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The Minna no Uta Best Hits Collection is just that. To someone coming from an animation perspective it's lacking in most of what makes the series interesting. There's nothing of the more than a dozen pieces by Sadao Tsukioka, or Yoji Kuri et al. Nonetheless, there is The Moon Waltz by Atsuko Ishizuka, which is probably among the best pieces made for the show in the last few years. There have been literally thousands of posts on the BBS at her home page since it aired last October/November, and she made an appearance on Digital Stadium shortly thereafter. It's a very satisfying piece, still retaining the rough lines, momentum and dark fantasy of her earlier self-produced films, but backed up by the production force of Madhouse.
There is also Kin no Makiba (The Golden Pasture) from June/July 2003 by Osamu Sakai, which, on the other hand, hasn't received much attention, despite being a very nice piece of animation. Born in 1977, Osamu Sakai is a few years older than Ishizuka, and the same age as Kunio Kato, his classmate at the Tama Art School who created the wonderful Aru Tabibito no Nikki series that was recently released on DVD with additional material after first being made available online two years ago. Last October these two and Saku Sakamoto held an exhibition and showing of their films at the Mejiro Open Gallery entitled "Animation Three" (sounding like a nod to the Animation Sannin no Kai), where it was possible to see all of Kato's other films, which have won him three Yuri Norstein Prizes from the Laputa Animation Festival since 2001. After graduation both entered the company Robot, whose site hosts their home pages.
It's easy to see why Kato's films would have won so regularly at the festival, which Norstein presides over every year. Visually they're incredibly refined and convincing works closer in their graphic richness and craftsmanship to Norstein than to the bulk of Japanese production. Although his Tabibito series was produced in Flash, you would hardly suppose so at first blush. His production method for the series was somewhat unique: he drew each drawing on paper, scanned it into the computer, and left the white space around the figure intact rather than cutting it off as one would normally expected him to have done, which accounts for the handmade look of the series. As one would hope, considering the comparative quality of the films that inevitably loom behind the prize, Norstein does not go easy on the contestants. No Grand Prix has yet been awarded, to my knowledge, because as of yet no film has been deemed to merit it. Since last year Kato himself has stood on the judging panel.
Sakai's film shares the picturebook density of texture of Kato's films, and the resemblance to Norstein is even more obvious, with the huge cow, golden apples, dense sketchy visuals and cutout characters. The movement is spare, but he manages to evoke a lot with little real action, and the film leaves a good aftertaste. In only a few minutes you get a feeling for the unique world of the characters. You can feel that he still has a ways to go, but it's the right direction, and I can't recall another Japanese independent short that had quite the same atmosphere. It was really like a picture book come to life. A few months before this piece he provided another to the series for October/November entitled Time ~Toki no Shiori~. Last October, around the same time as the "Animation Three" exhibit, a picture-book version of Kin no Makiba illustrated anew by Sakai himself was released coupled with a DVD of the video. I hope he doesn't go completely to drawing, because the animated version of Kin no Makiba was too full of promise.