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Masaaki Yuasa has a new TV series starting in April entitled Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, again made at Madhouse. I haven't seen an official English title, but it needs one, cause it sounds interesting in Japanese but is pretty unwieldy to translate: Four and a half mat myth compendium. But then again, maybe that's a perfectly sound anime title, if A Certain Scientific Railgun is kosher. Nobutake Ito is again the character designer. The designs are extremely attractive, with the visual sensibility of Taisho-era illustrations, and again a big change from everything the team has done before. Judging by some of the movement in the second half of the video clip visible on the site now, I'm sure Nobutake Ito and the animators will be creating some great movement with these designs. The color design looks vivid and wild in the vein of Mind Game, and the chamber music is quite an interesting and unusual sound for anime. The script sounds cerebral and witty, the series being based on a novel this time around. This promises to be the best thing since... well, Yuasa's last project.
Te Wei, one of the great animation artists of the last century, passed away a short time ago. He was the originator and master of the brush ink animation style. He didn't produce many shorts in his patented style, but the three that he did shine on decades later as unsurpassed masterpieces of serene beauty. They seem to me to bridge the centuries and channel the poetry of another age. Watch them if you haven't. It's time for me to revisit them to remember this great artist.
I'd like to see another good feature from Korea. Mari iyagi was great, but Yobi was disappointing, and Wonderful Days I didn't like as a film because I felt it too indebted to anime, remarkably technically adept though it was. Aachi & Ssipak, if you're able to stomach the over-the-top crassness and violence, was much more creative and interesting as a concept and just plain fun, with some excitingly choreographed, well-animated action sequences, and a much more original vision.
On a related note, I just saw the crass and violent Dante's Inferno, and it featured work by a number of Korean studios, some of it quite good. It's an awful film that's jettisoned the original's poetry for a linear first-person slasher video game with one level boss after another, and is interesting almost solely for the variety of styles brought to the table by the different studios. I usually like this sort of thing by default because I enjoy the idea of seeing the same subject interpreted by different visual artist, and I did enjoy it in that sense, but in the end it's more one of those films you feel obliged to see because there happens to be some technically worthwhile work in it than one that you watch because it's actually good. It wasn't even the violence and crass visuals that put me off so much as the inept script that yammers away constantly, non-stop in every single solitary shot. That's one thing that makes it patently obvious that the script was written by a westerner - American animated features don't know when to shut up. They're uninterested in or incapable of letting the visuals or the atmosphere do the talking, Pixar being a notable new exception.
There have been a number of multi-studio anime omnibuses in the last few years, but where this differs is that it's one continuous story, so that from one moment to the next, in the same uninterrupted narrative flow, the character designs, art, animation and directing suddenly do a 180. I personally enjoyed it. And I'm actually inclined to suspect that this approach wouldn't be that shocking or off-putting to general audiences, as people have become much more acclimatized to visual experimentation in recent years. Heck, seeing these different approaches side by side was the only redeeming feature of what otherwise just felt like a stupid video game - and what's worse, a video game where you don't even have any control. Which is ironic considering the source material is one of the great poems of western literature. Sadly, there's some decent work in this film. I just hope that it doesn't always take shallow projects like this for talent to get work.
The opening by Film Roman sure isn't where the decent work comes. The good work starts quite a ways in after the Saturday morning cartoon animation, with the section from Manglobe directed by Shukou Murase, which is visually the sleekest and overall one of the strongest in the film. The pacing is cinematic and the staging elegant and formal. The drawings are delicate and the faces realistically drawn, albeit in a somewhat 'generic western face' kind of way. Ironic that the Japanese can draw a better westerner than a western studio. (though the first section, too, appears to have been entirely animated by Korean studios) Murase not only directed but was character designer and his own sakkan, so he's in large part to thank for the exceptional quality of the section. Nobutake Ito is one of the animators in his section.
The next section from Dongwoo directed by Jong-Sik Nam, looks very different, much more loose and cartoony, with lots of movement going on constantly. The drawings were a little too crude for my taste, but there were a few moments that stood out as having interesting movement, and generally I appreciate that it moves a lot. The first section moves a lot too, but all of the movement sucks.
It was the next two sections that most impressed me. The fourth section looked to me like the work of a Japanese studio, with its very Kanada-ish approach to movement, while the fifth section immediately struck me as the work of a Korean studio. Surprisingly, both were the work of the same Korean studio - JM Animation. Looking into it, I now see that JM Animation is the studio behind Wonderful Days, which makes sense. I haven't watched it, but JM Animation produced a piece of animation for MTV last year on the subject of human trafficking. (important subject, but looks lame) Both sections four and five are very strong in terms of the visuals and directing. I particularly liked section 5, directed by Kim Sangjin, with its excellently rendered grotesque character designs. This section's visuals are some of the more unique and assured in the film. Section four, directed by Lee Seunggyu, is quite well done, with a more unified stylization of the characters than the previous section, where the characters just look kind of sloppily drawn. I thought they were a little too ruly and clean for this material and preferred the edgy shapes of the fifth section.
