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, 27

Friday, August 27, 2010

08:50:58 am , 996 words, 4949 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.