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: August 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

08:50:58 am , 996 words, 4950 views     Categories: Animation

Colorful

Keiichi Hara's new film Colorful hit the theaters earlier this month. The film seems to be far more controversial than his previous in terms of the subject matter, and opinions are mostly divided into love it or hate it. This is in a way only natural. The title seems darkly ironic and provocative, as it is apparently a slow, static, bleak and humorless film about suicide. Some people appear to have been tricked by the title and were expecting a colorful and fun film. Instead they left the theater depressed. I have some worries that the film might be a little too message-y, using the characters merely as vessels to push a particular theme, rather than letting a theme develop out of natural human drama, but I suppose he had to do his best with the material he was given. And dealing with the theme of suicide is always dangerous. If not handled with sensitivity and understanding you can come across as arrogant and preachy without truly understanding the causes that lead people to such action. One displeased reviewer called it a bad imitation of It's a Wonderful Life.

I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt until I see it. When I first saw the trailer a while back, I didn't really like the look and feared he'd made a kiddy film. At least it turned out to be the opposite and it's apparently a film with very serious subject matter. As to whether that's handled in a non-preachy way remains to be seen. Although there is still something of a fantasy element, essentially the film is set in the real world the way Coo was, so even if the film isn't perfect, I'm looking forward to more of Hara's unique brand of slow, low-key drama.

One of the things that nagged me about Coo, which I otherwise quite liked, was the fact that Hara seems very interested in doing low-key realistic drama, but he seems blind to the fact that there is insufficient realistic detail in the animation. Much of the time it almost feels kind of cheap, when it feels like he should be aiming for something more detailed in the vein of Melos or Only Yesterday in terms of the detail of the animation in order to make the scenes feel real. It's not in Hara's character to be meticulous the way these two films were, and in a way that's actually a trait I value. He's not beholden to any conventions on what should or shouldn't be done in animated filmmaking, and that's what's made his films so refreshing. He follows his instinct and this allows him to create films that have a natural and unplanned feeling to the development. I don't mind his casual approach to filmmaking in other aspects, but in the animation I find something is lacking. I get the feeling this still applies to his latest this film. He's one of the people carrying on the legacy of realistic animated filmmaking, and I'd like to see him get as wide an audience as possible, but I think the look of his films (animation and designs) in a way limits his reach. Considering how well-crafted other realistic animated films are, it's not surprising that people would brush off his films as having inferior quality. I think it would only benefit him to learn to use the animation more effectively to give his drama impact.

I'm a bit curious about Light of the River (2009), a TV special produced for NHK by studio Gallop and directed by Tetsuo Hirakawa. I saw a clip of the film, and it doesn't look that great, though - it looks like it's intended for preschoolers - so I don't have any grand expectations.

I used to read Hirakawa's blog when he first started out as an animator. He began working for Madhouse and then went freelance. I recall that he was an avid student of directing, but it's puzzling that he hasn't really been directing or storyboarding, which is usually the path to becoming a director. Instead here he's been working as a key animator for a few years, and he gets asked to direct this TV special. An unusual sequence.

Keiichi Hara is actually the assistant director of the film, so he must have provided Hirakawa with guidance. Early Telecom regular Tannai Tsukasa is character designer and sakkan, and Nizo Yamamoto is art director (with Kazuo Oga drawing backgrounds).

Another name in the credits is Toshio Yamauchi, who is listed as an animator. Tetsuo Hirakawa announced through his twitter that Toshio Yamauchi died on the 24th, the same day as Satoshi Kon. He was one of the central animators behind most of the Nippon Animation and Telecom-era Miyazaki and Takahata productions, including Future Boy Conan, Cagliostro's Castle, Jarinko Chie and Gauche the Cellist. He had been a Gallop employee since around 1983. He originally started out as an animator at Oh Pro, and then transferred to Telecom, and then to Gallop.