The last section, from Production I.G. and directed by a surprising face for the studio, Yasuomi Umetsu, was well-produced but surprisingly dull considering the pedigree. 'Stolid' is the term that comes to mind. The pacing was sluggish and the staging seemed badly done. There are way too many distant or oblique shots striving for a cinematic feel that comes off better in the Manglobe film. The Korean and Japanese films here have a clearly different approach to presenting the material, with more of a focus on the characters acting things out in the Korean films, but more oblique framing and slow pans or moody distant shots for you to savor the drawings and framing in the Japanese films. It's like the Japanese approach their animation with the mentality of live-action cinematographers, and they try to animate things in a realistic way to achieve impact, whereas the Koreans know they're making animation and achieve impact through more expressive animation and less of an obsession on detail and realistic timing and careful framing. Animators include Koichi Arai, Seiichi Nakatani, Nobutoshi Ogura, Nozomu Abe.
Continuing in my quest to dig up obscure old OVAs, Bounty Dog maybe isn't that obscure but it's another older OVA I never saw back then but just checked out. What jumps out at you first about this thing is the color. For some reason the whole thing has this weird sickly yellow sepia tone that's kind of nauseating to look at and doesn't really make any sense artistically. There is some decent mech drawing and animation, but nothing extravagant. The character drawings aren't interesting, and the directing aims for a sort of gritty low-key realism seemingly inspired by Patlabor 2 from the year before, but it doesn't work, not helped by bad art and an uninspired story with no interesting characters, and just feels sluggish and boring. Not nearly as interesting as some of the other OVAs made around this time. Animators in ep 1 include Toshiyuki Tsuru and Takahiro Kishida. Animators in ep 2 include Yasuhiro Seo, Hiroyuki Morita, Masahito Yamashita, Masahiro Koyama, Nobuyoshi Habara (under his Mamoru Konoe pen name), Toru Yoshida, Toshihiro Kawano, Tomohiro Hirata, Tadashi Itazaki.
Riki-oh is another 2-episode OVA from this period - this one from studio Magic Bus from 1989 and 1990. Toei did a great 6-OVA series called Crying Freeman in this vein of big manly muscle men committing acts of gory violence right around the same time, and theirs is infinitely better in all respects - story, directing and animation. Riki-oh is like a lame knock-off of Crying Freeman. The two episodes are an interesting study in contrasts in terms of how to handle the 'macho style' - in episode 1 the drawings are by Yasuhiro Seo, whom I remember for a solo episode he did in Gankutsuoh, and they're great, really bringing alive the personality of the villains through densely rendered drawings full of lines and ruffles that give each of the grotesquely ugly villains' faces a unique look. The second episode is very different, with character designs by Akio Sugino. The bodies and faces are drawn a lot sleeker and smoother and without the grotesque detail that's the whole raison d'etre of this drawing style, and without good drawings, there's very little to maintain interest. The animation isn't particularly remarkable per se; it's more about the drawings themselves, which make this ridiculous material kind of fun to watch with an ironic mindset. I noticed two interesting faces in the inbetween credits: Kenji Mizuhata in ep 1 and Shuichi Kaneko in ep 2.
Three animal shorts for you:
Sankichi and Kojoro from Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, by Hirokazu Fukuhara.
Dreams by Chie Arai.
Old Fangs by Adrien Merigeau.
The last one was sent to me by 'sanafabich', and I really liked it. A number of commenters have noted some astute criticisms, and I agree with some of them, but lack of quicker beats isn't something that bothered me about the film. In fact, I think that that is one of the film's main assets. Slow pacing can be a hard thing to pull off, and a shot without dialogue is anathema to most ADD-afflicted western animation, but good filmmaking isn't just about cramming in as much as possible. It's about creating a space for a story to breathe, and I think they've found a nice style for the material they wanted to convey. I like that they inserted those shots of live-action leaves at the beginning. I think the designs are great, meshing well with the stylized, angular backgrounds. The music is spot-on. I think it's a pretty ambitious subject to tackle, especially using those designs, and I like how the film creates an atmosphere midway between real life and a fable. It does a decent job of evoking some weighty themes with very few words - the chasm that separates us from our memories of the distant past, the desire to reconnect with our estranged loved ones. Of course, it does feel like something is missing, as it doesn't quite achieve a strong enough impact. It all remains a bit too oblique and hinted-at. Maybe it's that the two friends accompanying the young wolf don't seem to serve much purpose, or the storytelling is a little too clipped, or that I don't know what the little wormy thing the father was holding was, or the brief glimpses of the boy's childhood seemed kind of random and unnecessary, or the dialogue wasn't necessary... not sure. But I still love the visuals and the directing sensibility - the way that random shot of the crows scuffling was inserted at just that moment was just magic. I find it a much more interesting and enjoyable film than a lot of more popular and laboriously produced shorts I've seen in the last year.
