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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

11:09:38 pm , 1685 words, 2674 views     Categories: Animation

Money Makes the World Go Round

Episode 8: Counterfeit Money Makes the World Go RoundToday my Goku no Daiboken DVD box arrived, and I've already watched the long-lost episode, which was essentially the only reason I purchased the thing. Aside from that, the surprise was the incredible richness of the liner notes, which go into great detail about the production system. I'd long wondered what exactly this "Art Fresh" studio that Gisaburo founded was exactly, and at least in the case of the time during which Goku was in production it consisted of one of the ten rooms of an abandoned kindergarten that was purchased by Mushi Pro to serve as Mushi Productions Studio No 5 where Goku was produced. It was re-abandoned afterwards. Next to the Art Fresh room was the room for "Onishi Productions", and next to it the room for "Fantasia Productions", a studio about which I'd heard that Hata had helped found but knew (and still know) absolutely nothing about. Studio No 5, then, was essentially a collection of various small studios brought together in one place for this series, which is very unusual. An entirely different production style was invented to produce an entirely different series. There were some comments from Hata about his legendary episodes, and he comes across as decidedly humble, practically dismissing them as mere juvenalia. That's what this show was: a conduit for youthful rebellion. The desire to smash the status quo. Gisaburo's primary influence at the time was the Nouvelle Vague, and it shows. Hata's work on the series embodies that rebel-with-a-cause energy.

In particular, I was delighted to see that the animation staff were listed. I don't think they were credited on the LD box, and I'd always wondered who did what. Well, now I know that Shigeru Yamamoto and Sadao Miyamoto did the animation in many of the episodes including Hata's, so we see where the team that went on to do so much work at Sanrio Films together got introduced. One surprise was to find that Renzo Kinoshita, most famous for his indie films like Pika Don and for founding the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, was involved as well. He seems to have been at Mushi Pro right from the beginning with Atom. Another surprise was to find that Sadao Tsukioka had been impressed by Gisaburo's intent and joined the show to help out. And how was he involved? How else: animating episodes singlehandedly. It was nice to disover that one of my favorite eps, 12, was animated entirely by him. Episode 21 was 100% Tsukioka: story created by him, directed by him, and animated by him. That's one thing that makes this show unique: early on Gisaburo threw most of the scripts he'd gotten from the scriptwriters in the trash, and had the animators come up with the stories themselves. When the direction of the show changed, that policy changed too, and Tezuka himself came in and supervised the scripts to make sure they made perfect sense, in the process sapping the show of its vitality.

One thing that attracted me so much to Dezaki's ep 4 in the show was the ferocious cynicism on display in the ep, for example the way he used a loop of animation to show the corpses of legions of minions being carted off into the distance after their usefulness to the boss had run its course. Human bodies are a limitless resource. A Vietnam reference in the episode is dropped as casually as the corpses pile up on the sidelines. Even the dead come back to life when they catch wind of a rumor of treasure in a faraway land called Japan. The ep is essentially an attack on the greed of nations, but what makes it effective satire is that it doesn't try to convince using logic. It leaps and cuts all over the place, breaking every rule it can get its hands on. This was apparently a style of filmmaking that ran counter to what Dezaki really wanted to do, and you can see what he really wanted to do, namely more traditional storytelling, in the other episodes, which simply don't fit into what this show was supposed to be about. It's a shame, because the Dezaki of ep 4 never really showed up again afterwards, and the ep hasn't lost any of its power after all these years, nor has anyone else tried to do this sort of thing since. The station triumphantly gloated when Golden Bat smashed the show over the head by cutting its amazing 30% first-season ratings in half, and things were smooth sailing on the airwaves from then on out. Gisaburo essentially stopped bothering after the first season.

What was supposed to be episode 8 got completely produced but was never shown on the air, which is fairly unusual if not unprecedented in anime. Usually things are halted at an earlier stage if something is deemed problematic. Thanks to the detective work of the producers of this box, we get to see that Dezaki had in fact gone the next step after ep 4, an ep that incidentally was very well recieved by fellow industry folks. This time he tried to take it to the next level with what he'd done in the earlier ep, and though I found the earlier ep more satisfying, this one is equally unhinged. Afterwards he gave up on this approach, so this ep provides an invaluable look into this facet of his early work. As before, what story there is is merely a coathanger for a series of cynical gags, like ambulances running over the killers on their way to save the other killers, but the death aspect is emphasized even more here. Various competing groups including the mafia, an african dictator and the Shinsengumi battle it out over counterfeit money. One character inexplicably blows himself up or is blown up repeatedly throughout the episode only to reapper a moment later in exactly the same guise, ad infinitum. What is meant by the character is totally open to interpretation, and like all great art the creator may not even know what he meant by it, but it takes on an interesting meaning seen today. After the counterfeiters are defeated, one quick shot near the end shows them starting all over again. The final shot has the ubiquitous man in the sunglasses grinning as he shoots himself in the head. The more things change...

There was some Muraki Circus in Eureka 7 32, this time with light beams. On looking over the show I noticed that Seiichi Hashimoto was involved heavily early on but did less and less and he hasn't appeared much lately. He was here, and I got the same vague impression of a slightly higher quality of touch with the characters that I got whenever he was in Planetes, particularly the scene in the hangar. The three shots where Renton runs towards Eureka were also interesting. The first shot was a short close-up with delicately observed leg movement in 1s, and in the next two Eureka walks in 3s while Renton runs in 2s on the same screen, which suits their respective speeds. I suppose the animator would have come up with the idea to do that. Seemed an unusually thought-out thing to do. Short sequence but nice effect. I also get the vague impression that more effort was put into the characters early on while lately there's been a lot more effort put into the mecha. Oh, and it's amusing to note the curiously high Hashimoto density rate in the show. Practically the only Hashimoto missing is my favorite, Shinji. Which I don't mind at all. This is definitely not his kind of material.