As an animator he contributed to every episode of Future Boy Conan starting with episode 8. He animated numerous scenes in Cagliostro's Castle including the sequence starting from where Inspector Zenigata's cops are eating cup ramen, the sequence starting from where the count's minions surround Claris and Lupin, and the sequence starting from where Inspector Zenigata puts on a show for the camera wearing an ape costume. He animated the opening sequence with the mechanical pterodactyl in the Blue Carbuncle episode of Sherlock Hound. He worked on episodes 63, 92, 98 and the final episode by Miyazaki of the New Lupin TV series. For Ghibli he worked on Grave of the Fireflies and Spirited Away. He animated the five shots of Chihiro parting from Haku at the end. Since 1983 he was very active as an animator on Gallop productions like Hime-chan no Ribon, Hoshi no Kirby and Kiteretsu Daihyakka. His last work would have been on their show Mainichi Kaasan, which began airing last year.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

01:40:00 am , 2522 words, 6262 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Run Melos

A curious movie called Hashire Melos came out in 1992. It never gained much recognition among western fans, probably due to its subject matter, and even in Japan it has yet to be released on DVD. Yet it features work by many renowned animators, not least Hiroyuki Okiura, director of Jin Roh, who supervised the animation.

I finally got to see this two nights ago after many years of searching, and I was quite pleased with the film. I recommend checking it out if you like this period of anime history as much as I do, especially the style of animation during this period.

The production studio was a short-lived studio called Visual 80 whose claim to fame was the last Japanese cel animation Moomin series from 1990. They had previously produced two other literary anime: Belle and Sebastian and The Yearling. The director of Run Melos was the erstwhile puppet theater director turned occasional anime director Masaaki Osumi, best remembered for the early Lupin III episodes and the first Moomin series from 1969 by TMS.

It's a strange movie because it doesn't fit in. It seems out of nowhere. Suddenly, amidst all the love comedies and supernatural psychic aliens and space operas, we get a quiet realistic drama set in ancient Greece. Adaptations of foreign and domestic literature are admittedly not that rare in anime, but more often than not they are sub-par productions far from the lavish treatment given this film.

Run Melos reflects the emerging interest in realism around this time that produced films like Only Yesterday (1991), Patlabor 2 (1993), Junkers Come Here (1994), Anne's Diary (1995) and eventually Jin Roh (1999) and Satoshi Kon's films in the 2000s, not to mention various other significant non-feature items. Aside from Hiroyuki Okiura himself, a number of the more prominent realistic animators participated in the film. According to an interview with Okiura, many of the staff who worked on Rojin Z transferred over to work on this film, which would go some ways to accounting for the impressive staff roll.

This film has fairly splendid production quality thanks not only to Hiroyuki Okiura's work as animation director, but also thanks to this group of awesome animators. These days when I look at staff rolls I don't recognize anybody. When I look at this one, I recognize everyone except for two or three people. Many of them went on to become famous directors or animators.

This film is the biggest stepping stone leading to Hiroyuki Okiura's later film Jin Roh, and he cites these two films as the films closest to his heart among the films he's worked on. Many of us are hoping he will direct another film. In the meantime, discover this early film that in many ways laid his foundation as a director.

It's a shame that this thing has been completely overlooked because it was one of the major anime films of the day. It's not a great film, but it's far from terrible. The directing is quite interesting and unlike any other anime film. The low-key story is very appealing. It has solid animation quality overall, and contains a number of scenes with excellent animation.

The story is a retelling of one of the most famous novels of the Showa period by Osamu Dazai, the tempestuous author who famously made no less than five attempts to commit suicide between the age of 20 and 38, the last one finally proving successful.

The story in outline (minus key details) goes thus:

It's 360 BC on the island of Sicily, which at the time consisted largely of Greek colonies. A farmer named Melos from a small town in the southeast travels to the nearby town of Syracuse to purchase a ceremonial sword for his sister's wedding. Under the iron thumb of the local dictator, the town is roiled with unrest. Melos finds himself caught in the middle of court machinations, and is forced to undertake a grueling run back to his home town to see through his sister's wedding.

(Note that the story is not a retelling of the famous though spurious anecdote about the Greek messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens to report the Greek victory at the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, but is rather clearly inspired by it.)