Waltz with Bashir
My Dog Tulip
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Azur et Asmar
Secret of Kells
Les triplettes de Belleville
I think the other list caters way too much to classical western animation aesthetics. Even Spirited Away seems like it's there only because it's the closest fit of any non-western animated feature within that aesthetic. The key thing to remember is that each list is a reflection of the writer of the list, which is why I prefer not to pretend to be objective. These are ten of the 'more interesting' animated films made in the last decade. IMO. I feel bad leaving out a lot of the great anime films, but that would probably be a different list. What I value is when a film carves out its own narrative and visual ethos and its technique complements the material, rather than simply relying on some classical template the way most big-studio western features do, and I think most of the films above do that to a greater or lesser extent. So many films are made each year around the world now, though, so I wonder if there are any really great films that I missed. I know of a number of interesting-sounding features from the last few years that I'm curious to see: $9.99, The District, Princess, Mary and Max, Legend of the Sky Kingdom, We are the strange, Blood tea and red string... It would be nice to hear what people with a more international bent think are the ten most interesting films of the last ten years.
Well, I won’t try to put together a top ten list right now (maybe later), but I’m surprised more people aren’t aware or respectful toward Fantasia 2000. It has some really great stuff in it, and even the CG sequences (which look a little dated nowadays) have a certain heart and charm that’s very appealing. The best sequences, like Rhapsody in Blue, Carnival of the Animals, and The Firebird, are among the best Disney has ever done (and for me, The Firebird is quite possibly the best seven minutes of animation anywhere out there). If you haven’t seen it, I’d highly recommend it. I just got the chance to watch it theatrically last week, and it looks really great ten years later.
Not that these are top ten or anything, but if you want to see some really beautiful action and atmospheric animation, you owe it to yourself to check out the Kara no Kyoukai movies. There’s seven of them (I’ve only seen the first five), and they’re really spectacular stuff. The studio that did them, ufotable, wasn’t really on my radar before this, but I’m amazed at what they did. This project required serialized films (between two and three a year), so all but two of the films are around forty-five minutes, but that emphasis on making relatively short, beautifully detailed works really resulted in some special stuff. The backgrounds are also great, and not a surprise since Satoshi Kon’s art director Nobutaka Ike helped out (along with Kazuo Ogura). There’s also supposedly a video extra (an epilogue) planned for the series that’s due out in the near future.
By the way, have you seen either Summer Wars or Mai Mai Miracle yet? I’m highly anticipating a US release for both of them, since they’re the big Madhouse projects and looked really good in the previews and samples released. Oh, and you’ve never (to my knowledge) really written much about The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I figured for sure that would be way up there among your favorites.
Oh, and I forgot to mention in my last comment that Madhouse is working on the Tibetan Dog movie, which will be their first serious Japanese / Chinese collaboration. They’ve set up a China division for the purpose of handling the film (presumably) and are going to have Chinese artists contributing. Masayuki Kojima is directing and Shigeru Fujita is designing the characters (based on originals by Naoki Urasawa). I’m really looking forward to how it turns out. Now, I did hear there was supposedly some cancelation of an in-development Madhouse movie production (according to Tatsuya Abe’s blog), so hopefully it wasn’t this.
Lastly, you mentioned in your previous comments (responding to me and H Park) that you admire Madhouse’s ability to make it without producing too much content for the hardcore moe fans. Part of their success is in giving the animators a lot more power and control, and by carefully picking projects, but part of it also is that Madhouse is owned by Index Holdings, which can rescue them if they have a box office disaster or a TV series that flops. Now, they can’t be rescued too many times, but it’s a safety net most of the other studios (Sunrise, Toei, and Ghibli exempted) don’t have. So, it’s a terrible situation that in order to get money to make something, most studios have to take what they can get. And if they have to self-fiance (like Gonzo so often did), it’s all the more risky. Of course, no one loves Madhouse more than I do, and I greatly respect their ability to consistently make works of quality, but they’re essentially unique (and may as well be outside the many reality of where anime as a whole is right now) and so I don’t know how much they can be held up as an example that other studios should be able to emulate. Personally, I see Gonzo as a better example: a studio that tried to walk a middle line between ’safe’ fan-service type work (usually on commission) and risky original shows (usually self-financed). I loved what they did and admire all the great work they produced, but look at what’s happened to them. That kind of model sadly doesn’t work right now, so the studios and animators, in order to survive, are reduced to making content for the few people who will buy it: the least sophisticated, most moe-addled otaku and hikikomori.
About the top ten (where is “Sita sings the blues"?), I think the issue here is whether you pay attention to some aspects of the film (aesthetics, the story, the script, animation itself…) or take the movie as a whole.
Take “The secret of kells". Interesting look, it takes the Cartoon Network aesthetics and pushes it a step forward. The topic of the film is interesting, even sophisticated, but in my opinion the movie is not much more than that. The characters, the story… I was expecting something deeper, more powerful. I think “Kells” stays in the surface just because the script fails to build a real story, well paced, full with charismatic characters. In that sense, any of the last Pixar movies seems better to me. Maybe is the lack of real drama or something else. I feel it lacks something. As for the visuals, I rather have Gregoire Solotareff “U".
Now take “Totoro” and “Kanashimi no Belladonna". Sure they are great films, in its own way. I mean, the play in different leagues. A comparison between the two is not fair in any way. That is the problem with lists (I feel “Mind Game” is more on the “Kanashimi” side, the don´t seem to work as a whole, but they are top films).
