Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: October 2008, 04

Saturday, October 4, 2008

06:12:47 pm , 922 words, 2022 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie

Film of the Sea

I've been too busy with work and the VIFF over the last week to write anything in here, but I just had to take a moment to write about the impact of seeing Takashi Ishida's latest film, Film of the Sea, made last year over the span of four months for the Yokohama Museum of Art. It preceded one of the features I saw, but dwarfed the feature, along with most of the films I've seen at the VIFF this year. It was stunning, and one of the most deeply satisfying animated films I've seen in a while, although really it's doing the film a disservice to call it an animated film. It's much more than that. It's surely one of the greatest audiovisual tone poems of the last few years.

Ishida's work has been compared with the work of the great artists in the field of audiovisual art such as Fischinger and the like for good reason. This film clearly shows him to be working on the same plane of thinking as those masters, not merely using the medium of film to create animation, but using it to discover new forms of creation. Rather than being merely an "animated film", this film crosses boundaries between media such as animation, sculpture and contemporary art, creating an entirely self-contained sort of audiovisual art. And that, I think, is the highest form of animation, although Ishida might deny being an animator. What makes the film have such impact, I think, is that Ishida has brilliant technique, and the film is finely crafted in every sense, with great variety in the way the material is handled, considering how deeply repetitious the film is. It never strikes one as being repetitious. The repetitions are rich with nuance, portrayed from different angles or using different expressive means, brilliantly utilizing every nook and cranny of the space where the film was photographed to explore theme of the infinite non-repetition of the waves lapping on the shore, the simple projected image of which begins the film's consummate sequence of transformations. Transformation is one of the fundamental concepts of animation, and Ishida's transformations are richly realized and imbued with layers of meaning.

Despite the sophistication of the treatment and subject matter, the film lacks the sort of coldness and irony that I find off-putting in a lot of contemporary art, being extremely engaging and exciting to watch for the viewer. The closest comparison that I can think of is Patrick Bokanowski's L'Ange (1982), which strikes me as being somewhat close in spirit to what Ishida does in this sense - experimental filmmaking that is consummately crafted in the technical sense, using virtuosic editing and manipulation of real-life objects and spaces to create an animation-like density of visual texture, while blending different media and concepts about filmmaking in challenging new ways, yet remaining thoroughly dazzling and engaging rather than alienating, as such forbidding-sounding experimentation might have been in lesser hands.

While I'm at it, I'll take this moment to reiterate a longstanding cri du coeur of mine: Please, someone, remaster and release Patrick Bokanowski's masterpiece of experimental cinema, L'Ange, on DVD, coupled with his short films. It is a Hollywood blockbuster of experimental filmmaking.

While in China, I picked up a number of art books to have some booty to explore back home. I didn't realize until just now, while looking up some of the artists, that there's an site, and it seems to offer most of the books. I thought there was no way of obtaining this stuff overseas, but perhaps that's no longer the case. The entry system on the site is handy, too. You just type the Pinyin and it brings up the Chinese.

I visited the famous 798 art district of Beijing, where I made one of my favorite discoveries, Wu Guanzhong. I thought he was an amazing unknown I'd be the first to discover, but I was disappointed to realize how famous he is. At a sprightly 89, he's seen a lot of history, throughout which he maintained his style with integrity, and continues to turn out simple but brilliant prints using the spareness of brush of classical Chinese painting ported into a sort of European context. I particularly liked his way of rendering a dense neighborhood with just a smattering of quick daubs of the brush in this print.

I liked this drawing of a miner from an art book of the work of Li Xiaolin that I picked up. The miner's expression is fantastic, almost ghostly. He does caricatural yet realistic charcoal sketches of ordinary folks from around China. There was a massive selection of traditional brush-styled painting books, all of which looked nice, of which I picked up one by Feng Tao, who has an immediately appealing style that places feisty looking birds in traditionally painted natural surroundings. I got a book of action sketches done by Chen Yuxian, which I thought was interesting from an animation point of view. He uses brush, pen, pencil and pastel alternately quite effectively to capture dancers of various kinds in mid-motion with a bare minimum of lines. I think Japanese animators could learn a lot from this sort of thing. I also picked up this book offering a compact overview of the major "western"-styled artists of the last century. The pictures are small, but numerous, and it's a handy quick overview of the vast range of Chinese painting, which I was pleased to discover is by no means limited to the Socialist realism of the 70s.