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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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

03:37:53 pm , 484 words, 1119 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Matsumoto, Steam Boy

In updating the spamfile today to innoculate myself against the latest daily spam attack (you'll sometimes notice 50 spam comments at the top of the latest comments before I get to them), I inadvertently misplaced a comma, with dire consequences. Sorry about that.

Been rather quiet lately because I haven't seen much worth trumpeting about, and the rain is making me feel blah and unmotivated to dig any deeper. To try to fill in the holes in my Norio Matsumoto, I watched a few random old episodes to see if I could spot his work, but there were no major new discoveries. Neo Ranga 41-42 was fairly watchable thanks to Toshiyuki Tsuru's directing, Hirobumi Suzuki's animation directing and Takahiro Kishida's animation. Tsuru, Suzuki and Matsumoto were together again on the least impressive of the Matsumoto Naruto episodes, 48, the only one not by Atsushi Wakabayashi, and interestingly Suzuki and Tsuru were even credited with the 3DCG background in that ep. Around the same time Suzuki handled the photography of certain scenes of Akiyuki Shinbo's Cossette. The way he moved the camera in the latter was quite different and effective, really giving a feeling for a three-dimensional space, but it didn't work so well in the Naruto ep. Still, even the least impressive Matsumoto is far above the norm, and the shot in the latter where a character slips, loses his balance and falls on his back is quintissential Matsumoto in the excellent handling of the center of balance and timing, all expressed with only a few well-placed drawings.

Oh, I did see one thing. Steam Boy. To state the obvious, the animation was most impressive. There were a few scenes here and there where the actions of the characters felt particularly nuanced. There were a lot of familiar names. I was surprised to see Mitsuo Iso credited in the pre-production section for conceptual development. What surprised me most was that there were only seven people credited for the backgrounds. I suppose with nine years that's not impossible, but still. I only wish they had divided the animation credits into character and effect sections to make it easier to figure out. Perhaps work wasn't clearly divided that way. I could picture Toshiyuki Inoue doing either smoke or characters, for instance. I'm wondering how he got the idea to focus on the steam like this. Could it have been in part from seeing how incredible the impact of good FX animation can be after seeing the work of Shinya Ohira, Toshiaki Hontani et al. in his earlier film? It felt like the character animation suffered in the equation. As active as it was, it still felt lacking in oomph, in interesting movement. I rather preferred the way the animation in the earlier film was all over the place to the stability in this film, though it certainly jives with what he was trying to achieve with the film.



neilworms [Visitor]

I’d heard before on the Production IG forums from Ray who is the japanese guy that provides us with a lot of news an information that much of the backgrounds in that film were done by Otomo himself. Probably the reason why so few were credited.

06/14/05 @ 19:21
Josh [Visitor]

I find it interesting how stable the animation is in Steamboy (heard several complaints about how the visuals were ‘expensive but boring’) considering how troubled the film’s production history was.

Anyways, I’m probably one of the few who didn’t like the ‘all over the place’ feeling in the animation of Akira…it only strengthened the feeling I got that Otomo just pasted together bits of the manga without any rhyme or reason. Which I guess is probably the same reason why other people like it, I dunno

06/14/05 @ 22:33
Jericho [Visitor]

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to describe Otomo’s direction, and I do agree on that term ‘all over the place’ where he does just paste things together. I felt it too when watching Metropolis, and everytime I noticed things about his movies. Whats with all the coincidental meetings of characters like when Kaneda all of a sudden spots Kei a second time during that run away scene for instace? Or Kenichi and his uncle in that snowy scene? Otomo gets really cozy with kinetic action sequences, especially when the cities go boom, or crash, or burn, or explode. Also with riot scenes. And it can be seen in his manga. Of course it was a typical all action, half asked plot film, but really I would only expect interesting FX animation from an Otomo movie. His creativity starts to mushroom into a dense clump when it comes his kaboom aesthetic. Which is probably the reason for all that pasting….

I couldn’t bring myself to liking Steamboy. I was hoping that Otomo could muster up a non-convuluted story, but I guess he let 10 years of production problems get in the way of that. It does feel that his kinetic sequences start to loose effect when he does it too many times. You know, that line from Eberts review, Objects that are constantly in motion tend to have the same effect as an object that rests. I guess I did enjoy the fact that a family rivalry leads to the mischievous all out wrecking of London. Isn’t his stories all about wrecking lots of stuff?

06/15/05 @ 03:50
neilworms [Visitor]

It seems that otomo was originally going for something closer to “Cannon Fodder” in Memories early on. Some sources have said that this was originally supposed to be a preview for steamboy. I think Otomo wanted too much and had to make too many compromises, he wanted a film that got a wide hollywood release…

Instead he only got a limited release like he would have gotten anyways and based upon what I’ve generally heard an inferior product.

Cannon’s Fodder is my favorite film from Otomo, its bold simple and very very well directed. Also I love the style makes you feel like your caught in a very opressive place. I hope Otomo’s next project is more interesting.

06/15/05 @ 06:35
Ben [Visitor]

Ebert seems to have gotten it mostly right about both Howl and Steam Boy

I think basically Neil’s right: the film has this quixotic Hollywood-or-bust feeling to it - just listen to the quintissential cookie-cutter Hollywood blockbuster soundtrack he felt he needed to commission. Which is what makes its tepid reception so tragicomic. He set out to make a Hollywood spectacle, so you can’t really criticize him for making a Hollywood spectacle. It was just a bad gamble in so many ways. The Japanese studio system is just not set up to make films like this, which is probably why it took so long…

I’ve always felt this dual aspect to Otomo. There’s the Otomo I like, the Otomo of his early short comics and the Otomo of The Order to Stop Construction and Cannon Fodder, the Otomo as artist content to experiment with new forms… then there’s the Otomo who decides he wants to challenge a set form, the stereotypical sci-fi epic, say, or the Hollywood film, and show that he can do it better than anyone else: the Otomo who wanted to be king. In that sense I suppose, as Neil mentioned, the smaller projects are there to serve as testing grounds for an eventual big project that will put all his ideas together into a big package. I can see the sense in that, and the interest of trying to mold it into a package that will remain simultaneously Otomo and accessible to a large number of people, but it felt like the latter outweighed the former here. I agree that the combination of Otomo and Ohara Hidekazu in Cannon Fodder really was unbeatable.

06/15/05 @ 10:42
neilworms [Visitor]

I guess the cruxt of this conversation is that sometiems it takes a smaller project to get the best out of an artist. Look at Kawajiri and Rintaro with Manie Manie, their work in that anthology is by far the best work I’ve seen from both of those directors.

06/15/05 @ 11:40
Seiko [Visitor]

You should see Steamboy memorial box.
Bonus disk 2 explains who did it.
You can see so many famous key animator’s work.

06/15/05 @ 21:45
Ben [Visitor]

I’ve GOT to see this. There are so many interesting animators in there. It’d be great to see them in action. And to figure out what parts they did.

06/16/05 @ 11:32