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: March 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

11:55:31 pm , 1473 words, 8315 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

The women behind Ghibli

Animators like Yoshinori Kanada or Shinji Otsuka often seem to receive most of the attention for the animation in the Ghibli films, but behind the scenes a handful of women animators have been there helping to maintain the high level of quality of the studio's animation over the years. Several of these animators also happen to be among the few figures who have seen it all at the studio - they've been there since the very beginning, and remain there today, working on every film. Despite not receiving much recognition for their work, they were responsible for many of the more memorable scenes in the various films. I thought I would throw together a short overview of some of the scenes done by four of the main Ghibli women animators: Makiko Futaki, Atsuko Tanaka, Masako Shinohara, and Megumi Kagawa.

Makiko Futaki 二木真希子
Perhaps my favorite of Ghibli's women animators, Makiko Futaki tends to be given scenes that demand an eye for intricate and delicate motion, and she packs tremendous nuance into her scenes with lush and fluid animation. Futaki's history with animation predates her professional debut. She was in fact famous for "cine-calligraph" films she made for the amateur PAF Animation Festival. (Cine-calligraph was a technique pioneered by Norman McLaren in which the animator scratches directly onto a small strip of 8mm film - my favorite McLaren film, Blinkity Blank, is a cine-calligraph film.) Her films were considered to have surpassed the limitations of the form due to their incredible craftsmanship, bespoken by reports that she damaged her eyesight making the films. She began her professional career at Telecom as an inbetweener on Lupin Part 2 #153 in 1979, but soon went freelance, in which capacity she went on to work on virtually every Ghibli film as well as other classic films like Angel's Egg and Night on the Galactic Railroad. She is one of the major feature animators of the last few decades.

Futaki loves birds and is famous for drawing scenes involving birds. The most famous of these is perhaps the scene in Laputa where Pazu sets free and feeds the doves. There's also the scene in Kiki with Kiki flying alongside the geese and falling into the crow's nest. In Kiki she also drew the opening scene where Kiki makes the decision to leave. Here you can see her skill at minutely detailed animation in the grass that sways gorgeously in the wind at the beginning. In Totoro she also animated detailed natural scenes, including the scene with the tadpoles, and the scene where the giant tree spurts up. In Mononoke she drew the scene where San enters the forest with Ashitaka on Yakkuru, all the way until the Shishigami walks up to Ashitaka lying on the ground. Here her characteristic skill for minutely detailed natural animation shines through in those incredible shots of the vegetation sprouting and withering. Most recently, Futaki was assistant animation director of the latest film.

Atsuko Tanaka 田中敦子
This Telecom animator and action specialist has created some of the most memorable action sequences in anime in recent decades. A prime example of Atsuko Tanaka's unique genius for action can be seen in the famous car chase of Plot of the Fuma Clan, which, clocking in at more than 5 minutes, is surely of the most exhilarating and idea-packed chase sequences ever animated. She conceived, storyboarded and animated the sequence herself. Tanaka started out at Telecom working with Miyazaki (alongside Futaki and Shinohara), animating the famous leap and spaghetti eating in Cagliostro and a large chunk of the chase at the end of Blue Carbuncle, among other things. She stayed on at Telecom, and was involved primarily in Telecom co-productions throughout the 80s, including a number of episodes of Batman. In the 90s she finally became a regular in the Ghibli films, although she remains a Telecom animator. Recently she did storyboard and animation for the studio's Secret of Cerulean Sand, namely eps 12, 22 and 26.

In Mononoke Hime she animated the hair-raising portion of the climactic sequence where Eboshi's arm is torn off, and the scene with Eboshi and Jikobo in Tataraba. In Spirited Away, Tanaka was the Yubaba specialist, animating an impressive 100+ shots of the character. She was largely responsible for giving her the fiery character and dynamic movement that makes her so memorable. In both of the more recent films Tanaka tops the list of animators, meaning she again delivered the same level of volume. She is a true powerhouse of an animator. In Howl she animated the part where Howl is cooking eggs, the part where Howl is moping in his room, and the part at the end where Howl's house is being bombed and Howl comes to rescue Sophie. The latter section in particular shows Tanaka at her best in creating exciting, tricky, dynamic movement. Tanaka occupies a special place at Ghibli even though she's not even an employee, testified by the fact that she was turned to for some of the Museum films. In 2001 she created the lush animation that graces the set of six one-minute shorts entitled Film Guruguru. Most recently, 2006 saw the release of a new a 15-minute short animated by Tanaka for the Museum, Mon-Mon the Water Spider. Also, I'd long wondered who had animated the animated sequences of Isao Takahata's 1987 documentary The Story of the Yanagawa Canals. It turns out that the figures responsible were none other than Atsuko Tanaka and Makiko Futaki.

Masako Shinohara 篠原征子
House animator who tends to focus on scenes of everyday life and crowd scenes rather than on action scenes, Masako Shinohara is in fact one of the elder stateswomen animators of the studio. She is the only one of the four animators profiled here to have actually started out working on the classic Toei Doga films, like Miyazaki. She began there in 1967 as an inbetweener in Jack and the Witch, only a few years after Miyazaki, and drew her first key animation in Puss 'n Boots II in 1972. After leaving Toei Doga in 1972, she worked as an inbetween checker in Heidi in 1974 and has been involved in virtually every Miyazaki project since, first spending a period as a freelancer before finally settling down at Ghibli.

