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: December 2006, 17

Sunday, December 17, 2006

11:05:46 pm , 812 words, 1667 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Movie, TV

The Kappa's Gift

NHK managed to pull a fast one on me. No Shingo Natsume in the last episode. Instead, a one-two punch of Norio Matsumoto and Tetsuya Takeuchi. Totally out of the blue. It's like a goodbye thank you to viewers. They had fun with the allotment, too. Matsumoto's shots are sprinkled around here and there like nuggets of gold. Yet again Matsumoto's been called in to help with a climax. I can't figure out who it was that called in the marines this time. Matsumoto's worked for just about every other studio there is in the last few years - Madhouse, Pierrot, Satelight, Radix, Toei, IG, Ghibli - but Gonzo's new to the lineup as far as I know. In any case, it had the desired effect of helping make this a satisfying finale, so it was a good call. There's nothing like calling in a great animator or two to provide a big climax with just the touch of nuanced acting needed to give it the needed punch. It's almost enough to make you forget how different the preceding episodes were. Almost. Even better would have been a tag-team effort by Matsumoto and Takeuchi, but I shouldn't get greedy.

I've been reading a book about erstwhile Crayon Shin-chan director Keiichi Hara. Learning more in depth about the man and his attitudes has only stoked my fire about his new film slated for release next year. It's apparently based on a book published in 1978 entitled Kappa Oosawagi 河童おおさわぎ or "Kappa Uproar". The previous, working title was Kappa no Kureta Okurimono 河童のくれた贈り物 or "The Kappa's Gift", but they may have reverted to the original title.

The film is produced by Hitoshi Mogi, who had been tricked into joining Shinei in 1981 believing he was joining a live-action film studio. He went on to become Shinei's chief producer, in which capacity he worked closely with Hara from the time of his debut as chief director of Esper Mami down through all of the Shin-chan films. Mogi has in fact had this project in the works for a long time, but it is only now beginning to see fruition with the now free Hara at the head of the project.

Information on the project is just about as hard to come by as it is for Denno Coil. About all I know now is that it's still being done at Shinei, and the animation director/character designer is Hara's longtime support from Crayon Shin-chan, Yuichiro Sueyoshi (who animated the climax of Hara's 2001 Adult Empire film etc). I mentioned Tokikake's latest award, the Grand Prize at the Media Arts Festival. Well, Hara won the award in 2002 for his Warring States film, and in his new film he's coupled with the animation director of the 2004 Media Arts Festival Grand Prize winner, Mind Game, which makes for an exciting prospect.

Keiichi Hara had clearly outgrown the confines of the Shin-chan vehicle by the time of his last film in 2002. Shinnosuke had by that time been relegated to a mere side-character in his vast historical tableaus. He'd done everything he felt he could with the material, so he left the post to make a film as he wanted. He approached his last two films in kamikaze style, doing them his own way, consequences be damned, fully expecting each to be his last. As it turns out, audiences loved what he'd done, so he was forced to leave of his own volition.

He had always been more interested in creating meaningful, emotionally resonant drama than slapstick children's fare. Shin-chan might not immediately seem like the best place to do that, but he had managed to inject a more down to earth, grounded tone into the show. His approach was there right off the bat from the very first Shin-chan film in 1992, in which he storyboarded the low-key first half of the film and then-chief director Mitsuru Hongo storyboarded the sci-fi second half. His attention to detail and knack for delicate dramaturgy were a major boon to all of the films.

Not surprisingly for a director who made a film entirely about the idea of nostalgia (Adult Empire), Hara cites among his influences Tarkovsky's film of the same name. He also cites Lawrence of Arabia, Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, and the films of Keisuke Kinoshita and Yasujiro Ozu. Hara is also very particular about his animation. The only two anime films he enjoyed in the last decade were Jin-Roh and Mind Game. Hara's also got a unique approach to living. He's spent a good portion of every year since 1985 travelling abroad, wandering around by foot visiting remote places. He's got a particular penchant for Southeast Asia. Hara is also known for his pared down lifestyle. He doesn't own a cell phone, avoids other modern gadgets, backpacks it wherever he travels. I'm eager to see what the ascetic of the anime industry will do with his breakout film.