Although a time-travelling Sicilian would probably have a thing or two to say about the authenticity of the trappings, they did put considerable effort into fleshing out the details of life in that day. The layouts are assiduously realistic in terms of perspective, cinematic in framing, and the backgrounds meticulously detailed. In a sad and touching coincidence, it seems that Satoshi Kon was to thank for many of the film's careful, detailed layouts. I watched this film the day he died.

(Aside about Kon's involvement: This would have been his second major job in anime after Rojin Z, which he participated in through his connection with Katsuhiro Otomo. He supposedly drew about 1/10 of the layouts in Rojin Z. He began by drawing concept art and seamlessly switched over to doing layouts and even character roughs, and he presumably did more of the same thing in Run Melos. He had been working mainly as a manga artist, and he appreciated the task for the opportunity it afforded to draw intricately detailed backgrounds. This obsessive detail would later be translated to his storyboards, whose maniacal detail make them double as layouts. It was while working on Rojin Z that Satoshi Kon met Hiroyuki Okiura, and Okiura invited Kon to work on Run Melos. Kon himself probably had no idea where the casual decision to work for a little longer in animation would eventually lead him.)

I would have preferred a more authentic foreign design, but in fact Okiura wasn't originally asked to do the designs. He was originally asked just to be the sakkan. But after extensive talks with Masaaki Osumi, he came to the conclusion that the designs that had been submitted did not meet Osumi's requirements, and it would be more troublesome for him to have to fight against inappropriate designs throughout the film than merely redesign them accordingly himself. And that is what happened. He wasn't a designer by trade, and it shows. I honestly don't care much for the designs. They betray minimal understanding of the nuances of facial feature, and fail to express individuality or national features. Instead of drawing real people, a bulbous nose is slapped onto a textbook design and this is passed off as a generic 'foreigner'. It's kind of insulting.

Apparently Osumi himself instructed Okiura in how Japanese features differ from foreign features, but Okiura chose not to implement this information. He felt that because film was intended for a Japanese audience, an accurately foreign design might have impeded audiences from relating to the characters. I find the logic convoluted and spurious, but I can't blame him too much. Although the two protagonists and womenfolk are quite bland in their design, the despot and the older characters are much more interesting, with craggy features and oddly elongated silhouettes reminiscent of Takashi Nakamura's designs.

But aside from the designs themselves, I'm very impressed by the way they move. The character acting is bereft of the cliches that plagued anime as much back then as they do today. Cleansing the air of ingrained habit and taking a new approach to character psychology more closely based on determining how each character would act in his or her position was Masaaki Osumi's great contribution to this film. Hiroyuki Okiura says he learned much from Masaaki Osumi and the experience was a major turning point in his career. In hindsight, the approach to acting in this film does seem to presage the approach of Jin Roh, with its restrained, methodical acting. It's hardly hard-core realism by any means, but there is a considerable degree of detail in the expression of the subtleties of body movement in many shots, although it's not as uniform as in Jin Roh (and although there are also many less fortunate shots that clearly went uncorrected).

The personalities of the characters are also interesting. The despot ruler in particular is an interesting study in contradictions. Normally anime would go over the top in depicting this kind of character as a crazed, bloodthirsty lunatic. But in Melos that's not the case at all. The first rumors we hear about him at the start of the film paint him up as such, but when he finally shows up, he proves far more sanguine and reasonable than the rumors suggested. No lunatic could manage the complex political maneuvering needed to hold onto the reins of power the way he has. His personality is a balance of humanity and necessary cruelty.

One scene in particular memorably illustrates that he has many facets, like any human being. After having just personally executed a rebel and devised a Machiavellian scheme to cruelly toy with Melos in an attempt to bolster his popularity with the citizens of Syracuse, the next morning we see him kneeling besides his pregnant wife, his ear against her belly, exclaiming proudly, "I felt him move!". The scene seems deliberately provocative in its moving tenderness and serenity coming after such scenes of cold calculation. A multi-layered individual like everyone else who happens to have acceded to power by the whims of fate is more convincing than a cartoon villain. The opaque motivation of the tyrant, who seems to sincerely believe in what he is doing, helps to prevent the film from becoming a black and white study of evil versus good.

