a while. It's good to have that feeling back. I guess I'm addicted.

I wonder how long Iso has been warming this project. A number on the drawing would seem to suggest it was drawn six years ago. I know he's been working on it for several years, but I didn't think it went back that far. If so, it seems like he might have gotten involved in RahXephon to get a sense of what it was like directing, as a warm-up for what was to come. In that sense it will be interesting to look back on Childhood's End when the project is complete, to see how much was hinted by the episode and how he evolved.

Up until now Iso has been an animator, and a truly great one, so I have to confess that part of me is concerned to see him going to directing. I have confidence it will be worth the wait, but the animation fan in me finds it hard to give up Iso animation. It will definitely help if the animation turns out to be everything I would expect it to be for the directing debut of Mitsuo Iso. Considering how many people he influenced, and the long span of production, I'd hope that there should be no problem getting the obvious big names onboard.

Only six episodes left in Noein. Have to admit I'm going to miss the show. They really put the effort into making the animation as interesting as possible within the difficult confines of TV anime, something few shows have bothered to try to do lately, so it's going to be a shame to see it go. In each episode you could expect at least one bit of interesting animation - 18 had Hiroshi Okubo; 17 had more Matsumoto; 15 had Utsunomiya - and all that in addition to the occasional explosion like 12 bringing them all together, which honestly would have been entirely sufficient. (Even 16, a recap, advanced the story in an interesting way while providing some good new animation by Kishida, Ryochimo et al.) That was a wonderful thing for the "congregation", but I'm sure it'll have just the effect they're hoping it does, imbedding itself as a memory of something different and interesting in the young people watching it now, unaccustomed to that sort of thing, perhaps awakening a few to the path of animation.

It seems I was right all along in suspecting that Kishida has been in there laboring over the layouts throughout the show, uncredited. It was particularly clear in episode 1, with all its wonderfully handled extreme perspective shots. There's a certain sense of unity in the compositions that can only come from having a single layout man there to keep things straight, like in Heidi or Gamba, and I can't think of any other show in recent decades where that's been attempted. Kishida has surely come as close as humanly possible as it is in this day and age to accomplishing that feat. In every single episode I could feel Kishida's hand, either in the layout or animation. It's a level of devotion you rarely see in a TV show these days, and clearly it attracted a good staff.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

09:36:47 pm , 186 words, 1485 views     Categories: Animation, Denno Coil

Denno Coil 電脳コイル

Link: http://www.tokuma.jp/coil/

Mitsuo Iso, one of the most talented and influential Japanese animators of the 1990s, is going to be a director. The first piece of information to be made public about the top-secret project that has kept him occupied for the last three or four years has just been posted on the newly-created official site. More will follow with time on the site and in Animage. The novel on which the anime is to be based will be published shortly by Tokuma Shoten, which hosts the site. Iso is credited as creator, writer and director, and it's to be produced at Madhouse. The illustration by Iso gives the first glimpse into what we can expect of the project visually. Unusually, the page makes a public call for applications from experienced animators and directors to join the production staff. I've never seen such a thing for a big studio project before. Presumaly the project is to be a TV series, since they're calling for enshutsu, which usually means episode directors. The title translates literally to "Electric Brain Coil", denno or 'electric brain' being the antiquated term for computer.

Monday, February 13, 2006

09:45:12 am , 398 words, 2481 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie

Misc shorts

I just noticed that Reiko Yokosuka completed a new film last summer - GAKI: Biwa Houshi. It'd be a delight to be able to see a new film from Yokosuka every year. I hope she continues. The film feels a nice solid length, the movement is as exciting as ever, and I love the way the droll sense of humor mixes with the traditional motifs.

Another film from the Best of Ottawa I rather liked was Walkampf, a music video directed by Andreas Hykade, who previous did the interesting-looking Ring of Fire short. I couldn't understand the lyrics, so I'm probably missing a bit of meaning from the sync, but it's enjoyable as an explosion of color, symmetries and adorable designs well matched to a driving song.

