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.
February 2018
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
 << <   > >>
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28        

Who's Online?

  • Guest Users: 4

  XML Feeds

blog software
« Franchise microcosmsRun Melos »

Friday, August 27, 2010

08:50:58 am , 996 words, 4986 views     Categories: Animation


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.



LainEverliving [Visitor]  

I saw Colorful last week. Unfortunately, my Japanese still isn’t very good, so I had a hard time following everything, but I got the obvious gist of the story and was able to evaluate the other aspects like the artistry and so forth.

It’s a very serious movie that talks through everything, taking a very leisurely time to tell the story (which in and of itself is not a terribly long one), and spending a lot of time on repeated scenes (such as the family eating dinner) to show the degradation and later rebuilding of love and emotional closure. I found the characters interesting if a little lacking in full development (this may have been a language barrier issue), and I didn’t mind the serious tone of the story, but it’s a very slow movie and the pacing, while it may work for some, certainly didn’t for me. I didn’t hate the film by any means though, and I really have to see it again with subtitles to fully develop my opinion of it.

I do agree with the general assessment of the animation, though. There’s really nothing stellar here, unfortunately, and while there is some expressive animation in the emotional scenes, it seems regularly undercut by cheap-looking CG enhanced shots (for example, the standard practice of rendering vehicles in CG so common in TV animation carries over into this) and inbetweening that often leaves something to be desired. Maybe I’m making it sound worse than it is, but when you’re sitting in a theater not fully engrossed in the story and unable to follow the dialogue, you start noticing things like that a lot more. I agree that Hara should learn how to use animation more fully to his advantage, but judging from the inbetween staff list particularly, it looks less like he was simply uninformed or lacking judgement of who to use, and more a question of trying to do it on the cheap with lots of labor outsourcing (there were barely any Japanese inbetweeners on the film, and the Korean studios listed were not ones I’m familiar with like DR Movie or GK Entertainment that do uniformly good work). Artistically, I was somewhat let down by the film. But I feel its true merits are elsewhere, so again, I’ll hold back a fully-formed judgement until I can see it with full understanding of the dialogue and story. Still, I thought you might appreciate a bit of analysis from someone so had seen it, so, there you are.

08/30/10 @ 09:08
Ben [Member]  

Hey, great. I wasn’t expecting to hear from an English-speaker who’d seen it until way later, so it’s good to hear your perspective. Thanks for the analysis.

I was kind of afraid that might be the case. I felt in Coo that the animation was the major stumbling block preventing the drama from having the impact it should (well, that and the limitations of the material), and it seems that might be the case here too. Hara just isn’t a stickler like some directors are. I think that might prove both an asset and his fatal flaw. It’s not that I’m so obsessed by flashy animation that I want to see it everywhere. I don’t think the animation is what one should come to see the film for. I want to see it for how Hara handles the drama, which I’m still really looking forward to. I love seeing hard-hitting real-life drama in animation, and Hara is about one of the only directors who can deliver in that department in animation, or who at least tries. It’s just that quality animation is just as necessary, if not more, with material that is focused only on drama. Imagine how forgettable the beautiful, quiet, nuanced scenes in Only Yesterday would have been with shoddy animation.

Hara is nothing if not leisurely, heh, and I guess that hasn’t changed with his new film. Again, that’s actually something I like about him, though I can see how he might lose perspective and let that aspect of his style go too far, which may have happened here. I loved the slowness of Coo and wished he hadn’t had to cut 30 minutes from the storyboards. (though on the other hand I acknowledge that the cuts he was forced to make probably helped A LOT in streamlining the film and improving the pacing) But in Coo the visuals also did a lot of the talking. It wasn’t just dialogue.

Anyway too bad it’s going to be months until I can see this to form my own opinion instead of just guessing what it might be like, which is pretty futile…

08/30/10 @ 09:23
LainEverliving [Visitor]  

I had tried to post a follow-up to the Colorful post I wrote, but for some reason the website is blocking me, so I wanted to write briefly about Shojuro Yamauchi (identified by you as Toshio Yamauchi). I was not familiar with much of his work, but needless to say loved his scenes for the Ghibli films and Beautiful Dreamer. I’m very sorry to hear about his death, as he was another of the older veterans I had hoped to meet someday, but at the very least, he leaves a large and lasting legacy of quality works which I am just barely starting to scratch the surface of. I will look forward to seeing more of his art in the future as I delve back into anime history and the earlier films I have missed. At any rate, thanks for giving him a write-up. I’m glad to see him remembered.

09/08/10 @ 10:58
Ben [Member]  

Feel free to email me your comment and I can post it.

About the name, I thought it was read Shojuro for a long time, but I noticed it spelled Toshio on the sakuga wiki, so I figured I would go with that, as perhaps they know something I don’t, and Toshio seems like a more likely reading.

But yes, Yamauchi has definitely left behind a large and in some ways significant body of work that is worth discovering. He deserves to be remembered.

His work first came to my attention in 2006 and inspired my post on the Kanada School.

09/08/10 @ 12:37