In Laputa she drew the scene on the Tiger Moth, giving her ample room to breathe life into everyday actions. In Kiki she drew the scene of Osono telling Kiki to deliver package to Tombo, and Kiki laughing after she and Tombo are thrown off the bike (after the exciting bike ride by Toshiyuki Inoue), scenes that are exemplary perhaps for the delicate mix of emotions conveyed by the characters. She also worked on the laborious crowd scene at the end (alongside Toshio Kawaguchi and Yoshinori Kanada), animating the part where Kiki catches Tombo. In Mononoke she drew the scene where San discovers Ashitaka lying in the forest and feeds him, and the section where Ashitaka catches the bow and arrow from Koroku. In Howl she animated the scene where Sophie is cleaning up Howl's house.

Megumi Kagawa 賀川愛
One of the only animators who has been in virtually every Ghibli film, Megumi Kagawa began her career as an animator at studio Doga Kobo in the early 80s. When she heard they were looking for staff for Nausicaa, she asked someone at Doga Kobo who had connections to get her in because she was a big Miyazaki fan, and the rest is history. She's been one of the lead animators in almost every Ghibli film since, right down to Gedo. In addition, she was co-animation director of Porco Rosso, Pompoko and Spirited Away.

For her first job, Nausicaa, she drew the scene of Nausicaa listening to Yupa in Jiru's room, and also Nausicaa trying to save the old men in barge, and Nausicaa pushing the gunship to its limit near the end. In Kiki she drew the 50-60 shots of Kiki encountering Ursula at her log house. In Mononoke she drew the scene where the wolf is rescued from under the boars. In Whisper of the Heart she drew the scene that takes place in the rain. In Spirited Away, she wanted to participate more as an animator, but was forced to help out AD Masashi Ando after only having drawn a little animation, namely the scene at the beginning where Sen walks out of the tunnel. The subtle change in her expression when the wind blows past her expresses her feelings well. In Howl she was able to come back full force as an animator, and indeed she is listed second only to Tanaka in both Howl and the more recent film, having done numerous big chunks. In Howl she animated the part at the beginning where Sophie is making hats, the part where Howl gets all green goopy, and the part where Sophie is running while crying towards that door near the end.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

05:00:07 pm , 93 words, 1383 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Denno Coil, TV

May 12: Denno Coil day

Reports of the promo bode well. More importantly, the date was just announced for the start of the broadcast: May 12.

In other news, Norio Matsumoto was in Angelique 11 for some reason. Koji Yamamura's Country Doctor is reportedly going to be distributed in theaters in Japan by a big distributor, Shochiku, a first for his films. The film sounds quite intriguing. Yamamura expressed the inner turmoil of the characters by bending and twisting their forms. Not that his films are ever anything short of thrilling as animation, but the animation here sounds particularly exciting.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

01:27:05 am , 123 words, 1316 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Denno Coil, TV

Denno Coil @ TAF 2007

Apparently a promo video for Denno Coil containing clips from the series will be shown starting today at the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2007. I'm in half a mind about whether I want to see anything before the actual broadcast... I'd prefer not to. I'd like to keep it all a surprise. The producer of the opening/ending theme, which is sung by Ayako Ikeda, recently commented on his blog that he got to watch the first six episodes on the occasion, and he felt it "surpassed Ghibli in a way".

On a similar note, Keiichi Hara's new film Summer with Coo the Kappa was screened at Ghibli, and Isao Takahata was reportedly pleased with the film and hoped it would become a hit.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

01:01:36 am , 1688 words, 7532 views     Categories: Animation, Studio


I remember enjoying The Last Unicorn when I was younger, so I rewatched it a while back to see how it would compare with memory. I must have been quite partial to it because I remembered many of the details quite clearly. This time around what fascinated me was the animation, which was a very strange beast. Usually it's easy to tell with one glance whether a piece of animation is from the west or Japan, but here it's like your senses are confused by conflicting information. Some elements scream western, while other elements scream Japan. Stylistically and in terms of the storytelling and visuals and pacing it's very western, but something about the animation strikes an odd note that doesn't seem to jive with that information. It's got a sort sheen to the drawings and approach to timing that doesn't seem western. It's clearly presco rather than afureco, i.e. the music & voices are recorded first and the animation follows, rather than after as is usual in Japan, but it doesn't feel natural somehow.

Clearly a lot of work is being put into interpreting the voices and coming up with movement, but there's something fundamentally different about it from everything else that was being made in Japan at the time. It's like a small pocket of animators developed completely isolated from the history of the development of animation in Japan, doing things their own way. Rather than focusing on using few drawings, well timed, to achieve good effect, they use lots of detailed drawings to try to create fuller animation than what came to be typical of the rest of Japanese animation. The downside is that the animation doesn't have that good 'feeling' that developed out of that need to focus on the timing to make up for the lack of drawings. The animation is full, yet the movement isn't particularly appealing. It's lacking a feeling of weight and zip, the movements seem added for the sake of moving rather than for any real purpose.