I've been on a Phil Mulloy kick lately. I've never seen animated films that manage to be so simultaneously vicious and hilarious. His absurd cocktails of sex and violence seem to speak some deep truths about the problems that plague this world. It's bold, unflinching filmmaking of the kind you rarely see in animation.

I was surprised to find that Yuichiro Sueyoshi was deeply involved in the latest Shin-chan film, animating a number of sequences and providing monster designs, which were reproduced over the end credits. The story was a thin coathanger for monster fights totally lacking in the weight and consideration of Keiichi Hara's films, but they had the sense to get as much out of Sueyoshi as they could, and he makes it hold up to a certain extent. This was his big bash after Mind Game, returning as an animator, and you can feel him oozing energy. Shizuka Hayashi's manic wordless opening sequence was wonderful and showcased what I best like about the Shin-chan films: the effort to come up with extended sequences like this allowing an animator to do what s/he does best, making the animation drive the story forward.

The Shin-chan team has been largely the same for a while now, though, and it's interesting to see Shinei doing something a bit surprising, even shocking, in their latest Doraemon film, getting Ken'ichi Konishi as AD to lure in outside animators and make the film into an animation extravaganza, something I never associated the series with (though I'd heard good work about Ayumu Watanabe's work on the movies). Hisashi Mori seems to have done a lot.

Friday, February 10, 2006

11:24:23 pm , 355 words, 1630 views     Categories: Animation

Best of Ottawa

In what to me is one of the biggest pieces of news in quite a long time, Mitsuo Iso has come out of hiding. He posted a note on his home page saying that he will soon be announcing details about the project he has been working on over the last several years.

Yasuhiro Aoki seems to have done some uncredited animation near the ending of Kamichu, but I haven't been able to figure out in what episode. It's not in 11 or 12. The entire staff was so stunned by the work that he turned in that it went in completely unmodified, so supposedly it practically looks like a different show. I guess he must have handled the processing too. I'm curious how he got involved. It's the first time I see him doing anything outside of 4°C in years. Having rewatched all of his work in Arusu too many times already, I'm yearning to see some more drama from this new master.

Yesterday I saw the Best of Ottawa selection, and it was excellent, much better than I remembered last year's being. The balance was perfect and each film was totally satisfying, with perhaps only one exception, which is saying a lot. Robert Seidel's _grau was my favorite film and also the one that moved me the most, which speaks to the power that pure abstract animation can have when handled as brilliantly as it was here. He creates a world made up of complex and constantly morphing shapes that all seem somehow vaguely familar, and seem to behave according to some mysterious hidden internal logic that you can never quite put your finger on. The effect creates an irresistible fascination as your mind struggles to assign meaning to what you're seeing. You're really following every move of those shapes on the screen with fascination, which is a hell of an acheivement. Beautiful, brilliant work. Just the kind of innovative use of digital technology to create new forms of animation that I like to see. Apart from that, curiously, all of my favorite films in the selection this year were either German or British.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

10:38:52 pm , 782 words, 2147 views     Categories: Animation, Studio

Studio Torapezoid

As I was taking out the trash today I saw a spiral of birds in the distance, like the cranes in Night on the Galactic Railroad, soaring on a warm updraft. It was a rather bathetic moment.

In continuing with the theme of small 'studios' of the last post, this time I thought I'd mention a small studio that has done interesting work in the recent past: Studio Torapezoid. Some people may remember the impressive animation that opens episode 1 of Noein. Well, it was animated by Hiroshi Okubo, who is one of the five members of the collective, which was formed in 1998. The other members are: Takuya Saito, Susumu Yamaguchi, Manabu Ono and designer Junya Ishigaki.

Ishigaki has been very active as a designer over the last decade on many Sunrise and other shows. He's the one who designed the wonderful floating fortress in Noein. You can see more of his designs on his home page. Okubo and Ono have been associates since the beginning of both of their careers around 1990, working side by side as animators on a number of projects in the years immediately leading to the formation of the studio in 1998, including Kinnikuman 5 & 19 in 1991, Iron Leaguer 19 & 27 in 1993, Yu Yu Hakusho 67 and Hakkenden 12 in 1994, Evangelion 10 in 1995 and Cyber Formula Saga in 1997. Susumu Yamaguchi does not seem to have been involved on the same projects as the others until the formation of the studio.

