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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« Ferenc CakóAlternative anime at the VIFF »

Monday, August 30, 2004

07:59:21 pm , 2013 words, 2669 views     Categories: Animation

Dead Leaves Breakdown

Found: Fischinger stills in the Findings section of the latest Harper's.

Not to repeat myself, but the rapturous viewer comments continue to pour in for Mind Game, notwithstanding the disappointing turnout. Someone actually said he felt reborn after seeing the film. Tom Robbins talks about crazy wisdom, "a kind of divine playfulness intended to lighten man's existential burden and promote what Joseph Campbell called "the rapture of being alive"". In a nutshell, that seems to fairly describe the effect of this film on people.

The Japanese DVD with the best extras I've ever seen is probably Dead Leaves. The DVD is regular price, and there's a director's commentary and a whole DVD with two hours of extras. What more could you want? Actually one thing I'd like is the storyboard and key animation books that were put out by the publisher of that recent edge book. The key animation book apparently goes into a bit more depth about the key animators. But really the director's commentary is enough to get all the basics, which I've summarized herein.

After seeing the extras you come away feeling you personally know director Hiroyuki Imaishi, producer Katsuji Morishita and creator Imaitoonz. Those extras are quite something. Very uninhibited, shall I say. I've never heard the word "chinko" so many times in my life. What's hilarious is that the director's commentary was done while they were all drunk at a bar. And one of the extras showed them all getting drunk at a bar. Notice a trend? That's the kind of people that made this film. Bunch of degenerates.

One of the things I find most interesting about this movie is how it came about. Most of the funding came from Manga Entertainment, who wanted IG to make a film targeted at American audiences. It should be obvious how idiotic this idea is, since one of the things that makes most anime popular over here is precisely that it wasn't made with American audiences in mind. Though made with this purpose in mind, the end result, ironically, is a film that goes very much against the image IG has built up in the past with its film, and the head of Manga Entertainment apparently hated the film when he saw it (though he supposedly changed his mind afterwards).

Producer Morishita first scouted Imaitoonz, which I understand perfectly due to his American-influenced illustration style. Then Imaitoonz in turn suggested Imaishi, whose work in FLCL he liked. Imaishi, being a person who focused on the animation, seemed a perfect choice for a film aimed at an American audience, because they though American audiences were used to seeing animation with more movement. Initially Morishita was tentative in his approach so as not to scare Imaishi away, inviting him to draw the storyboard. But one thing led to another, and Imaishi eventually offered to direct while he was at it, which was more than Morishita had hoped for. At that point, Morishita says, his job was done; he was positive the film would succeed with Imaishi at the helm.

Imaishi went on to make it his own film, changing the original script and story and characters. In the various extras, creator Imaitoonz comes across as very understanding of Imaishi's changes, something many creators often are not when their manga is animated. The characters look quite different in the film, which is something that people can be quick to criticize without first bothering to consider that it's only natural for a drawing by a different person to look different. Rather than focusing on making every drawing look like the original, Imaishi was able to create something that came from within himself, and that was why the film succeeded.

Imaishi had become somewhat specialized in drawing his own very particular brand of action in FLCL and other shows over the preceding years, and had been toying with the idea of whether it would be possible to make a whole 50 minute film consisting entirely of action; a whole movie like the long action sequence at the end of the movie The Wild Bunch. (Imaishi is also famously a big fan of Hong Kong bullet operas.) He took this up as his basic approach for the film: to see how much action he could pack in without boring the audience. Although the film is packed with action from tip to toe, the balance between action and story development was worked out very thoughtfully, and in the end the film succeeds in providing constant action while getting across the basic story, the timing of the insertion of the story sections being successfully calculated to provide 'breather' effect.

Imaishi -- who was also the animation director as well as the character designer and one of the storyboarders -- pared down all details in the backgrounds and the drawings so as to be able to raise the number of cels and focus on packing in as much animation as possible into the film. This approach gives the film its distinctive look and style of animation, which will be familiar to anyone who has seen Imaishi's past work. This really is his summum opus.

Also, the freedom you see the in the animation -- a sort of controlled chaos -- is reflected in the other aspects of the production. From the music to the voice-acting, the order of the day was: Go for it. Have fun with it. The voice actors were actively encourage to ad-lib, and most of it was left in the film intact. Kappei Yamaguchi is really incredible in the role of Retro. He says this is his favorite role ever, and it really shows in his performance. I particularly enjoyed the utterly berserk voice-acting of Mitsuo Iwata as 666. In this way Imaishi's personaly as an animator winds up being reflected in every aspect of the film.

In the end, this film was the product of various happy circumstances, so it's unlikely that we're going to see another like it any time soon, at least not from Imaishi. It's a small miracle that a film as crazy as this even got made in the first place, much less by a major "anime" studio like IG. To me it's a triumphant example of the sort of filmmaking we could be seeing more of if imaginative animators like Imaishi had more of a say in things - a movie whose whole purpose is to convey the primal thrill of animation.

