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 2010, 01

Monday, March 1, 2010

07:30:15 pm , 1169 words, 3847 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

The 2008 Doraemon movie

Though you might be surprised that I'd expect otherwise, this year's Doraemon movie looks terrible. The series had a streak of solid films starting with the revamped 2006 film directed by Ayumu Watanabe and featuring a bevy of great animators headed by animation director Kenichi Konishi. The new film is headed by the guy directing the revamped TV series, Kozo Kuzuha, a Nippon Animation expat who directed many of the studio's World Masterpiece Theater shows during the 80s and 90s, when the shows sucked worse and worse and ratings tanked. Coincidence? Either way, I'm not too sure about the decision to bring him onboard, because I never liked his directing. The previous film from 2009 was directed by Shigeo Koshi, another longtime Nippon Animation figure. There seems to have been a big exodus from Nippon Animation to Shin-Ei in the last few years. I'm not sure how I feel about that, although I view Koshi a little more favorably because he directed the second half of Rascal Raccoon and all of Perrine, two of the only watchable non-Takahata World Masterpiece Theater series. Ex-Nippon Animation director Shinpei Miyashita helped Ayumu storyboard the 2008 film. Their pedigree definitely fits the material, but I'm not too sure it's a good thing. Ayumu Watanabe had real fire, and he elevated Doraemon beyond what you'd expect from such a show.

I just watched the 2008 movie, entitled Nobita and the Legend of the Green Giant (no, not that one), which Ayumu Watanabe directed, and I was very impressed. I seriously think it's a little buried gem. I can't believe it didn't win any awards in Japan. It's every bit as impressive as his 2006 film. The 2007 film was directed by Sachiyo Teramoto with animation supervised by animation director Shizue Kaneko. It was an eminently watchable film, though definitely a step down in terms of the directing. In terms of the animation, it was quite impressive throughout thanks to Shizue Kaneko. The 2008 film features Shizue Kaneko working this time under Ayumu Watanabe, and the result is pure gold. They make a superb team.

I think Green Giant is a pretty successful film - the best after the 2006 film. Ayumu Watanabe goes for something different from the 2006 film, AND it doesn't feel like any other film in the series. Instead of the close realistic observation and deeper character psychology of the 2006 film, Green Giant is Ayumu Watanabe creating expansive fantasy adventure. That's something that's been seen before in the Doraemon movies, but I think he does it better than longtime director Tsutomu Shibayama, great director though he is. It felt like Shibayama got out of touch after a while. Ayumu Watanabe is more modern, bringing new blood into this material. He has a great sense for gear-shifting between different moods and tones and paces that really feels good and believable. He makes movies that feel like movies, not just hopped up TV shows. The detail of the layouts is toned down from the 2006 film, and there's more of an emphasis on coming up with a rich array of interestingly designed alien flora and fauna and bringing them alive in very fun and active animation. There are long sequences with no dialogue and only the characters going through interesting antics on the screen. The staple characters are absent throughout much of the film. And it's an original story not based on one of Fujiko F. Fujio's manga, which is unusual for the series. It really feels like Ayumu Watanabe's baby. Again. That's what I like about Ayumu Watanabe - he creates a film from the ground up, investing it with tremendous love for the material and characters. What I felt watching this film was that Ayumu Watanabe should direct a Ghibli film. I'd love to see him not constrained by these characters and the tone of the show he's worked on for so long. His approach is very much a fit with Ghibli IMO, and I think he would do a great job directing a film there.

The animation is a joy to watch at every moment thanks to Shizue Kaneko and the animators working for her. I love what Shizue Kaneko has brought to these characters. She fills the scene with acting that conveys the characters' personalities and feels good as animation, without going overboard. The forms and volumes of the characters are freer and more pliable than ever before. For a while Doraemon characters felt very static. Here they explode from the screen in lively action sequences, their bodies bending and twisting. They kept the hand-drawn touch of the 2006 film, though here's it's less of a pencil-style line than a sort of ink line that grows thinner and thicker at various places. It gives the drawings a wonderfully tactile feeling, like they were just born from the pen of the animator, and keeps the shapes from growing monotonous and rigid.

The very simple but imaginative character designs are reminiscent of Kaiba, which not coincidentally featured a lot of work by Shin-Ei animator Ryotaro Makihara, who is also here. Like in the 2006 film, there are a number of talented outside animators present livening up the animation. Tamotsu Ogawa, Norio Matsumoto, Masahiro Sato and Fumiaki Kota are present alongside in-house regulars like Masami Otsuka and Shizuka Hayashi. Masakatsu Sasaki has been in all of the recent Doraemon films and he's here, too. Also present: Yoshihiko Umakoshi, Ikuo Kuwana, Kiyotaka Oshiyama, Shigeru Kimishima and a mysterious name: Nobutaka. Could this be a pen name of Nobutake Ito poking fun at how people were misreading his name? I've seen it somewhere else. There's also this young animator named Naoyuki Asano who was praised by Yasuomi Umetsu for his work on Umetsu's recent Kite Liberator TV series. He's been in Kaiba, TokiKake and Summer Wars. There is an effects animation supervisor: Hiroshi Masuda. The effects throughout are nice. Shingo Natsume is there as co-sakkan.

I'm really looking forward to Keiichi Hara's new film Colorful, which hits theaters this summer in Japan. It's a committee production film, but supposedly Sunrise is the studio behind the production. What a change for Hara. Sunrise is the last place I expected him to go after Shin-Ei. The film is based on a novel by a Naoki Award-winning novelist, so it should be interesting. I just hope Sunrise doesn't ask him to change the story so that the protagonist has to pilot a giant walking robot or something. To a lesser extent, I'm also looking forward to The Space Show movie from A-1 Pictures. They're a great upcoming studio, and it's directed by Koji Masunari with long-time collaborator Masashi Ishihama on character designs and animation. I don't really like the character designs, but I'm sure it's going to have a lot of good work in it, as always with this director, so it will be worth a look. The trailer is filled with detailed work.

They're doing this thing with different endings in each episode of the new Gainax show Hanamaru Kindergarten, and Osamu Kobayashi did one. I like it.