I have seen “Mary and Max” and I found it a wonderful film if you already know and have enjoyed previous Adam Elliot works. This is more “Harvey Krumpet” expanded to make it into a full length feature. I does not matter to me, still it is brilliant.
“9.99$” is… Let´s say deadly boring, so is “Metropia".
There are other films, like Jan Balej´s “One night in one city", a stop-motion in the tratition of the “Fimfarum” and Jiri Barta´s “In the attic or who has a birthday today", which I found very dissapointing having watched his wonderful “Krysar” and knowing what “The golem", his aborted second full lenght feauture, could have been, but, again, it is a very personal and, therefore, valauable film. Same goes for “Coraline” or “Wallace and Groomit", fun, well crafted, clever, entertaining films. As a whole, they work much better than many so called “independent” films, like “Persepolis", a failure, in my opinion, as adaptation, interesting story but simple in terms of animation, unlike “Bashir", a real surprise, a brilliant movie in so many aspects.
I can´t remember all the interesting animated films of the decade, but sure we are missing some of thems. I enjoyed, for example, “Panique au village", “A scanner darkly", the weird “The miracle maker", “I married a strange person", Jankovic´s “Song of the Miraculous Hind", “Oseam", Kawamoto “Book of the dead", “Renaissance", Priit Parn´s “Frank and wendey” and “Life without Gabriella” … Buff!!
In fact, Yuasa last work is a special episode of Wakfu, that he designed. But it’s for France. http://www.catsuka.com/news_detail.php?id=1266854697
Interesting post Ben! I was avoiding it, but now I’ll have to check out Dante’s Inferno, and I may as well for Halo Legends too.
I cannot express how much I loved Mary and Max, just such a wonderful film, it really uses the power of animation to tell such an affecting story that when I saw it, having heard nothing about it, I was completely taken by surprise. Possibly my favourite animated film of last year, because of its boldness in simplicity that completely forces you to invest in the story.
Whilst the subject of the films such as Sita sings the Blues and Waltz with Bashir are slightly alternative, I really hope that independent animators, even working on a budget, will realise that aesthetics are just as important in letting one get lost in a film’s story as toning down distracting flashiness.
With both I couldn’t help being constantly aware of the boring ‘perfect’ arcs and slides courtesy of flash and AE, it just becomes mindnumbing and lacks the reworked motion that humans bring to computer animation to make it watchable, though in some (very few) cases, such things are intended.
Because animation is such a visually charged medium, I don’t think one can really evaluate (animated) films and separate the story and visuals; both rely upon each other. You can ‘take the movie as a whole’ but the visuals are part of that whole.
—I just realised that I have to absolutely add my problem with flash etc. animation in Sita and Bashir is almost hypocritical due to my passion and acceptance of ‘limited’ animation seen in just about every anime ever. But that’s me, an opinionated little git.
Thanks. I haven’t even heard of a lot of the films you mentioned - Metropia, One Night in One City, U, The Miracle Maker - but I’ve checked out clips for each and they each look interesting. I knew there had to be a lot more interesting non-mainstream films than what I’d seen.
Sita isn’t on my list because I haven’t watched it. I have it, but I haven’t been compelled to watch it yet, because the style grates on me. But I will give it the benefit of the doubt and watch it, in view of all the ecstatic praise it’s been receiving.
I don’t think Persepolis was a failure in the slightest. I haven’t read the original comic. I don’t think my opinion would change if it did, even if I felt like many people apparently do and thought it didn’t do the original justice. My only concern is whether it works as a film to someone who HASN’T read the original, and it did for me. That said, I have more admiration for Bashir as a film because it represents a completely original vision and not an adaption of an existing style. And the style and tone of Bashir resonates much more with me.
I’ve seen Oseam and the Book of the Dead and I think they’re both dreadful films. Book of the Dead in particular was a sore disappointment for me, as I was hoping it to be a return to form for Kawamoto. A Scanner Darkly I felt simply built on the technology and style of Waking Life, so Waking Life was the breakthrough for me. I also liked the style and content of Waking Life better. I remember being dazed and dazzled watching it in the theater in 2001, and it’s one of the animated films that had the most impact on me seen on the big screen. I love Bill Plympton’s films and admire his achievement and would love to include one, but stylistically they’re similar and there was nothing new or surprising in any of his films, and as much as I wanted to love them, and did enjoy them, they feel simultaneously impressive because of the one-man format and constrained by it. The amateurish sound directing really nagged me about his films. Anyway I Married A Strange Person is from 1997.
Renaissance I haven’t seen but the style doesn’t really appeal to me. I’ll watch it just to see it if I can find it.
I had no idea Marcell Jankovics had a new film. I would love to see that. Has anyone seen it? How does it compare to Fehérlófia?