The contrast is thrown into sharp relief by the film they did soon afterwards - Nausicaa. Here a person who had seen all of those developments and advances in the approach to commercial feature animation in Japan since its inception was brought in to a studio that had a completely different approach - western, yet not quite western. It seems like an odd choice, because I couldn't imagine a studio producing animation more different from Miyazaki's, but presumably they must have chosen this studio because Topcraft was one of the few studios in Japan at the time equipped with all of the material to create a final product, i.e. they could do the animation as well as the photography and final editing.

The Topcraft animators who had worked on Unicorn and Hobbit and everything else worked on the film, although many other outside figures like Takashi Nakamura and Yoshinori Kanada were brought in from elsewhere, so that it's not really a purely Topcraft production. Topcraft animator Kazuyuki Kobayashi did the scene where Nausicaa meets Teto, but apparently the scene went through a considerable amount of reworking and touching up, so we're not seeing his work in the raw. Tadakatsu Yoshida did the Ohmu running towards the screen near the end. The keys are incredibly detailed and precise, and the work seems to better represent what the studio's animators would have been better at - much denser and heavily worked drawings. That's the feeling I get from their other films, that the drawings are very detailed and the images are very rich and painterly. There's more of an emphasis on traditional drafting skills than in other domestic productions, but on the other hand, the animation works better as drawings than as animation, as movement. The drawings have a bit of a cold and impersonal feeling to them. The contrast is sharpest with folks like Kanada, whose drawings are very loose and free, but create an incredible feeling of exhilaration in motion. Yoshida points out that he was impressed by the great feeling of the timing of the explosions in Kanada's work. It must have been a real eye-opener to the studio's animators to work on that film with figures whose approach was much more individualistic and focused on creating movement that felt good.

Topcraft was a unique studio in Japan and they left behind films with a different approach from the other domestic studios, so it's intriguing to look back on how their work differs from the rest of the industry. Telecom was a near analogue of about a decade later, a Japanese studio focused on foreign co-productions for overseas viewers. But if Telecom was Toei Doga based, grounded in the fundamentals of movement and teaching its animators realistic weight and careful timing, keeping the drawings spare and simple, then in that sense Topcraft had a decidedly Tatsunoko tinge to it very different from Telecom, with a more photorealistic, 'western' look, detailed and liberal use of drawings, without that grounding in the fundamentals of movement and realistic timing. There's a surface of flashy poses and carefully rendered drawings, but underneath there's a feeling of spinning the wheels, so to speak.

Most of the work they did wound up not being seen by their own countrymen, but they clearly put a lot of effort into their films, and had pride in what they were doing. There must have been the feeling at the studio that they were among the few studios in Japan making real animation. Telecom later had that similar image of being the place where you have to go first if you want to learn how to create real movement. They were apparently free from the constraint of having to work in excessively tight schedules, giving them the time to pack in as much movement and detail as they wanted. Commercial animation in Japan in the 70s had a cheap image, so like Telecom in later years, people must have been attracted to the studio for the opportunity it offered to create a different kind of animation, more labored, with fuller movement. A notable case is Hidekazu Ohara, who drew the opening sequence of Nausicaa. One of the main things that attracted Ohara to the studio was the intricate, realistic, finely drafted look of the studio's characters, the work of Tsuguyuki Kubo.

Tsuguyuki Kubo was the main figure behind the character design side of Topcraft's work. He had started out at Tatsunoko in 1965, where he famously animated the opening of Speed Racer, before leaving to form his own studio, Studio Bees, where he did subcontracting for Toei and Tatsunoko, working notably on the likes of Rainbow Sentai Robin, finally arriving at Topcraft in 1972. Topcraft had been founded that year by Toru Hara, a Toei Doga expatriate who after Nausicaa would become Ghibli's early executive producer. Before the company was founded officially they had done a promotional video for Rankin/Bass, which presumably is how Topcraft came to focus almost exclusively on foreign subcontracting for them. Kubo was the character designer of the first of these, the TV series Kid Power, and he would go on to do much of the studio's character designing, giving the studio's work its unique look. Perhaps because of his past experience at Tatsunoko, he was also involved in the handful of the studio's domestic projects, most of which were for Tatsunoko. He also animated a number of TV advertisements for the studio starting 1973. The work for which he is probably best known was for the handful of feature films that occupied the studio in the second half of its decade-some lifespan. Kubo was animation director/co-storyboarder of The Hobbit in 1977; co-animation director/co-layout man/supervisor of Return of the King in 1980; co-character designer/co-storyboarder/supervisor of The Last Unicorn in 1981; and co-character designer/co-animation director of Flight of the Dragon in 1982. After leaving the studio, Kubo went on to work at a studio first called Masaki and then PAC (Pacific Animation Corporation), where he worked as animation supervisor on Wind in the Willows among other things, finally settling down at Studio Pierrot, where he remains quite active still today, 40-some years after he first began working as an animator, his most recent work being on Emma.