Here's a breakdown of the more important sections by animator. Many of these animators were involved with Imaishi's work in the past. For example, Chikashi Kubota, Sushio, Yusuke Yoshigaki (three of the young rising stars at Gainax) and Yo Yoshinari were animators in episode 7 of Puchi Puri Yuushi, produced just before this film; as was Trava Fist, which why in this film we get...

Takeshi Koike (小池健)

Unsurprisingly, the two best fight scenes in the film are those that bookend the film: the opening with the cops by Koike and the closing with Galactica by Gainax regular Sushio. These scenes are distinguished from the rest by the through-composed style of the action, where each movement is followed through in a fluid style contrasting with the point-to-point drawings of the rest of the film.

Yo Yoshinari (吉成曜)
(Evangelion 1-3, 8, 12, 16, 18, 24-26, Jin-Roh, FLCL 1, 3-5, Re: Cutey Honey 1)

Yoshinari's part picks up right after Koike's. Imaishi knows how to draw viewers in: he places two of the best action animators of the age right at the beginning, pampering us with some truly deluxe action, in the process almost fooling us into thinking the movie is actually going to be a serious film; that is, before we get introduced to Chinko Drill...

Yusuke Yoshigaki (芳垣祐介)
(FLCL 1-6, Vampire Hunter 4, Maho Senshi Ryoi 7, Hellsing OP [w/Imaishi], Battle Athletes 8 & 17, Ao Yori Aoshi 4, Abenobashi 1 & 3, Mahoromatic)

...whose intro scene was drawn by this Gainax animator, who has known Imaishi since the very beginning because they joined the studio at the same time. Unlike Imaishi, though, he wasn't an anime otaku to begin with, and he confesses that he only got into anime for the money. He did the crazy bit at the end of ep 1 of Abenobashi and the first scene of ep 5 of FLCL.

Nobutoshi Ogura (小倉陳利)
(Metal Fighter Miku 5 & 13, Evangelion 2, 16 & 20, Rahxephon 15)

This IG animator who did episode 4 of FLCL and will be AD of the upcoming IG series Windy Tales provides the only scene in the film with the jagged lines characteristic of Ohira-school animators, for which reason his scene is one of my favorite in the film.

Shinji Suetomi (末富慎治)
(FLCL 1-3, Generator Gaul 1-3 & 5, Full Metal Alchemist 2nd & 3rd season OP)

Originally a Gainax animator but currently freelance, Suetomi, who was also co-AD, provides this unique scene, which Imaishi says was inspired by a similar sequence in the opening of the old anime Kotetsu Jeeg.

Chikashi Kubota (久保田誓)
(Mahoromatic 4, Abenobashi 1 & 3, Full Metal Alchemist 2nd season OP, Naja OP [dancing])

Kubota animated this delightful bit of "Itano Circus", in addition to the tank action leading up to it. Kubota started out at Xebec in 1998, and three years later moved to Gainax at the invitation of Sushio. Not surprisingly, he animated the Itano Circus you see in ep 3 of Abenobashi. In addition, he animated the memorable part where Masajii almost falls off the building in ep 1 of Abenobashi, and the bit right after Imaishi's shootout in ep 4 of Mahoromatic.

Hiroyuki Imaishi (今石洋之)

The director himself steps in to get the mood of this very cartoonish transformation sequence just right.

Futoshi Higashide (東出太)
(ZZ Gundam 39, 42 & 45, B'T X, Saber Marionettes, Eat Man)

One of the more unusually drawn sections comes from this animator, who really gets into the character 666 with some silly but amusing antics.

Keisuke Watabe (渡部圭祐)
(Evangelion movie, Iron Leaguers, Konjiki no Gash Bell movie AD, Gestalt 1, Virus Buster Serge 2, Ginga Tetsudo Monogatari 18)

The fight with 777 was done by this animator, reportedly one of the last of the dying breed of animators who love using the sort of extreme perspective typified by Kanada's 80s animation.

Shin Itagaki (板垣伸)
(Jubei-chan II 7, Ninja Scroll 3 & 11, Avenger OP, Inu Yasha 16 & 21, Grappler Baki 9, Full Metal Alchemist 45, Kaleido Star 22, Medarot 14)

This person did the memorable part where a character is pissing in Imaishi's first Abenobashi episode, for which reason Imaishi decided to have him to take care of Chinko in this equally memorable shot.

Masahito Yamashita (山下将仁)

Finally we get to the part done by one of Imaishi's great inspirations and one of the figures of the original karisuma animator boom in the 80s, an animator who was renowned for drawing strange, physically impossible poses and movements - which is really at the root of what you see throughout this film. And which is why it's ironic that his part stands out like a sore thumb from the rest, with its more realistic movement and well-proportioned characters. Not that it's bad, but it's clear that Yamashita has changed a lot as an animator in the intervening twenty years. His part was the only part I was able to correlate definitively to an animator on the first viewing.