The first project we see them all working together on is the show that can be seen as the studio's summum opus: 1998's Outlaw Star, directed by Mitsuru Hongo, who also gave the studio its name. I came to the show to see Okubo's work on it, but as I began watching I was surprised to find idiosyncratic and quite good work in a number of other styles obviously differing from Okubo's. It took a while to sort out who was doing what, but eventually it became clear. Okubo's animation was easily identifiable, with its sense of form and timing reminiscent of Mitsuo Iso and Yutaka Nakamura. He was obviously handling the mecha. It took a while to realize that it must be Ono who was handling the other sections of mecha that were also brilliantly animated but had a completely different, much simpler touch. What was left was a style of animation that had obvious debts to Satoru Utsunomiya and Tetsuya Nishio, and eventually I figured out that it had to be Susumu Yamaguchi. Discovering the work of these three animators was a real treat for me. The second and really the last project on which all of the members were involved together would be Angel Links from the following year. After this Torapezoid seems to have gone the way of Hercules, with each member working on his own project.

Outlaw Star offers the perfect introduction to all three of the animators' styles. The highlight of the series is undoubtedly the fast-paced mecha fights in space. The mecha, designed by Ishigaki, were brilliantly animated by Okubo and Ono, and have a rather unique flavor of their own different from the more realistic work of a Masami Goto, who played an analagous role in Bebop. The role of Nakamura in the latter - "main animator" - was played here by Yamaguchi, whose very loose line and dynamic approach to timing is obviously descended from Utsunomiya via Nishio, even though the closest related project he seems to have been involved in would be the Yu Yu Hakusho movie. For a quick intro to their work at its best, episode 20 offers a wonderful bit of acrobatics in the first half by Yamaguchi and solid chunk of work by Ono and Okubo in the second. Okubo's work in the last episode is also not to be missed. The resemblance is so strong that I would be surprised indeed if he denied having been heavily influenced by Mitsuo Iso. The next year in Angel Links you can see them continuing to develop their styles, with Okubo mostly working on beefing up his smoke and Yamaguchi's work now looking downright Utsunomiyan, viz episode 8.

After this the team starts to work on different projects. We can see Ono and Okubo working together for the last time on Risky Safety in 1999, Ono and Yamaguchi on Space Pirate Mito in 1999 and Gear Fighter Dendo in 2001, but unfortunately the animators don't seem to appear much together afterwards, which is a real shame. The teamwork they had going on in that handful of eps was really something. Ono himself actually drifted away from animation afterwards and is now focusing on directing. After this, starting with Arjuna, Okubo becomes more and more involved in Satelight productions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

06:20:33 pm , 105 words, 3137 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Hiroshi Okubo filmography

大久保宏

1992 - Kinnikuman 5, 9, 19, 24
1993 - Iron Leaguer 19, 27
1994 - Yu Yu Hakusho 67
1994 - Ryu Night 26 (Ryu Palladin transformation scene)
1994 - Hakkenden 12
1995 - Tenchi Muyo 10
1995 - Giant Robo 6
1996 - Evangelion 10
1997 - Evangelion Death
1998 - Outlaw Star OP, 1, 8, 14, 20, 23, 25, 26
1998 - Popolo Crois 13, 17
1998 - Lain 12
1998 - DT Eightron
1998 - Twilight of the Dark Master
1999 - Angel Links 1, 4, 8 (AD), 13
1999 - Risky Safety 3
2001 - Sakura Wars movie (assistant AD)
2001 - Samurai Girl Real Bout High School 13
2001 - Arjuna 3 (AD), etc.
2001 - Final Fantasy Unlimited 1 (AD)
2001 - Sakura Wars (AD)
2001 - Shiawase Sou no Okojo-san 8A, 13A, 18B
2002 - Heat Guy J
2004 - Macross Zero 2 (AD)
2004 - Koikaze OP
2005 - Aquarion OP, 7
2005 - Noein OP, 1, 12