If Kubo was the face behind the drawings, Katsuhisa Yamada was the layout man and line director for many of the studio's productions. The main animators were the two mentioned before - Kazuyuki Kobayashi and Tadakatsu Yoshida - along with a few others like Hidemi Kubo. But I'll stop there, as there's already an excellent page outlining the history of Topcraft.

I've been going through Telecom's 2002 series Secret of Cerulean Sand lately. The big find was a nice bit of animation by Hiroyuki Aoyama in episode 7. Apart from that he also drew a bit in 2 and 25 and storyboard for 3, 17, 19, 23. Ep 3 had a more measured and dramatic atmosphere that stood apart from the others, so I look forward to the rest of his eps. As seems typical with latter-day Telecom, the story is unfortunately the weak link in the chain, and things aren't helped by the fact that just about every other episode is a nearly unwatchable outsourced catastrophe that looks like a different show. Fortunately Tomonaga Kazuhide and Atsuko Tanaka are involved later on, so there should be some nice work near the end. (Tanaka is first in 12 and storyboard + first in 22 and 26, and also did a bit in 13 & 25) Aoyama's part was quite something. Aoyama's work is what I associate with the Telecom at its best - incredibly nuanced, exciting, fun, lively movement with a brilliant sense of timing. Shojiro Nishimi also seemed identifiable in 7 with slightly more limited but still nicely timed movement that had a nice feeling to it, not quite to the extent of Aoyama, but still nice. His Yuasa-influenced forms were also identifiable and well suited to the simple Telecom look. It's also impressive to see that Yoshinobu Michihata is still creating the same incredibly fun and free movement he has been since at least Sherlock Hound. His animation is a joy to watch.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

04:02:00 pm , 456 words, 21715 views     Categories: Animation

Past highlights

I know it's rather hard for newcomers to browse through three years worth of posts to sort the wheat from the chaff, so I thought I'd throw together a short selection of what I feel to be some of the more significant or interesting posts, or posts I put more effort into. Kind of a condensed overview of the blog.

› Spotlight on Mamoru Hosoda
› Winter Days
› Toei Doga (Part 1)
› Toei Doga (Part 2)
› Spotlight on Satoru Utsunomiya
› Tokyo Godfathers
› Otogi Pro and the rise of independent animation in Japan
› The first wave of independent animators in Japan
› Loose ends
› Toshio Hirata
› Midori
› Tadashi Hiramatsu interview
› Running man
› FX
› Yasuhiro Nakura
› Ichiro Itano

› Gisaburo Sugii vs. Hiroshi Masumura
› Tadanari Okamoto: The Heart of Animation
› Gosenzosama Banbanzai
› Perrault the Chimney Sweep
› The art of Takashi Ishida
› Ken the Wolf Boy
› Shanghai Animation Studio
› Toshiyuki Inoue interview (Part 1)
› Toshiyuki Inoue interview (Part 2)
› Rambling about Toei animation
› Lichtspiel Opus I-IV
› Mitsuo Iso
› Yoshiaki Yoshinaga on Nekojiru (Part 1)
› Yoshiaki Yoshinaga on Nekojiru (Part 2)

› Marisuke Eguchi interview
› The Kanada school
› Animaru-ya
› Yasunori Miyazawa
› Stylistic evolution in Crayon Shin-chan
› Legend of Crystania
› Two pioneer women animators

› Hisashi Mori
› Hajime Ningen Gyators
› The women behind Ghibli
› Michael Arias interview
› Osamu Tanabe
› Old anime
› Yuri Norstein interview
› A Production / Shin-Ei Animation

› Joe and the Rose
› Florence Miailhe
› Tiger Mask
› A Country Doctor
› The Antique Shop
› What makes animation interesting?

› Shoichi Masuo
› Maya Yonesho
› Dirty Pair
› Genius Party
› L'Ange
› Taku Furukawa

› The Sensualist
› $9.99
› In the Attic
› U
› Keita Kurosaka interview
› Halo Legends
› A Town Called Panic
› Wakfu bonus ep
› What do you want to see in anime?
› Run Melos
› Yamato 2520
› Kihachiro Kawamoto
› Franchise Microcosms

› Yosuke Oomomo
› Ryu Kato
› Time Out of Mind
› The seconding system at Toei Doga
› The anime production line
› Satoshi Murai
› Ayaka Nakata
› Kooky
› Masaki Okuda
› Licca-chan and Burabura
› Sadahiko Sakamaki's storyboards for Taiga Adventure
› Lupin III: Bye Bye Liberty Crisis
› Masaaki Yuasa's The Squash Seller
› Grampa's Lamp
› Kizuna Ichigeki
› The animation of the second Lupin III TV series
› Rita and Whatsit