The story presents an openly interpretable morality tale about the need to trust other human beings, and the crisis of one man's faith in humanity. The script is many-layered, with the main theme being played out on different planes - personal, political and philosophical. An uneducated farmer caught up in political struggles beyond his knowing desperately seeks the trust of strangers to save his life, a cosmopolitan stone carver betrayed by his own father seeks to regain his faith in humanity by placing his life in the hands of a stranger, and the citizens betrayed by their ruler seek democracy. The film poses fundamental philosophical questions in the style of the old Greek philosophers. There are moments when it felt like I was witnessing a performance of one of Plato's dialogues. And I mean that as a compliment. Some of the most interesting philosophical exchanges occur with the despot, who comes across as understanding and insightful, just misguided.

Though I don't really know much about director Masaaki Osumi other than that he started out in puppet theater, and that I loved his 1969 Moomin series, I think it's this very different way of conceptualizing characters that makes this film unique, and it's Masaaki Osumi who's to thank for it. Like Isao Takahata, Osumi cannot draw and relies on his associates to create the storyboards. According to Okiura, the way this worked was that Osumi would convey to Okiura what he wanted at the animator meetings, and Okiura would either draw the storyboard from scratch or correct the storyboards drawn by other people. Okiura asserts that he still clearly remembers what Osumi told him at this time, and that it laid the foundation for his mindset as a director.

Osumi seems to be the kind of director who, rather than getting caught up in the story, steps back and takes more objective perspective. He thinks things through logically and doesn't lose sight of the big picture. He doesn't have a particular style of drawing that dominates what he might want to express. Oftentimes I find it's the outside directors, the ones who aren't used to industry conventions, who create the most refreshing animation.

The details of the production apart from the character animation are also nice. Little things like the way the water arcs through the air off the back wheels of a cart driving through the rain are well observed details that I appreciate seeing. The art of Hiroshi Ohno is magnificent, especially the paintings of carvings. The carvings play a central role in the story as metaphors for the artist's loss of faith, and crappy art would have ruined their impact, but Ohno's art fully captures the elegance and refined sensibility of ancient Greek sculptures.

Among animation aficionados, the film is best remembered for the action scene in the forest animated by Mitsuo Iso, which certainly features the most impressive body movement in the film and is one of his best pieces. It reminds me of his animation for the Eva movie. Satoru Utsunomiya did the part right afterwards. Toshiyuki Inoue also delivers a great sequence with the cockfight scene. He's got an amazing ability to draw every character three dimensionally from any angle or body position. The movement is fun yet realistic. He also supposedly animated a lot of the horses. Hiroyuki Morita handles one of the most poignant scenes in the film, the scene where Melos parts from his sister in the rain. The scene feels raw and real, the sister getting up naked from her marriage bed to go to the window and wave goodbye, and the husband pulling her back to bed, leaving Melos alone to face his fate. Michio Mihara handled the scene with the beggar boys attacking Melos at the beginning. I suspect Yasunori Miyazawa did the wedding dance scene, though I'm not positive. It's not as characteristic as his other work around this period.

Even apart from this there are many other great names in the credits; too many to point out. There's also a number of people who went on to become directors: Tensai Okamura, Shin Matsuo, Toshiyuki Tsuru and Hiroyuki Kanbe.

There aren't many films like this one. It doesn't cater to fan tastes, and it's about as far removed as you can get from everything cool, hip or sexy. I personally love low-key films like this. It's low-key realism and solid human drama that I think makes Summer with Coo the Kappa a great film. It's more films with this spirit of independence that we need. I'm a great fan of what anime has achieved in terms of realism in animation, and this is one of the earliest tentative examples of realism in the post-Akira period. It's one of the stepping stones that leads to the great realistic films that followed, so it's required viewing if you want to have a sense of the evolution of realistic anime.