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

06:15:45 pm , 150 words, 1974 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Susumu Yamaguchi filmography

山口晋

1990 - Mouretsu Atarou 5, 10, 15, 18, 22
1991 - Gundam F91
1992 - Mom is a 4th Grader 3, 13, 26
1993 - Giant Robo 4
1994 - Akazukin Chacha 30, 36
1994 - Yu Yu Hakusho movie (2nd)
1995 - Ougon Yuusha Goldran 7, 12
1996 - Kodomo no Omocha 25
1996 - Saber Marionette J 7 (AD)
1998 - Outlaw Star OP, 1, 7 (+AD), 14 (+AD), 20 (+AD), 23, 25 (+AD)
1998 - Gundam 08MS Miller's Report
1999 - Space Pirate Mito 3
1999 - Angel Links 4 (AD), 8, 10 (AD), 13
2000 - Gear Fighter Dendo 2 (AD/KA), 6 (S), 8 (AD/KA1), 11 (S), 14 (AD/KA1), 19 (AD/KA1), 25 (S/AD/KA1), 31 (S/AD/KA1), 37 (S/AD/KA1), 38 (KA)
2002 - Shichinin no Nana 1 (KA1), 3 (KA/AD), 6 (KA), 8 (AD), 9 (KA), 10 (S), 12 (KA), 16 (S/AD/KA), 19 (KA), 21 (S/AD/KA), 23 (KA), 25 (KA1)
2002 - Overman King Gainer OP
2004 - AM Driver 3 (S/D/AD/KA)
2004 - Keroro Gunso 21 (S/D/AD)
2005 - Gundam Seed 2 (S/D/Character AD), 7 (CAD/KA), 12 (CAD/KA), 18 (CAD/KA), 21 (AD/KA1), 25 (CAD), 31 (CAD), 37 (CAD/KA), 44 (CAD), 51 (CAD/KA3)
2006 - Keroro Gunso 102 (S/D/AD)

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

11:20:02 pm , 1555 words, 6050 views     Categories: Animation, Animator, Animator: Yoshinori Kanada

The Kanada School

As I was watching ep 60 of Urusei Yatsura to see the Masahito Yamashita part, at one point I was taken by the strange feeling that I was watching Lupin. Not so much because of the fact that the scene in question was an obvious parody of the clock tower scene, but because the animation felt like it could only have been done by a Telecom animator. It turns out it was the work of Toshio Yamauchi. They went to the effort of getting an animator who had worked on Cagliostro to animate a clock tower parody. Now that is dedication.

Yamauchi seems to have started out at Oh Production along with Kazuhide Tomonaga. His first job I can find is Jacky at Nippon Animation in 1977, after which he did some New Lupin and the first movie before working on every episode of Conan after 8 in 1978. Both of them transferred to Telecom sometime after this, where they worked on Cagliostro in 1979, the Miyazaki Lupin episodes in 1980, Jarinko Chie in 1981 and finally Holmes in 1982. Finally around 1983 several Telecom people including Yamauchi and Tsukasa Tannai transferred to Gallop, from where Yamauchi later worked on Grave of the Fireflies and Tannai on several Ghibli films. I suppose it would have been after Holmes that he worked on the TV Urusei episodes. He and Tsukasa were also in the second film in 1984.

Yamauchi was also one of the other two animators in Yamashita Masahito's famous library episode, of which Oshii provided an encore performance in his Beautiful Dreamer film. I remember Shinya Ohira saying that he saw the episode on TV when it first aired and almost choked on his dinner, and it was one of the episodes that influenced his development as an animator. Seen today I think it can be hard to appreciate Yamashita's early work, but if you project yourself into the dominant style of the period you can imagine the shock that Yamashita's deranged drawings and aberrant timing must have had on fans. It's hard to imagine what he must have been thinking when he drew that animation. In any case, it was a most curious thing to see the work of a Telecom animator side by side with that of Yamashita Masahito. I suppose you could compare it to the impact of seeing Ohira's scene in Spirited Away - it's two completely different ways of visualizing movement placed side by side. If you can posit an Otsuka school, which there isn't really, then Yamauchi belongs there, and Yamashita belongs to what you could call the Kanada school.