› Seton Animal Chronicles: Bannertail, the story of a gray squirrel
› Submarine 707R
› Lupin III Part 3
› Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes
› Arietty
› Mankatsu
› Noboru Furuse's racing anime
› Oh Pro's Devilman
› Yoshiyuki Momose Studio Ghibli works
› Tsushimamaru: Sayonara Okinawa
› The first five Lupin III TV specials
› Black Magic M-66
› Hermes, Wings of Love
› Votoms
› Pony Metal U-Gaim
› Anime games
› SPT Layzner
› Good Morning Althea
› Hyper-Psychic-Geo Garaga
› Capricorn
› Interview with Bahi JD

› Anime Mirai 2011
› The Life of Gusko Budori
› Bavi Stock
› Saint Young Men
› Ippatsu Hicchuu!! Devander
› Ziria
› Blue Exorcist movie
› Ghost Stories
› C (299,792 km/s)
› Wild West Boy Isamu
› Ys
› Armor Hunter Mellowlink
› New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine
› The Twin Stars and early Ryutaro Nakamura
› Yumemakura Baku's Twilight Theatre
› Penguin's Memory
› Tensai Bakabon

Thursday, March 15, 2007

02:50:52 pm , 559 words, 1963 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, OVA, Indie, Music Video, Movie, TV

Birds etc

Thanks to Stephen for writing about the web site Pleix, where you can see the incredible video "Birds", which is easily the coolest music video I've seen in a good while. Everything else I've sampled on there is without exception terrific and inspiring. Apparently the videos on there are the work of a Paris-based collective of artists of various persuasions.

Seems Genius Party is scheduled for two parts. The first part announced for this summer comprises seven shorts, conspicuously not including those of Shinya Ohira, Koji Morimoto, or Tatsuyuki Tanaka, three notoriously slow and maniacal animators. At least Masaaki Yuasa's and Atsuko Fukushima's pieces are in there. If I recall correctly, Yuasa's piece was in fact finished more than a year ago(?!). I was wondering how they were possibly going to fit all of those shorts into the span of a full-length feature. It makes sense that they'd split it in two. They've even already scheduled the world premiere for next February in New York.

Watched a bit of Bartender when it first came out and I actually really enjoyed it and thought it was a great example of "anime", in both the positive and negative connotations of the term. Positive in that it's amazing that they can create an entire series about the art of making cocktails, and negative in that it feels like you're just watching manga with a soundtrack. I've been getting into making cocktails recently, so maybe that helps too. I love how they manage to inject this vein or romanticism and fantasy into the whole idea of going to a bar and having a drink. Maybe it's a Japanese thing, or maybe I just don't frequent the right circles, but my image of bars and the people who go to them has been considerably less pretty, and rather more chintzy. Of course the real story here is undoubtedly how fascinating it is that animation in Japan is able to act as a bridge between customers and an industry that would normally be at the farthest end of sober associations with the medium of Disney. Manga has always been about anything and everything, and manga has always been a prime source of material for anime, so I guess there's nothing really new about it.

Watched the fan restoration of To-Y. First of all, bravo on a job well done to the restorers. That was breathtaking image quality. Oddly, as I began watching, I realized that I had in fact seen it long ago, even though I thought I'd never seen it. Deja vu indeed. I distinctly remembered the opening segments with those wonderful zooms, and especially the accompanying music. (Deja entendu?) Ahh, what joy to waft along on the torrent of suits with padded shoulders and narrow ties and large hair. The 80s. This anime really embodies the 80s seen through the lens of Japan, which oddly seems alarmingly like the 80s seen through the lens of MTV. Albeit therefore sometimes chuckle-inducing, it's still a finely crafted film of its period, a prime example of that OVA genre that flourished in the 80s and produced some real gems. The animation of Onda Naoyuki, who must have been fresh from Gundam ZZ, is undoubtedly one of his best achievements. For an 80s pop anime overdose, this would make a cool double-feature revival pairing with Bobby's Girl.

Monday, March 12, 2007

07:03:44 pm , 733 words, 2034 views     Categories: Animation, Movie, Director

Masami Hata's Mouse Story

As Manuloz pointed out, there is now a site for Masami Hata's upcoming film, now titled Nezumi Monogatari or Mouse Story: The Adventures of George and Gerald. The designs are quite lively and unique for a Japanese feature, and feel like a breath of fresh air in the lately somewhat stylistically stale and cramped range of the industry, really harkening back to the days of the old movies of Sanrio Films. And it goes to reason. We see here many of the key figures behind the old Sanrio Films movies. I knew the film was a Sanrio production from the moment it was mentioned that Sanrio president Shintaro Tsuji was the creator of the story, as he was for all of the classic Sanrio Films productions. And so it turns out to be. But make no mistake, this is definitely a Madhouse production in terms of all aspects of the actual animation. The animation studio Sanrio Films disbanded in 1985 after production of Fairy Florence, and I get the impression that all subsequent Sanrio productions have been outsourced like this one. Madhouse was in fact the studio that produced Sanrio's two Unico features that followed the pilot, so it makes sense for Madhouse to provide the stage for this reunion of all of the old Sanrio Films gang. (Hata, of course, started out at Mushi Pro, where he worked along side Dezaki, who later formed Madhouse, in whose early productions like Aim for the Ace Hata was involved.)