Script & Director: Masaaki Osumi
Character Design and Animation Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
Art Director: Hiroshi Ohno
Storyboard: Katsumi Terahigashi, Mizuho Nishikukbo, Hiroyuki Okiura, Masaaki Osumi
Animation:
Toshiyuki Inoue, Satoshi Kon

Hiroyuki Morita, Michiyo Suzuki
Kumiko Kawana, Michio Mihara
Katsumi Matsuda, Yasunori Miyazawa
Sumio Watanabe, Masayuki Kobayashi
Tensai Okamura, Mitsuo Iso
Saitani Umetaro, Akihiro Yuuki
Tsutomu Yabuki, Kenichi Oonuki
Kazuya Takeda, Harumi Izawa
Takahiro Komori, Satoru Utsunomiya
Eiji Suganuma, Ken Aratani, Reiko Eda
Koji Ito, Yoshinobu Michihata, Kazuyoshi Takeuchi
Hiroyuki Aoyama, Shigetaka Kiyoyama, Yoshishige Kosako
Hideki Hamasu, Michio Fukuda, Shin Matsuo, Takuya Saito
Toshiyuki Tsuru, Toshinari Yamashita, Takao Yoshino
Shinji Hashimoto, Riwako Matsui, Hiroyuki Kanbe
Tetsuro Karai, Yumi Chiba, Fumiko Kishi
Kenji Yoshida, Kazuto Nakazawa, Shinya Takahashi
Soichiro Matsuda

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

08:13:21 pm , 874 words, 3311 views     Categories: Animation

Satoshi Kon RIP

It's hard to believe the news, but it seems that Satoshi Kon has passed away at age 47. My first reaction was disbelief because he was just way too young.

We've been deprived of many great movies from a brilliant mind. Satoshi Kon was perhaps the only person in Japan today consistently releasing sophisticated films for adults that anyone in the world could watch and be blown away by. His films transcended anime. There is nobody else doing the sort of work he was doing. He truly was one of a kind and irreplaceable in the world, not just in anime.

Every time he put out a new film, it felt unprecedented - something that had never been done before in anime. And each film had the same maniacal level of craftsmanship and attention to detail. They are each a unique and perfectly realized vision. Each of his films takes a completely different tack but is precisely crafted in every way, from the structure to the development of the characters to the animation.

Despite the huge number of films produced in the industry every year, most of these are throwaway work intended for a small domestic audience. Satoshi Kon showed by his example that it was possible to create anime films that stood up to the scrutiny of audiences the world over. I don't see him as an auteur. I don't even see him as a director of anime films. I see him as a master filmmaker who was creating great films; his chosen medium just happened to be animation.

He tackled complex themes and narrative structures that animation was uniquely suited to tackling, but that had never been tackled due to conservatism and the still ingrained notion of animation as being exclusively for children. Right from his first film, his vision was uncompromising in its willingness to tackle subject matter implicitly taboo in animation.

And yet, despite the adult themes and the postmodernist glee with which he toyed with the concept of narrative, at the core of his films there were always human beings who behaved like real human beings. They felt emotions and made us feel their emotions. They made you forget they were drawings. Like no other film before, his films were a contradiction and a tightrope act - they conveyed believable human drama, not in a realistic way, but in a way that emphasized the medium. Thus he achieved the impossible contradiction of doing things animation is supposedly not good at doing, while at the same time doing the things animation is supposedly good at doing.

He seemed to just have the instincts of a director. He knew how to structure a film, how to pace the shots, and how to use animation effectively to create something that worked as a film in a way that very few anime features do. They had a narrative heft, richness of character development and thematic complexity that was fully the equal of the greatest live-action films. And as if that weren't enough, on the animation front, the exceptional quality of character acting in his films, Tokyo Godfathers in particular, was something of a new achievement for anime. He was a great director of animated films because in animation it's not just about you - he knew how to corral the talent and individualism of a huge army of people, including some very idiosyncratic but talented animators, in a way that melded into a perfect unified whole. His films were among the few animated films ever to not only be interesting as animated films, but to also be interesting as films.