Masahito Yamashita is the most famous animator to have developed under the influence of Yoshinori Kanada (happy birthday), the animator active throughout the 1970s who came up with an original style all his own that combined strange posing, exaggerated perspective and an original and more dynamic approach to timing. Yamashita became interested in animation in part due to the influence of having seen Kanada's work on TV. In an age before VHS, it's a tribute to Yamashita's determination and curiosity about the art of animation that he took the initiative of filming animated films in theaters using a handheld video camera in order to be able to study it and figure out how it was made. Perhaps it's this bootstraps approach to learning animation that led to Yamashita's very personal and intuitive approach. Indeed, the work we see in his early years feels similar in spirit to work of gif-animators-turned-pros like Ryochimo in Noein who we can see appearing today. The internet has replaced the grassroots con movement that created that sort of fan ferment.

After Kanada influenced the generation of the 70s, then, Yamashita in turn influenced a whole new generation of folks, but ironically over the years he did a 180 and mostly abandoned the indiosyncratic style that had characterized his early work and attracted fans. Probably a lot of that had to do with pressure, as I'm sure there are some directors who didn't appreciate their animators changing their storyboards and designs and overanimating shots into the red. When Ohira started out he was something of a Yamashita epigone, but similarly found pressure on him to abandon that style, which is what led to him discovering his own.

Yamashita himself staged his debut as a key animator at the precocious age of 18 after a few months as an overimaginative inbetweener filling in the spaces with movements the key animators hadn't indicated. This was in 1980 at Studio No 1, a studio Yoshinori Kanada was involved in. After working there for about a year he left with Hirokazu Ochi to form his own studio, Studio Oz, in 1981, to work on Urusei Yatsura. The "studio" was in fact simply a room where the five animators/friends worked together, not necessarily on the same projects. Studio Hercules, which recently handled a large portion of the work on Basilisk, is a contemporary equivalent - not really a studio in the traditional sense but rather a handful of freelance animators with a similar mindset who work together in the same space, often not even on the same project.

Other animators at Oz included Shinbo Akiyuki (!) and Shinsaku Kozuma. They changed their name to Studio Tome (an ironic title meaning the ubiquitous "still") after they were getting too many phone calls mistaking them for another studio with the same name, and finally formed an actual company called One Pattern in 1984, where Yamashita worked for several years before joining Yoshinori Kanada's Studio Nonmaruto in 1989, rejoining many of the people he'd worked with at Studio No 1 years before. The studio actually took over the space that had up until that point been occupied by Studio 4°C, which had presumably just moved to its present location.

Another "studio" formed around this time was Kaname Production, the studio most famous for producing Birth. The studio was formed by seven young people who left Ashi Production in 1982, and worked on the animation of various shows until 1983 when they produced their own show, Plawres Sanshiro, which featured work by Kanada and Shinsaku Kozuma. The next year Kozuma worked as an animator on Kanada's Birth alongside Yamashita Masahito and Hideki Tamura, another animator who was making a name for himself at the time pushing the Kanada style in new directions. Both Kozuma and Tamura then worked on Kaname's Leda in 1985, and in 1986 Tamura did the piece that perhaps best encapsulates his approach, the opening of Prefectural Earth Defense Force. The same year Kozuma created his own summum opus in the opening of Toei's Ikkiman. A great later piece by Kozuma, and the piece that introduced me to his work, is his animation in episode 54 of Yu Yu Hakusho in 1993, where he worked under ex-Studio Oz comrade Shinbo Akiyuki.

A decade later we can still find people carrying on the style, like Keisuke Watabe, who worked at Studio Z5 for some years in the early 90s before forming his own "studio", Studio Hercules. Studio Z5 was formed in 1980 by two people who had learned the ropes inbetweening Yoshinori Kanada's keys at Studio Z - Hajime Kamegaki and Satoshi Hirayama - together with Hideyuki Hashimoto, and was one of the more famous of these small collectives/"studios" active in the 80s, working on shows like Goshogun, Baldios and Cat's Eye. After being involved in shows like Tetsujin 28 FX, Zenki, Tottemo Lucky Man (with an op by Kanada) and Ray Earth, in 1995 Watabe did some work on Idol Project, including the animation near the end of the opening, that is among his more characteristic.