The big surprise was to find that the designs are by the hand of none other than Toshio Hirata! Hirata has never done character designs as far as I'm aware, so this is an exciting development. Exciting particularly because this is the first time we'll have seen Hata and Hirata working together since the 1979 Unico pilot, where Hata was one of the three animators (alongside Shigeru Yamamoto and Mikiharu Akabori) and Hirata was the director. Almost thirty years later they're back, and now the roles are reversed. And this time their film won't be shelved for a decade, either. The film is due to hit theaters this winter. Interestingly enough, we even have the art director of the old Sanrio Films movies, Yukio Abe, who more recently did the wonderfully retro art of Stormy Night, so it really is the old Sanrio Films team come back together again for one big final bash. I doubt it will achieve the level of those films, which were made by a unique studio at the height of its powers, but I'm really excited that we're going to see another film by the same crew, and I'm hoping that it will be imbued with at least some of that unique atmosphere and feeling that I've so missed in those films. I've long wished Hata would do one more big project, a serious effort like Sirius or Florence, and it looks like this is that film.

Just about the only person missing to complete the team is Shigeru Yamamoto, the chief character animator in the old Sanrio Films days. After the closing of Sanrio Films, he moved to Disney Japan, where he worked on all of the studio's productions all the way until 2003, a year before the studio closed. Hopefully he will be there as an animator. He also, of course, worked alongside Hata at Mushi Pro in the early days. Sadly, their comrade Mikiharu Akabori, the chief effects animator at Sanrio Films, passed away a few years ago, so the team can never be fully complete again. I've always been curious to know what happened to the other animators at the Sanrio Films studios like Shinmi Taga, Maya Matsuyama and Haruo Takahashi. From what I can gather, some of them transferred to Disney Japan or other studios, some must have gone freelance, while yet others formed their own studios like Grouper and Circus. I don't know specifically who founded and worked at each of these studios, what else they did, or how long they lasted, but we can see many of the major Sanrio Films figures there in the early productions in the aftermath of the closing of Sanrio Films. In 1986, Circus produced Nayuta and Grouper produced the Super Mario Bros film. In both we can see familiar names like Maya Matsuyama as animator (Nayuta) or animation director (SMB), Yukio Abe as art director, and of course Hata as director.

Friday, March 9, 2007

08:24:11 pm , 296 words, 1233 views     Categories: Animation

Samurai7 no Mori

I picked up the Samurai7 fanbook to see if there might be some of Hisashi Mori's designs in there, but zilch, nada. So I still don't know what the nature of "design works" is. I was really looking forward to seeing some of his designs in the raw, too. Takuhito Kusanagi did the original designs for the main characters, and Makoto Kobayashi the mecha and setting design work, so perhaps Mori handled the sub-characters. Kusanagi's designs were quite wonderful, as expected, very true to the flavor of what I remember seeing in his Shanghai Kaijinzoku manga more than a decade ago. The tragedy is that none of that flavor whatsoever comes through in the final designs. In the final product they look like your average humdrum designs. It's an amazing feat to be able to sap such seemingly irrepresible character completely dry. I didn't know Makoto Kobayashi, but his ornate, organic mecha designs are quite nice, somewhat Giger-ish. I haven't seen enough of the anime to say whether that character comes through in the final product. I'm reminded here of Little Nemo, which shared a similar fate of having a lot of great looking, imaginative pre-production stuff by a huge array of talent, but having very little of that flavor in the final product. To be fair, it's probably too much to ask to transfer his delicately toned style to a flat-toned medium like this. One thing I like about Gonzo is that they use interesting figures like Kusanagi, but I often find that they don't manage to figure out a way to reflect what makes those figures good in the first place in the final product, so it winds up being kind of a waste. I think I'll hit up the Speed Grapher book next.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

03:22:53 am , 560 words, 2567 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Warring States

Today I finally managed to see Keiichi Hara's last Shin-chan film (and the last film he made period until this year's Kappa), Warring States from 2002, and it was just as good as I expected. It's not just a good Shin-chan film, but a good film, something none of the subsequent films are. Hara's pared down aesthetic reaches its peak here. Hara doesn't make even the pretense of attempting to beguile his audience with unnecessary frippery or gimmickry. When the family time shifts, he does it without a single effect. In one shot they're in the present day, and in the next shot they're in the past. It's almost shocking in its unflinching bareness.

The contrast with Mitsuru Hongo's gimmick-rich fantasy adventures is greatest in this film, especially in comparison to Hongo's own version of the warring states movie, Unkokusai, which involved strange looking time machines, giant robots, a mad foreigner out to control history, and a talking dog. In contrast, the core of Hara's film lies in his loving focus on the little everyday things. We come away feeling for the people because he's gone out of his way to show how people would really have lived back them. When one castle's army attacks another castle city, the attackers first take the time to destroy the crop fields around the castle, which the warriors in the castle had up until that point been working. The fighting moves through various stages as the armies close, from long-range bombardment, to spears, to swords, in a well defined strategic procession that Hara clearly researched and puts great effort into depicting accurately on the screen. It's like an Akira Kurosawa movie, animated.