Sushio (すしお)
(FLCL 1-5, Kill Bill, Naja OP [running to door], King Gainer 14 [w/Yutaka Nakamura], Cyborg 009 31*, Digimon Tamers 3 & 6, Digi Carat 43, Puchi Puri Yuushi 23, Sister Princess 6, Steam Boy)

The climactic showdown, certainly one of the best action scenes in the film, is provided by this young Gainax animator.

Yasunori Miyazawa (宮沢康紀)
(Hashire Melos, Millennium Actress, Jin-Roh, Vampiyan Kids OP, Prince of Tennis OP, 30, 39, 44, 46, 50, Gakuen Senki Muryo OP [all] & 27, Paranoia Agent 4)

And the most impressive contribution to the whole film was Miyazawa's. He animated the entire sequence from the point where the baby comes out to where the larva explodes -- an amazing three and a half minutes straight done by one person. He not only animated the most shots, but his shots were also the fastest done. The quality and variety and length of his contribution is really something. The larva was designed entirely by Miyazawa, and the uniquely stylized effects in that scene make it one of the most memorable in the film.



Manuloz [Visitor]

reviving this old topic just to add a little comment.
Nobutoshi Ogura wasn’t he from Gainax, I have seen that he has work onWindy Tale, but he has done some illustration for the Gainax homepage, and the last one and the comment seems to suggestt that he is from Gainax.

he has done a really cool illustration for the Flcl econte, very “Windy Tale-ish”

On the last Gunbuster2! (#4)there is some Sushio, maybe he animated some part on the climax…

10/24/05 @ 04:44
Ben [Visitor]

The fact that within the last few years he has participated in anime from a diverse number of studios - storyboard in GITS:SAC (IG), Full Metal Panic and Last Exile (Gonzo), key animation in My Melody (Comet), IGPX (IG) and the Naruto movie (Pierrot) - leads me to suspect that he might be freelance. But that’s just a guess and I don’t know for sure. But IG is obviously one of his main sources of work.

10/25/05 @ 08:57
Manuloz [Visitor]

Yeap! I have seen that he has not much worked for Gainax production since FLCL.
But he is there credited on Gainax Homepage as Membre of the Staff.
And I see lot of times gainax animator credited everywhere else ^^.
And by the way, he has done key animation on IGPX #1?

But then, I was wondering how it’s work when you are part of a studio to work for another production for anothe one. Like if you want this particular animator who belongs to another studio, who you contact first the animator or some kind of producer/manager there?

That’s one of the question that was working on me for some times now ^^

10/25/05 @ 10:39
Ben [Visitor]

Veeery good question… That’s something I’ve wondered about for the longest time too. I mean, we hear about Hosoda and Kon getting all these interesting animators from all over the place, but how exactly is that done? I think the likely thing is that if the person is freelance, you simply contact them directly and see if their schedule is open; and if they’re registered at a studio, you go through the studio to see if you could “borrow” them for a bit. I think this was the case with Hosoda “borrowing” Sushio from Gainax for Secret Island. (though I’d seen him doing work at Toei before, so I’m still not exactly sure about this) In some cases an animator might have started at a studio but then later gone freelance, as is the case with Hiramatsu. So he will still do work for that studio, but on a contract basis, and you’ll see his name elsewhere now. I suspect this is the reason you see people using pen names. They’re not supposed to be working for other studios if they’re registered at one place (or working on a project at one place), so they either use an alias or go uncredited, as I suspect happened with Iso in the One Piece movie. This is all conjecture, but I’m thinking it’s roughly right.

Another question that’s nagged me for the longest time is why there’s so much animator interaction between IG and Gainax… That I have no idea about.

I haven’t seen IGPX so I can’t confirm he was involved, but I’ve heard he was in the op.

10/25/05 @ 12:32
Manuloz [Visitor]

Thx for the answor!

I didn’t knew about Hiramatsu being freelance.
After going through IG remade home page, I though like IG, Hiramatsu and Imaishi were kind of like the leads animator at Gainax.

I got the idea from that old Gainax animators interview on Animestyle, because it was conducted by Imaishi and Hiramatsu… maybe that was the case before he was gone freelance (maybe not).

I have checked Ogura is on the op.

10/25/05 @ 13:09
Ben [Visitor]

Actually, I thought I remembered Hiramatsu’s CV on his home page saying he was freelance, but it does not, so I could be wrong about that.

10/25/05 @ 13:16
Manuloz [Visitor]

The other day there was an update on Akiman homepage with a to Hiramatsu’s tempo 1 and he mentionned Gainax, so it fits well with the fact, he was conducing an interview at gainax headquarter :

on another topic, i have seen Sugar² Rune #20, this episode was the episode Gainax took charge of with their new animators.
Nothink like Eureka 7 or noein but still there was some good parts.

I wondered if you could translate the name of the AD : 貞方希久子

Here an illustration he made for Gainax homepage :

He is on the op too, this time Hiramatsu was the AD :

11/28/05 @ 08:28
Ben [Visitor]

Probably SADAKATA Kikuko.

11/29/05 @ 10:10
Manuloz [Visitor]

Thx :)

11/29/05 @ 10:23