That same year Hiroyuki Imaishi debuted as an animator on Evangelion, and after a whirlwind development directed his first feature film 8 years later, inviting Watabe and other like-minded animators from all over the place to take part, including... Yamashita, which brings us back full circle. Imaishi, of course, also animated the recent opening of the Musashi game storyboarded/directed by Yoshinori Kanada. So in a way the "school", which is not really a school but more a mindset, is very much still alive.

The concept can be a hard one to define, but if the Telecom school would favor a more stable form, even frame rates and realistic treatment of weight and effects, the Kanada school would favor deformation, unusual frame rates and flashy, geometric effects liberally used. Obviously not every animator is going to have the same approach, as everyone is an individual and an aggregation of influences - many seemingly Kaneda-school animators were just as influenced by Kazuhide Tomonaga, to say nothing of the plethora of other animation out there in the world - and the style has infiltrated the vocabulary of anime to such a degree that almost everyone could be called a Kaneda-school animator to an extent. You can see Kaneda touches almost everywhere now. An upside to the overproliferation of programs right now is that the sheer volume seems to give young animators room to play a little, and there are still people appearing on the scene who seem to be carrying on that playful spirit.

Though this is merely a rushed and far from a complete overview, and there are surely a lot of other people who have made their own contribution to the development of the style, hopefully this gives a sense of the interconnections.

Filmographies: Yoshinori Kanada / Masahito Yamashita / Hiroyuki Imaishi

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

11:10:53 pm , 120 words, 1614 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Shinsaku Kozuma filmography

上妻晋作

1983 - Tokimeki Tonight 21
1983 - Minky Momo 9, 14
1983 - Miimu 5
1983 - Urusei Yatsura Only You
1984 - Plawres Sanshiro 4, 9, 15, 19, 23, 28, 33, 37
1984 - Urusei Yatsura 133, 135
1985 - Goshogun Etranger movie
1985 - Birth (underground moto chase)
1986 - Go Q Choji Ikkiman OP (all animation)
1987 - Gegege no Kitaro Third Series 3
1988 - Borgman
1991 - Minky Momo 5, 15 (storyboard)
1992 - Yu Yu Hakusho 54
1992 - Tekkaman Blade II 3
1993 - G Gundam OP
1993 - Irresponsible Captain Tylor 12, 19, 22, 25
1994 - Fatal Fury movie
1994 - Yu Yu Hakusho movie
1994 - Metal Fighter Miku 13
1995 - Dokkan! Robo Tendon 7, 9, 15, 22 (storyboard) 25 (directing)
1996 - Evangelion 16
1996 - Meitantei Conan 13
1997 - Lupin III Walther P-38
1998 - Bakuso Kyodai Lets & Go OP
Final Fantasy VII game (2D animation support)
Final Fantasy X game (art storyboard designer)
Final Fantasy XI game (animation designer)

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Thursday, February 2, 2006

11:01:16 pm , 211 words, 1813 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

Tokyo Loop

For those of us who couldn't get enough of Winter Days and The Planet, we now have a new art animation omnibus to look forward to: Tokyo Loop. Koji Yamamura reports that the Image Forum, which brought us Thinking and Drawing, and has regularly presented avant-garde cinema to the public via its homegrown video releases and screenings at its Shibuya Theater, is now producing an original omnibus that will bring together animated shorts by 16 Japanese creators. Due for completion this year, the film is being made to celebrate the centenary of James Stuart Blackton's Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, the seminal animated film, and the theme of the shorts, as indicated by the title, is the Japanese capital. The old guard is present in the persons of Nobuhiro Aihara, Keiichi Tanaami, Yoji Kuri, Taku Furukawa and Koji Yamamura; and the young guard is represented by Atsushi Wada, Tomoyasu Murata, Mika Seike and Kei Oyama, most of whom will be familiar from Thinking and Drawing. Most interestingly, however: It's not all just animators. The rest of the contributors are artists of various other persuasions - from manga-ka Kotobuki Shiriagari to experimental filmmakers Takashi Ito and Toshio Iwai - so it will be interesting to see what stimulation they bring to the mix.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