I found watching Kells very exciting and loved every minute. While I’ve enjoyed the craftsmanship of Pixar films, they’ve never excited me much, because the directing just seems so safe, and it just feels like the same sort of film I’ve seen all my life from big Western studios, in terms of the script, the personalities of the characters, the style of directing… everything. Despite it being CGI now it feels the same to me. I’ll take the excitement of Kells over Pixar any day. And I think Mind Game worked brilliantly as a whole, much moreso than Belladonna, and I could relate to Mind Game more than any Miyazaki film, not to mention just enjoying it a lot more and finding it more thrilling and new on just about every level - animation, directing, theme. And that’s an important element to me - I guess in the end those ten films are the films that fired me up about animation when I first saw them. It’s not an attempt to say ‘these are the ten best’. It’s just a personal list of favorites. You’re right that the act of putting together a list is challenging, but that’s kind of what makes it interesting to me… it reveals what’s important to the person making the list. By the way, what would your list be? You’ve seen a lot more obscure animated feature films than I have, and you have interesting taste, so I’m really curious.
I totally agree, actually. People should take the quality of the visuals and animation, and how they mesh with the theme, directing, story, etc., into account a lot more when judging a film than simply judging it based on how much story or jokes they managed to cram into 90 minutes. That was one of the big factors to me in making this list… (not that I pored over it for days or anything - the choices were pretty obvious to me) But it’s interesting because Sita turned me off because of the visual flash style, but I felt Bashir managed to overcome the problems with the technique and even make an asset of it. I started out really disliking the animation, and then as the film progressed it ceased to bother me, and by the end I felt they’d really created some beautiful visuals with the technique. It’s kind of similar to Mari iyagi, with its weird-looking flash-based animation. There’s this tension between it seeming like an amateurish and a failed experiment at first, but then getting used to it and starting to feel like it actually works beautifully, and then finding that the style is really fresh and original and actually one of the film’s asset. I felt the same dynamic was at work in Waking Life - At first I was like ‘yech rotoscope’ but then I was like ‘Yeahhhh’. I liked all of these films because there was some kind of tension on the visual front, some kind of pushing the boundaries, and this experimenting was well meshed with the directing and the story. Oh, and I don’t think it’s hypocritical of you to think that way. I totally agree about the idea of judging the visuals and the content as an inseparable whole. It’s a sign that you know how to assess the quality of visuals, and that’s something most audiences lack… I wish more people would be more critical about inventiveness on the visual plane instead of just getting caught up in fancy voice-acting and scripts.
I have seen TokiKake and Summer Wars…. sorry for the silence about them. Wasn’t too sure what to say about TokiKake, as there’s been a lot written already and I don’t think I have anything particularly helpful to add. I will write something about Summer Wars, though.
Very interesting about Madhouse… didn’t know that. I’m sure you’re right, but I still suspect that producers and companies are way too conservative and lacking in initiative to continue pumping out this material instead of trying to make something that would appeal to other demographics. But I’m not going to try to say it’s easy. Audiences can be so fickle, all the more so with animation. Who wants to risk making animation for adults when most adults wouldn’t be caught dead watching an animated film, even for adults. Even quality films can fail at the box office, and have - witness Mind Game. In a way, you’re kind of doomed to fail in animation, or at least to succeed on a smaller scale, unless you get big name value behind you, be it Disney or Pixar or Miyazaki.
Interesting news about that China-Madhouse co-production. Such projects are more often than not kind of artistic failures, at least judging by quite a number that I’ve seen, but I appreciate the attempt to collaborate on one project between distant cultures and studios.
The problem with obscure films is the fact that many people tend to think (inluding me) that “obscure” is often equal to “a gem of a film". It does not work that way. I enjoyed and admire Piotr Kamler´s “Chronopolis", Larry Jordan “Sophie´s Place", Waleryan Boro. “Théâtre de M. et Mme. Kabal", Harry Smith “Heaven and Earth Magic” and so many others ("The thief and the cobbler"), but I have to admit they are often a bit extreme in many aspects, they are almost (or totally) experimental, so it is very difficult to judge whether they are great films or not (according to what criteria?). They just are there for us to watch and enjoy them.
As I said, I love “Waltz", “Belleville” and “Max and Mary". I´m not very fond of lists, but the films I always recomend are the classic ones: “Le roi et l´oiseau", “Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed “, “Totoro", “The plague dogs” and probably Barta´s “Krysar".
I also like “When the wind blows", “Fantastic planet” and “Fehérlófia” (the new Jankovic´s film is by no way better than this one), which really impressed when I watched it for the first time. And then, of course, there is anime: “Horus", Tenshi no tamago", “Wanpaku", “Honneamise", “Kanashimi"…
I almost forgot Karel Zeman´s films and over all Eastern Europe titles, Jiri Trnka´s “The Emperor’s Nightingale", my favourite puppets film ever.
and Svankmajer´s “Faust".
I haven’t watched Dante’s Inferno yet. (still working on that OCR project) After reading and hearing bad reviews about it, I’m being reluctant. Anyway, it’s interesting that how you pointed out Japanese and Korean approach to animation making. As you know, Koreans do most of 2D subcontracting for Hollywood. Culturally, there is that ingrained mentality which emphasize positive acceptance of American method for almost everything. And animation is no exception. On the other note, this is similar to how British and French adapt course of western fine art.
About the Inferno’s script being non-stop talks, I think they are similar to what Peter Chung pointed out 12 years on American comics.
