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There's been lots of news about the new upcoming films from all of the major directors, but one piece of news that's probably slipped through the cracks over here is the news that Keiichi Hara is directing a new film. Keiichi Hara directed a handful of Shin-chan films between 1998 and 2002, breathing a new life into the series with his more serious, measured, cinematic approach to filmmaking. His films didn't focus on pumping out frenzied gags but on weaving convincing human drama with complex themes. There's no mistake that the films were well balanced and appealed to both children and adults, but his philosophy seemed to be that both adults and children should be able to enjoy a film; not just children. In the last two films in particular it was becoming obvious that he was outgrowing the confines of the series. His second to last film, 2001's The Adult Empire Strikes Back, treated the themes of nostalgia and fundamentalism in an amusing way, with a story about aging hippies - who not coincidentally resemble John and Yoko - out to bring the world back to the good old days of the post-war boom period, when life was full of simple pleasures and the world was less complicated. Hara sympathetically conveys the conflicting motivations of the characters, who probably struck a chord with the parents who brought their children to see the film. It was the biggest hit in the history of the series and instantly broadened the audience for the films. The soundtrack effectively used classic folk songs of the 60s that were extremely beautiful and heightened the nostalgia effect even to someone like me who'd never heard them before. His last film, which I haven't seen, was apparently a sprawling historical drama.
A manga artist who has always been close to my heart, Hinako Sugiura, passed away last year at the unfortunately early age of 46. Apparently she had a strong influence on Keiichi Hara. He relates that the scene in his last Shin-chan film where a princess hears the sound of a flower opening in the silence of the night was influenced by Sugiura's manga. Sparing in her use of frames and tending to focus on creating beautiful spaces using a minimum of elegant lines, Sugiura had a unique genius for portraying people of the past, young and old, in all different situations and walks of life, in a way that gave them a convincing semblance of life. Midway into her career she was forced to give up manga altogether upon being diagnosed with the illness that plagued her until her death, and from then on out she focused on promulgating knowledge about the Edo period in the various media, including making appearances on TV. Of all the manga I've read, hers had a sensibility that was unique. Her work was perhaps the best artistic depiction of the Edo period I've yet seen, effortlessly combining a style of drawing based on the art of the period with moving but always somehow light and whimsical vignettes that fleshed out the lives of the people of the age and brought alive the atmosphere the era.
It's nice to hear Hara cite Hinako Sugiura as an influence, and confirms his good taste, but it doesn't come as too much of a surprise. Both share a preoccupation with the bittersweet element of life; wabi-sabi in traditional terms. A perusal of his films makes it obvious enough that his influences are not those of the average anime director. I could picture his influences as being European cinema of the 60s and 70s and independent American filmmakers. In an interview he says he's more into slow films that paint vast landscapes like Lawrence of Arabia, which probably shows up in his last film. It's been three years since that, and I've been wondering what he's been up to. I think the new film is going to be an original creation, so with any luck it will be the first film in which we can see the true face of Hara, free of any constraints imposed by material not his own. Apparently the film will also be made at Shinei.