The battle scenes that bookend the film really steal the show and have a more powerful effect than any other sequences of this kind I've seen in animation, not because of any spectacular animation, but because of Hara's honesty and earnest enthusiasm with the material. He clearly loved what he was doing, and the film reflects his personality. What's nice is that, with the limited resources available at Shinei, and within the confines of a franchise film, Hara managed to make a great film that doesn't feel cramped by the technical limitations, though I do wonder how it might have looked at another studio with more means available. For example, he had to cut one ambitious crane shot that looked like it could have come straight out of Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace from the storyboard because, not surprisingly, he was told that it would be too hard to produce. Shinei produces one of these films a year, along with a new episode a week - with the same staff - so I don't really blame them.

This film shows what it is that makes Hara unique - his ability to tell a story, bring characters alive, and involve the audience. It's perhaps the most straightforward but also the most assured and convincing of his films. Whereas all of the previous films caused him considerable birth pains, the knowledge that this would probably wind up being his last film (much to his own relief) seemed to free him from creative tethers and allow him to create the film straight through in one go without any hesitation. You can feel that assuredness in the smooth flow of the story to its moving conclusion.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

02:23:46 am , 427 words, 1738 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Masayuki Yoshihara

A long time ago I talked about how Masayuki Yoshihara's ep 41 of Ninku had had a big impact on me. That remains his most powerful creation as far as I know, but since then I found that he had also done some nice work in the Shin-chan movies, namely the 5th and 6th from 1997 and 1998, the first two directed by Keiichi Hara. I'm not quite sure how he came to work on Shin-chan of all things, as his work on Ninku epitomized the realistic school of the period, but that's the thing about the movies - you found unexpected people every once in a while, like Hiroyuki Nishimura and Masahiro Ando, obviously because they were great animators and had been brought in to help bring to life the action that filled out the movies. And so they did. These three created many of the most memorable scenes in the mid-period films. I don't know what Yoshihara did in the 1997 film, but I remember that he animated the opening sequence of 1998's Buta no Hizume, and it was a great idea, because his more realistic style of animation worked perfectly for the more realistic and hard-boiled direction Hara wanted to go with the film. Strangely enough, it seems Yoshihara had even done a few eps of the TV series. He animated two eps in 1997 - #237B and #241B - and storyboarded about three others the next year. The ones he animated were a real revelation, just what one would expect from an outsider like him - subtly different from the regulars, with extreme angles, a wilder and more unpredictable approach to timing, close attention to little details of movement, realistic weight, and lots of hilarious, bizarre movement throughout. You'd think he'd been animating Shin-chan for years, but then there are unexpected touches here and there, like the one shot where he puts incredible effort into animating beautiful clouds flowing past for some reason. He must have had fun with the work. It's certainly very different from what he did in the movies, and closer to the spirit of the show. I don't really know much about what else he's done, apart from a bunch of episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho in 1992-1994 (1, 3, 7, 13, 19, 27, 33, 35, 39, 42, 48, 54, 58, 73), which is where Nishio Tetsuya met his mentor and was greatly influenced by him, and Ninku 41 in 1995. Over the last few years he's been working at IG subcontractor PA Works, where he's mainly been storyboarding, first for the GITS series and movie and now apparently for the upcoming Seirei no Moribito. Here's an interview with him.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

11:58:59 pm , 576 words, 897 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Denno Coil, Movie, Animator

Denno, Kappa, Tsuru

Today's link for inspiration goes back to a poet I discovered three years ago through the blog: Santoka Taneda. I was feeling in a particularly Santoka mood today for some reason.

I discovered the official site for Keiichi Hara's new film, Summer with Coo the Kappa, though it's apparently not supposed to be open until March 17 - It's coming out on July 28. Good to see some more images. I was looking forward to seeing the film not just for Hara's directing but for Yuichiro Sueyoshi's characters. It looks like it's going to be toned down and not quite as aggressively styled as Mind Game (even his recent Shin-chan film work is incredibly aggressive), but still identifiably Sueyoshi. The images and reactions to the test screening seem to suggest that it's going to be a nice, quiet, moving film full of the slow, deliberate, meandering feeling that I so enjoyed in his past work. I like that he always goes at his own pace no matter what, never feeling like he has to cram things in to keep things exciting, or unnaturally mold the story to fit a conventional framework, yet his films remain consummately entertaining. I'm thinking it's going to have something of that down-to-earth, serene, honest feeling I've been wanting to see in a film ever since re-watching Animaru-ya's The Biography of Budori Gusko a year ago. Oh, and the 30-second ad found its way back online.

A month ago I started translating an interview with Mitsuo Iso that was recently published in Animage, but I've been so busy with work the last few weeks that I never got around to finishing it. Well, I've been saved the trouble by wao. The interview provides a good overview about what to expect from the situation, and corrects a misconception I had. Namely, producer Mitsugi Sanae hadn't been introduced to Mitsuo Iso by Katsuya Kondo back during the making of I Can Hear the Sea, but more recently. She had worked with Katsuya Kondo back then on that film, but it's later that he (Kondo) introduced the two around 2000. So the portfolio/project does in fact date back six years or so as I had surmised originally.