The editing of the shots in his films has always been the thing that most impressed me about his films, from the bewildering shifts of perspective in Perfect Blue to the fast-paced cutting between different time-periods and sequences in Millennium Actress. In his mind he clearly understood how every piece of the complex puzzles that were his films fit in. And despite the way he destroyed concepts of linear narrative, his films never felt muddled, but were the essence of clarity.

His films were, in a way, an extension of his genius for meticulous illustrations, illustration being the ancestor of filmmaking. His storyboards are marvels of the art that beyond being beautifully detailed are revealing of the amazing precision with which he conceived every element of his films down to the smallest detail. His writings on his experiences making each of his films, posted many years ago on his web site, are among the most insightful I've ever read on the subject of animated filmmaking in Japan. He was even a mentor of young artists, appearing on NHK's Digital Stadium occasionally to critique short student films.

This is a devastating blow to anime because there's nobody who can replace Satoshi Kon or carry on his legacy. It's not just that he had a unique vision; he had the analytical mind and the awesome technical skill to back it up. He was arguably the most consistent filmmaker working in anime today, with an exacting and methodical approach to directing shared by seemingly nobody of his generation. He leaves us right when we were expecting to see him embark on a long career of new heights.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

04:13:25 pm , 792 words, 1719 views     Categories: TV, Director: Masaaki Yuasa, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei

Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei #10

Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for Shintaro Asanuma.

He's been giving an unforgettable performance throughout the show so far as the fast-talking narrator, but he pulled off literally a one-man voice actor episode in this one, so hats off. (not to mention talking even faster than before, if that's possible) I've heard of solo animator and solo background episodes, but this is the first time I've heard of a solo voice actor episode.

Not to sound repetitive, but this episode was again brilliant. I'm not just saying this as a Masaaki Yuasa fan. I came back to the show with this episode tonight after a two week absence not too excited, but the work won me over entirely on the merits of the directing.

I appreciated how aggressively the live-action was integrated into this episode, far more than in any previous episode (or even in Kemonozume for that matter) and how flawlessly it was pulled off. It's the latest and in many ways most extreme expression of the unique approach to blending animation and live-action that Yuasa first busted out in Mind Game. And on top of that the animation here had some of the most fun and loose work I've seen in the whole show, which made for a great contrast. Color work was amazing as usual. Animation, directing, coloring etc. all worked together to keep the viewer riveted throughout an episode that was otherwise intentionally pared down in so many ways - single voice, single setting. This material could have been monotonous and boring if not properly directed, but instead it was filled at every moment with interesting new ideas that were very inventive and kept the momentum going.

Thank Choi Eunyoung for the awesome directing of this episode. She showed exceptional talent as an animator and animation director in her very first job on Kemonozume, and proved she could direct just as well her first time directing on Kaiba. I suspect her special gift to be the product of inner talent multiplied by multicultural perspective and experience, something most Japanese animators lack. She clearly put a lot of effort into ensuring that the live action-animation dynamic here was properly handled. (Masahiko Kubo is credited as having helped with the live action) She recently directed another item associated with Yuasa, so she seems poised to take off on a directing career of her own.

Story-wise, we finally learn the basic premise. The English title Tatami Galaxy now makes some sense. I'll leave it in hands far more capable than mine to write a lengthy exegesis parsing the intricacies of the significance of the various plot devices, namely the blogger at the blog anime/otaku, who rather than assessing the technical merits of the episodes like me, tackles the admittedly more challenging task of parsing the show's tangled narrative and figuring out what it all means. It's beyond the capability of my feeble brain to pick apart the intricacies of this show the way this blogger has. At the same time, I don't think it's necessary to catch every little thing to appreciate the show. But considering the jumble of info being thrown at you and mixed up into different configurations, it is impressive to realize just how meaningful and painstakingly put together it all is. Far more than Yuasa's previous shows, Tatami Galaxy seems tailor made to get people talking about it and analyzing it.