08:40:01 pm , 665 words, 3061 views     Categories: Animation

The Red Bird

Illustration from Hakushu Kitahara's TOMBO NO MEDAMA, 1919, a collection of children's songs first published in AKAI TORIThe 70s saw a wave of literary/folktale-inspired animation in Japan. Moomin started it all in 1969, leading to Heidi in 1974 and the World Masterpiece proper at Nippon Animation. In 1975 Group Tac started their Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, and Madhouse followed with Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi in 1976. About a month before the latter show ended its roughly two-and-a-half-year run, in February 1979, Shinei Doga joined the fray. Shinei had been formed not long before when Daikichiro Kusube's A Production split away from Tokyo Movie after a long relationship. From 1980 on they earned their keep producing Doraemon and then Crayon Shin-chan. But before the shows that the studio became known for came one small series that tends to be forgotten these days: Nihon Meisaku Dowa Series: Akai Tori no Kokoro, or Classic Japanese Children's Stories: The Heart of the Red Bird.

The title made little sense to me until I discovered that The Red Bird or Akai Tori was the name of a seminal children's magazine published between 1918 and 1936 by Miekichi Suzuki. Suzuki, a student of Soseki Natsume, was fed up with the pandering tone of children's literature and the inanity of government-sanctioned children's songs, and determined to create a magazine that would breathe an artistic and literary tone into literary production for young people. A panoply of the major literary figures of the day either published works in the magazine or voiced their support for it, including Jun'ichiro Tanizaki, Kyoka Izumi, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Haruo Sato, Takeo Arishima and Hakushu Kitahara. The magazine published many classics, including stories like Akutagawa's Spider's Thread and Tu Tze-Chun, and paved the way for a slew of similarly inclined children's magazines that appeared on the scene over the next decade. The children's songs published in the pages of Akai Tori, especially those by Yanagawa-born poet Hakushu Kitahara (who was evoked in Isao Takahata's documentary on the canals of Yanagawa), were precursors to those published in Kodomo no Kuni, one of those follower magazines.

Suzuki's magazine was also the first children's magazine to bring foreign children's literature to Japan in translation. A famous anecdote surrounds poet and watakushi-shosetsu writer Sato Haruo's translation of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio, which appeared in the magazine starting February 1920. At one point he lent an English translation of the book to an acquaintance, who translated the story into Japanese after dinner to read to his children as a bedtime story. Upon finishing the book he spurred his daughter, Aya Nishimura, to write out what she could remember of the story, which she promptly did - with amazing accuracy. So much so that they decided to published it, and it appeared in book form in May with illustrations by the author herself. It was an instant hit, in the face of which the hypochondriac Sato abandoned his effort in September. And so it was that Pinocchio was first introduced to Japan not by one of the Taisho period's leading translators and poets, but by a twelve-year-old girl. As a longtime fan of Sato's, I really feel for the guy.

The series was short-lived, running for only two seasons. Stories adapted include the two mentioned by Akutagawa, as well as one based on a poem by Hakushu, but they're not limited to actual stories published in Akai Tori, as Osamu Dazai's Hashire Melos is also there, so the series is therefore a precursor of Nippon Animation's Seishun Anime Zenshu. The show won numerous awards including a Monbusho recommendation, and was released on video a few years back. It's mainly of interest as the liminal piece bridging the A Productions period with the Shinei Doga period. Ironically, it was the first thing produced at the company after all the famous staff left for Nippon Animation to work on the World Masterpiece Theater. Tenguri, the final piece featuring Kotabe et al, came immediately before. It would be interesting to see what kind of work the staff did at this stage, as Kusube has said that they enjoyed the work and put great effort into it.