1. The writer-oriented type, characterized by a narrative laden with running commentary (often the interior monologue of the main character) which makes the drawings seem gratuitous– in fact, a hindrance to smooth reading, since the text seems complete without them– and which makes me wonder why I don’t just read a real book instead. To me, this style is antithetical to the nature of visual narrative. A comics writer who relies heavily on self-analyzing his own story as he tells it: a. doesn’t trust the reader to get the point; and b. hasn’t figured out how to stage events so that their meaning is revealed through clues of behavior, rather than direct pronouncements of a character’s thoughts.
Wow, you liked Mari Iyagi enough to put it on top 10, out of all those wonderful movies you must have watched over years! That’s awesome.
I wonder if you’ve watched the movie version of Utena. That is my absolute favourite film from 2000s, bar none.
I also loved Mind Game, Kells and Persepolis from your list. I appreciate Waltz n bashir too but…how should i say it…i appreciate and value it because it was powerful and extremely well made, but it’s not the kind of anime that usually suit my taste.
As for Korean movies, I agree that Yobi and Wonderful days were both very disappointing. But glad you enjoyed Aachi wa Ssipak, it’s a whole lot of fun. If you haven’t watched it already, I recommend a Korean anime film called ‘Oseam’, which I guess isn’t as wonderful as Mari Iyagi visually, but it still has beautiful Korean scenaries to look at. I translated the interview with director, which you can find it in my blog just in case you do watch it in future and like it =)
And I know exactly how you feel about Dante’s Inferno, although I haven’t seen it. I watch these compilations almost like obligation because I appreciate the different styles to same subject matter/theme, and I always find the few that I really like (and of course, some that I really don’t like).
Yeah, I know what you mean about previous cross-cultural co-production failures, but in this case it’s Madhouse that is doing the development and artistic scouting. Since they’ve got a Chinese branch office that will be handling things, they may end up even hiring the artists (like is done in Japan). If this ends up being the case, I would expect great things, since there’s surely a lot of potential with there being some great Chinese animators waiting to be discovered.
In fact, the head of the Chinese branch said that if China wants to catch up with Japan and Korea they have to move quickly, but it’s projects like this that can allow it to happen. Remember too that on some previous very well animated anime films that there have been Chinese ink and paint, inbetween, and even key animators involved. I’m specifically talking about Madhouse’s Metropolis (which had ink and paint and inbetweens) and Gonzo’s Origin ~Spirits of the Past~ (which had inbetweens and a fair number of key animators). And there have been some background painting studios in Shanghai and other places for a while as well. So China can certainly reach the standard if the right elements are in play, and I have a feeling that they will be on this project.
As for the producers being too conservative, yeah, I suppose that’s an argument to be made, but again I’m just struck with how every time a risk is taken the company responsible is utterly destroyed. Triangle Staff, which did Lain and Macross Plus back in the day, was taken down hard after Lain failed. Gonzo, my over-noted but still relevant example, we all know what has happened to. Again, Madhouse is just lucky to be in the position it is, and to have built an incredible reputation over the past 35 years. But Gonzo had a good reputation too, especially in America, and look at how quick the otaku in Japan and now the US fans have turned on them. It just goes to show: you make quality if not spectacular TV work like Romeo x Juliet, good OAVs like Yukikaze, and incredible movies (animation wise) like Origin, and no one cares at all. Instead, they just run you down for having to do Strike Witches to make ends meet, and for risking their own money on shows they believed in like Gankutsuou (which totally failed, by the way, in making any money in Japan). Let’s face it: risk yields disaster every time, and unless you’ve got a reputation and the money to absorb it and smart marketing to get the most out of the small market that actually supports what they like with money (and not illegal streaming and downloads), you’re going to fail spectacularly and destroy any chance of maybe making something artistically worthwhile someday. That’s why you’ve got to look at the newly-blooming studios, like Kyoto Animation and Ordet, and evaluate what they’re doing now (to pay the bills) as the groundwork being laid for, perhaps, something great later on. If they survive that long and build a reputation and war chest of financing yen, maybe they’ll do something we all can get onboard with. And in the meantime, shows like Kannagi are well-animated and funny enough, so we’ve got to appreciate the little glimmers (like that) that we get amidst all the cash-ins and terrible work that’s just eating up time and airwaves.
I’m really glad you posted Old Fangs, an animator friend of mine showed it to me, and I’ll agree its quality work. Way better than the oscar nominees this year (which mostly were CGI wacky charcters on zany adventures btw) :P
RE Korean Animation:
Does anyone know what’s up with Studio Flying, who made Aachi & Ssipak? I haven’t heard anything since the trailer for the Kemonozume-inspired Mad Monkey a couple years ago. I have a bad feeling they might have gone under and nobody even reported it.
RE Marcell Jankovics:
Song of the Miraculous Hind isn’t better than Feherlofia (one of the greatest animated features of all time), but it certainly qualifies as one of the “more interesting” animated features of the decade. It’s a sort of unclassifiable animated musical documentary tracing the history of Hungary from the ancient Central Asian origin myths to the founding of the nation in 1000 AD. I don’t think any other filmmaker does mythology as uniquely as Jankovics, who makes so many visual connections, but the film loses some steam as it begins to retell actual historical events and becomes more patriotic. The Hungarian DVD has English subtitles, if you can find a place to order it.