Yuasa's third series really isn't so much about style as it as about the content. The show is full of great work in every facet, including the animation, but the technical aspects of the production seem more subservient to the story this time around. Tatami Galaxy could arguably be considered Yuasa's most tonally controlled and structurally solid TV series to date. But on the other hand, the effect would probably have been the same plus or minus x number of episodes, since it's not like every episode was essential to pushing the plot forward. There may be some ways in which this show is more honed and intricate and carefully constructed than Yuasa's previous work, but I actually like the looseness of his previous work. Tatami Galaxy is an awesome achievement as a complex, postmodern narrative, but as a matter of preference, I find myself more attracted to the graphic unpredictability and rawness and humanity of Kemonozume and the visually sumptuous and imaginative world-creation and drama of Kaiba, imperfect in terms of structure and visual consistency though they might be in comparison.

Storyboard and director: Choi Eunyoung
Animation directors: Nobutake Ito, Masashi Ishihama
Assistant animation director: Shouko Nishigaki

Key animators:
Hiromi Hata, Takashi Muratani
Takayuki Hamada, Sawako Miyamoto
Yumi Oka, Tomoya Nakayama
Sayaka Toda, Choi Eunyoung
Second key animators:
Natsuko Shimizu, Kenichi Fujisawa

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

09:14:23 pm , 568 words, 2876 views     Categories: Animation

Passing thoughts on influence and Yellow Submarine

It's funny how silly it can seem in retrospect to talk about animation history without having seen certain important landmarks. I'm just in the process of watching Yellow Submarine for the first time (gasp), and it's like a whole obvious level of significance just passed over my head as I was assessing a number of the landmark anime films. As soon as I sit down to watch it I realize that without it, two of my favorite anime films would never have been: Belladonna, which five years later was clearly indebted to Yellow Submarine with its exuberant psychedelic images and drug-laced musical sequences; and Little Jumbo, which 9 years later was clearly indebted to George Dunning's mad vision with it dayglo colors and musical format, not to mention having a flying hand that's a straight crib of the Blue Meanies' flying glove in Yellow Submarine.

This inspiration is clearly one of the things that sets these films apart and made them such timeless creations never to be repeated. They weren't improved versions of the kind the Japanese are so good at in industry, but inspired reflections by the talented artists of the day who wanted to create something liberated and free in the same mold and undoubtedly saw in the film a handy tool for doing so. This is what we need more of today. We have artists working in anime who could equal if not top the mad exuberance and nonstop genius imagination of Yellow Submarine. Set Masaaki Yuasa free of the reins of the industry and let him create something in this vein, where every moment breaks the rules of animated logic and revels in the joy of visual creativity. Pair him with Yasunori Miyazawa, whose clear genius for creative new visual schemes is IMO also being repressed by the shackles of the industry's requirements to create commodities cut from the template of past successes. Japan has the talent, but it's being completely wasted on garbage.

I also like the idea of a script rooted in the language - one that can't be translated without losing the significance, like the many puns that litter this film that would be impossible to translate. It's rare to find a script that defies translation by being so masterfully constructed out of the idiosyncrasies of a language.

If you haven't seen Yellow Submarine, thinking it nothing but a gimmick, like I did, do yourself the favor of checking it out, if you value creativity in animation. Laugh at the 60s imagery if you must, but its every minute is amazingly full of creative ideas of a kind we don't see in animated feature-length films anymore, so it makes you wonder if we've made progress or gone backwards.

I saw the delightful film Mr. Nobody a few weeks ago, and was struck how much it reminded me of Millennium Actress and even Mind Game. Am I the only one? Some of the things seemed too similar to be coincidence. Not that I'm accusing the film of plagiarism; it'd be great to see live-action films paying Kon's and Yuasa's genius the overdue honor of being inspired by them. I quite enjoyed the film, though it kind of slogged in the middle.

I've hit 500 posts over at my Animated Music Videos blog, so to commemorate the occasion, I posted a brief retrospective of the animated films I feel paved the way for musical animation.