I noticed that Toshiyuki Tsuru directed and animated the latest Naruto opening along with Hirobumi Suzuki. I quite enjoyed it. It was great to be able to finally see him working as an animator, as he's already done a lot of directing on the show. I haven't seen much of his work as an animator, at least not consciously knowing it as such, but one of the few pieces I've known to be of his hand - a memorable sequence in ep 12 of Nippon Animation's Peter Pan - was enough to make me a fan of his work as an animator. This series had a lot of other great animation in it, but his felt unique even among all that, less caught up with realistic weight than Okiura or Matsumoto or Nakamura, more flexible and free and fun, and I'd wanted to see more like it, but unfortunately I haven't seen his name very often as an animator. It had a good feeling to the movement, and this opening has that same good feeling. Tsuru has done about half of the openings, one of the more memorable episodes, #48, and just before this the third film. The second opening of GTO is also a nice piece of his.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

05:58:34 pm , 840 words, 970 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Movie, Animator

Hiroyuki Aoyama & Telecom & TokiKake

I remember in episode 11 of Kemonozume wondering whether Tadashi Hiramatsu or Hiroyuki Aoyama had done that action sequence, and apparently it was Hiroyuki Aoyama. I didn't think Hiramatsu that likely a candidate, as action sequences aren't really his thing, but I wasn't at all familar with Aoyama except for the avant he did for episode 5. It was great, but didn't seem that similar to the style of animation I was seeing in the action sequence in question (except maybe for one or two of the shots of the midair jump that do indeed have that same flavor). I've heard a rumor that the mystery figure behind the climactic sequence in Mamoru Hosoda's One Piece movie, which I wondered about in this post, might be Aoyama, though I haven't been able to confirm this. Stylistically it seems like it might be a fit, as there's a bit of similarity to the feeling of that Kemonozume avant. But who knows. The rumor seems to have arisen due to the fact that Hosoda talked about the scene having been done by "saiko no/the best animator", and then Aoyama was announced as one of the ADs of Hosoda's next film.

Aoyama is a Telecom animator. I remember seeing his name in Farewell to Nostradamus and some Doraemon movies, among other places, even as far back as Akira. I'm not too familiar with his work, but from what little I've seen he's truly a great animator. He's got that Telecom vibe of creating dense and nuanced realistic movement that at the same time feels very good using lots of drawings. Actually, Aoyama is apparently now freelance. In an interview during the making of TokiKake he seems to have been itching to leave Telecom over the last few years to be able to try different kind of work from the kind of work he was limited to doing at Telecom. He says he spent a week animating the smoke where Luffy walks towards the camera dodging those arrows near the end of the Baron movie as a favor to AD Chikashi Kubota, co-AD of Hosoda's latest film alongside Aoyama, and presumably that's what led to him finally leaving Telecom to work on TokiKake. (Unfortunately he doesn't mention anything about having done the later bit.) He must presumably have been tapped for those two great Kemonozume sequences because he was close at hand at Madhouse. It's interesting how Telecom seems to have lost a number of their good animators just in the last year or two, with Shojiro Nishimi and now Hiroyuki Aoyama leaving the studio.

The Kemonozume avant must have been done either right after Aoyama had completed his work on TokiKake or near the end, and it seems like it's a good foretaste of the sort of nuanced low-key acting we're going to see from him in Hosoda's film. He apparently focused on the classroom scenes in the first half of the film. He's animated and storyboarded before, but I'm not sure how much ADing he's done. Hosoda always manages to get people who are great at creating nuanced and rich animation for his animation directors, first and foremost Takaaki Yamashita. And now Masashi Ishihama, who apparently handled the later parts of the film around the climax. I was wondering how he'd gotten involved, but I remember now seeing his name in the Digimon movies, and he confirms in an interview that that is how it came about. He was doing something at Pierrot when he was invited by Fumihide Sai to come to an animation meeting for the first Digimon movie, where Yamashita invited him, and the rest is history. He apparently did the part where Hikari is running around looking for Koromon, and in the second movie the part right before Taiichi enters the PC.

Ishihama was originally just going to draw animation again, but wound up one of the ADs. I was surprised to learn that Ishihama started out at Oh Production. He's been freelance for a number of years now, at least since ROD. Hosoda's films have always been balanced out by the best freelancers out there. Ishihama also talks about how he felt lucky with his part because the burden of his job was alleviated by the fact that so many great animators were working on that section... Looking over the list of animators again gets me salivating - the usual suspects like Hisashi Mori, Takaaki Yamashita, Tatsuzo Nishita, and also Norimoto Tokura, Hitoshi Ueda, Takaaki Wada, Akira Takada, and even Ryochimo and Yasunori Miyazawa. I was originally a little disappointed that Yamashita wasn't the AD, which is a first in a Hosoda feature, but on second thought it will be even better to be able to see him do some concentrated work as an animator. Seeing his work in Kemonozume got me hungering for some more. I'm hugely in love with his work. For some reason we even see Yasuhiro Nakura as one of the assistant ADs. The DVD for Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo comes out on April 20.

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