I think you find Jankovics´ film at ebay. That´s where I got it from.
By the way Ben, have you seen “The Sensualist (Koushoku Ichidai Otoko)", what do you think of it?
I bought a used copy of Western Connection’s UK VHS release of The Sensualist way back when, but I haven’t been able to watch it because it’s in PAL. If anybody is willing to digitize it for me, I’d appreciate it. It sounds intriguing - erotic art anime directed by the art director of Ringing Bell and The Legend of Sirius, with a script by the director of Belladonna.
I think there can be different criteria to judge a film. It shouldn’t be a one size fits all template. The Theatre of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal is a great film for different reasons than Ratatouille is a great film. There are different ways to judge a film - some films push boundaries and present an artist’s vision, others are great at character animation and development and narrative. I think everybody should develop their own unique critical faculty and taste in movies and appreciate different approaches on their own terms.
Good list of films to recommend to be sure… I love Zeman’s films. Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite Trnka film, and my favorite puppet film.
H Park -
It makes sense that Korea’s long history subcontracting kind of molded their style… Wonderful Life was interesting in that it combined that western influence with anime influence. They’re caught between two different traditions, and it results in a new kind of hybrid approach.
I need to watch that Utena movie. Mari really impressed me when I first saw it because the director had such a strong voice and personal style. Also it was interesting to me because it was apart from Korea’s ‘hybrid’ style I mentioned above - truly out of the blue, visually like no other feature-length film in Korea or elsewhere.
That’s OK if Bashir isn’t the kind of film you usually enjoy, as long as you enjoyed it. I wish more anime fans would embrace having their boundaries pushed by a film like you have, and not just narrowly stick to films that stay within the (very narrow) boundaries that anime sticks to. I never liked the Nickelodeon style before I saw Kells. I still don’t, but there is no denying the very high level of artistic achievement in that film, even if it’s not normally a style I appreciate.
China does seem to need to do a lot of catching up. Maybe Madhouse can help a little by fostering projects like this. Korea has made so much progress in comparison. China used to make such wonderful short films in the 60s and 70s and 80s, not to mention several decent feature-length films, and now all that seems to have disappeared, and we get crap like Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf. I suppose it has to do with the transition from communist state sponsorship to the free market. There must be so many great artists, or artists who could be great if given the chance, judging by the quality of The Face by Ray & Penny. I would never had heard of this nice short if I hadn’t seen it in China. There must be others - where are they? (rhetorical question) There must be some unsung Lee Sung-Gang waiting to be discovered.
Similarly, we know how much of a renaissance South Korean animation is going through right now, but where are the artistic shorts? (again, rhetorical) I used to see a smattering at the VIFF each year, but not anymore, so I don’t know what I’m missing. There’s a screening of South Korean shorts coming up in Japan. There must be some interesting artists developing there apart from Lee Sung-Gang.
Joshua Smith -
Thanks for the info about Marcell Jankovics’ new film. I will seek it out, as I think that Feherlofia is possibly the best animated film ever, or at least the purest. I must see anything else he has done. Even a lesser film by the same director must be amazing, or at the very least a breath of fresh air compared to the usual animated feature.
I´ve got that very same Western Connection vhs tape, later I learnt it´s been realeased in German too ("Lustgarten der Geisha").
There are a few ways to get the sensualist:
And then the following tracker:
Glad to see that there are also admirors of Czechoslovakian animation. Also the ones made by Zagreb Film have some memorable short films.
Somehow the films that impressed me the most were the ones by Phil Mulloy. I know some viewers may puke because of the bad quality, but some of them were for me unforgettable. I’d like to see some of his live-action films if I get the chance.
Regarding “Oseam", well it was very melodramatic and worse it had kinda a forced drama that reminded of TV soap opera.
But one popular Korean animated TV series I liked was “White Heart Baekgu", which was very popular locally. The director of Oseam was also director there, so TV drama fits better there than Oseam. The DVD has also English, Japanese and Russian subtitles.
Regarding the top-10 list, I’ve seen most of the films, except “Waking Life” and agree that they are worth the praise.
If you are eager to see “Princess", it feels a lot like watching a Tarantino movie in some scenes. It has a lot of violence and the viewer feels uncomfortable and awkward. Child abuse and the porn industry is the movie’s main theme but also revenge. Where it has problem is the blending of Live-action and animation. It doesnt connect somehow. But it has a good soundtrack . The director was also influenced from anime.It is a memorable and unique watch, but certainly not worth buying. I rented it from a local video club, that is specialized in obscure films (silent cinema too) and animation. I rented a lot of titles from there. Not a lot of these video clubs exist nowadays. Since I havent been there for months, I hope it hasnt closed
I like Mulloy. First time I watched his short films made me thaught of Plympton, but Mulloy is even rawer, more violent and agressive.
Plympton is more in the tradition of Avery, as for Mulloy… He is a very unique animator. I think he has made a full length animated feature called “The Christies” but I have not had the chance to watch it.
Elchi: Thanks for pointing out those links to the copies of The Sensualist. I’d given up hope of ever seeing the thing.
Pete: Thanks for the words about Princess. It sounds interesting to me, though I haven’t heard many positive things about it.
I wasn’t going to make an effort to see Dante’s Inferno, but your review has piqued my interest. I’d mentioned Kim Sangjin on an earlier post as an example of a Korean animation director highly regarded in the U.S. industry. By the way, he is not to be confused with the other Kim Sangjin, veteran lead animator and character designer at Disney features.
I had a recent experience while teaching in Korea (where I’m in the thick of production on CN’s Firebreather at SamG studios) that made me want to post a comment here. I was tasked with critiquing a student’s project that was heavily laden with narration, and I struggled to explain why he should instead strive to allow the visuals to convey his ideas. The problem was not that he didn’t get that film is a visual medium. It was when he mentioned that one of his favorite films was Waking Life– a film which made me feel embarrassed to be watching (like the shame you feel when you’re the victim of a prank). I’m bemused by the inclusion of Waking Life in your top ten, since it epitomizes the syndrome you complain about, that “American animated features don’t know when to shut up". As in the student’s case, I could concede the difference in our views as a matter of taste and leave it at that. But that doesn’t address the core principle of what I try to impart to student animators and filmmakers. That there are artistic standards which one must recognize and apply when judging an individual work, and such standards guide decisions during the creative process just as they ought to guide the analysis of the critical viewer.
Throughout Waking Life, the director betrays a maddening lack of interest in the nature of his chosen medium. Narration and heavy use of dialog are not a problem as long as they exist to complement a fully realized effort at cinematic expression. The medium of film in the hands of an imaginative filmmaker allows the viewer to discover emotion and meaning through observation and inference. Not here.
One early vignette consists of a woman explaining in plain language the inadequacy of words as a conduit for understanding. A simple idea that is obvious to anyone involved in any nonverbal artistic discipline. The point seems to go unnoticed by the director, who spends the next 80 or so minutes presenting a series of prosaically filmed talking heads. To add to the insult, gratuitous hand drawn digressions are laid over the footage, apparently for no other reason than to demand money from investors for the budget needed to hire an army of illustrators. Just one example of the film’s display of epic inanity: a man in a bar recounting an anecdote of physically violent behavior, intercut with the reactions of the bartender. For those that haven’t seen the film, the point must be made clear– the director filmed a man telling a story to another man of an event that happened offscreen, then had the CONVERSATION of the event ROTOSCOPED.
I’m not surprised that including Waking Life on the list raised some eyebrows. (actually, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aiming for that a bit)
You’re right that it’s self-contradictory. I’ll admit it: I’m not consistent. For the most part I try to analyze animated films objectively, but there are some cases where I just go with gut instinct because a film works for me despite it not being a great film by conventional standards. Like I said, I’m not claiming this to be one of the ‘great animated films of the last decade’. Just one of the ones that stimulated me.
I just can’t bring myself to use a one-size-fits-all aesthetic with cinema. By conventional standards, I suppose My Dinner With Andre is nothing more than a script being read by talking heads, not cinema. But I loved it. It worked for me, just like L’Ange works for me but probably doesn’t work for most other people. On the other hand, I thought There Will Be Blood was a terrible film. (In contrast, I loved Avatar) Waking Life was a similar experience for me. I don’t even view Waking Life as an animated film, actually, though I think it straddles the line in a controversial way that is interesting. I think, rather, that it’s a thought-provoking hybrid - neither animated film nor cinema. Yeah, that’s just a fancy way of saying that it’s a bunch of shots of talking heads traced over with animation. Jonathan Hodgson’s Feeling My Way is just some plain footage of a guy walking on the street traced over with animation, but regardless of how it was made, that film spoke to me on its own terms, and it never occurred to me to try to judge it by standards it’s not attempting to adhere to. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that it’s precisely the fact that Waking Life consists of live-action shots being doodled over that appealed to me. It’s so… unexpected.
The same director’s later film using a somewhat similar approach, A Scanner Darkly, probably actually works better as cinema than Waking Life does. It feels more like a film with interesting visual FX. Waking Life doesn’t even feel like a regular movie, much less an animated movie. Obviously, it’s a question of personal taste whether you like that. I don’t like just any self-indulgent art-house garbage just because it’s trying to be artsy. I just felt this one was interesting and like nothing else out there, and did things with animation that I’d never seen before or thought even needed to be done, and I appreciated that. Actually, I’d even say I relished the way it flew in the face of conventional animation wisdom.
After saying all that, the fact of the matter is that I’d much rather re-watch a great animated film than re-watch Waking Life. But I’d rather side with a daring experiment like this than with an extremely well crafted but stodgy and conventional animated feature, even if I readily acknowledge all of the ways in which the animated feature is technically superior. That’s just me. I like seeing boundaries being pushed in a compelling way.
Anyway, regarding Inferno, I’m curious to hear your assessment once you get to see it. It’s a strange experiment, so it’s worth checking out, if just to see how it works and how it doesn’t. And the work of the Korean studios is impressive, especially Kim Sangjin’s work. (Thanks for the word up about the other Kim Sangjin. I would have assumed they were one and the same.)