I got my Junkers DVD out of storage to watch Iso's scene again, which I haven't seen in a long time, and also just to enjoy the film, which has a lot of very nice work, even by Ohira, albeit less than one would have hoped considering how deeply he was involved in the initial stages of the project. Supposedly the ending animation was to have been a larger sequence than the two small bits that are currently there, but for whatever reason Ohira never got through with the sequence, despite having 6 months to do it, and those little pieces were all that wound up seeing the light of day. I'm curious whether it was because his enthusiasm for the whole thing had been dampened, but most of all I'd be curious to know/see how much of it he had completed. Ohira's style changed dramatically after he came back to anime several years after this, so it would offer the chance to see what would essentially be the culmination of the first half of his career.

Looking over the credits now I recognize most of the names except a handful, which jives with what I've heard about three other famous animators having used pen names in the film. Sakayori Takateru 逆寄隆輝 is definitely fake (Lain 6). Ditto for Shiono Kaji 塩野櫂 (Yawara 14). A little investigation suggests that the last one is probably Konoe Mamoru 近衛真守, which as far as I can tell may be the pen name of Habara Nobuyoshi 羽原信義. Episode 14 of Nadesico was directed/storyboarded by Habara; Konoe helped on structure and was AD; and animation was by two people: Kazuo Komatsubara and Habara. This would have been about a year after Junkers. Konoe/Habara animated the part in Junkers where Hiromi scares Junkers. This was supposed to have been done by Shinji Hashimoto, who did the surrounding scene, but he didn't have enough time to get around to it. One of the scenes I've always wondered about is the part where Hiromi is running in the snow. I wonder if this might not be one of the nickname parts. It kind of feels like Hideki Hamasu, or maybe Takeshi Honda.

It looks like the official announcement is not far off, so it's probably OK to mention now that the old rumours appear to have been true that a Yasutaka Tsutsui double-feature was in the works at Madhouse. The "other director", guess who, will apparently be doing Tsusui's hit juvenile story Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, or The Girl who Could Control Time.

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13 comments

Stephen Poon
Stephen Poon [Visitor]

This is unrelated to this post, but I remember you mentioning something about a new animated movie coming out in Japan, あらしのよるに (Stormy Night), and posted a short clip. I’ve found a trailer up on Apple’s Japanese site, which can be found here if you haven’t seen it yet:

http://www.apple.com/jp/quicktime/trailers/toho/stormy_night_large2.html

12/05/05 @ 12:56
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

It’s related in a sense, since the film’s by Gisaburo. Comes out next Saturday. I’ll keep an eye out for reactions.

12/05/05 @ 16:10
Harrold
Harrold [Visitor]

I just recently managed to see the junkers pilot for the first time, and I was blown away by pretty much all the animation in it. A lot of the work in the main film seems ordinary and simplisitc when compared, (not Iso’s scene of course!) Theres so much movement, and much of it is not needed to convey the the function of the shot, but just enriches the experience incredibly. And the designs seem far more refined than the majority of anime.

I’ve tried to work out from my own minimal knowledge and from your site who did what in the pilot. I couldn’t find any mention of what Ohira actually animated himself but the cut towards the end of hiromi in closeup floating and holding on to junkers paw is presumably by him? In frame by frame play back you can see individual hairs being animated!! This kind of nuance of detail is incredible.

Perhaps I’m going overboard but the animation really feels alive. Did Iso work on the pilot? And who animated Hiromi running after junkers, coming to a halt and then sitting down due to tiredness. The movement there is fantastic, to use another word of praise.

You say it took Ohira and team (how big was this) six months to do these 3 mins?

12/06/05 @ 10:00
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Thanks for the astute comments. I’m still amazed by the pilot whenever I rewatch it. I don’t think you’re going overboard at all. The animation still really does have an incredible impact that the film does not except in a few instances - not surprisingly, those instances are mostly the scenes done by the people who worked on the pilot.

Your comments mirror a lot what I felt about the pilot when I saw it for the first time - how I loved the part where Hiromi was running in particular, and wondered who did it. I was also amazed by the density of the animation elsewhere, particularly the shot of Junkers yawning and the ending with Hiromi floating up on the bubbles, which is of awe-inspiring density.

Anyway, here’s the breakdown of who animated what in the film, shot by shot. I’ve been meaning to post this for a long time.

1: Manabu Ohashi
2: Manabu Ohashi
3: Osamu Tanabe
4: Osamu Tanabe
5: Osamu Tanabe
6: Shinji Hashimoto
7: Shinji Hashimoto
8: Shinji Hashimoto
9: Manabu Ohashi
10: Manabu Ohashi
11: Osamu Tanabe
12: Akihiro Yuki
13: Akihiro Yuki
14: Akihiro Yuki
15: Akihiro Yuki

In short, Manabu Ohashi did the yawning, Osamu Tanabe did the running, Shinji Hashimoto did the tailing, and Akihiro Yuki did the floating. :) When I first saw the pilot the only sequence I was able to correlate to an animator was Hashimoto’s, though each scene is quite unique in touch. Tanabe’s is probably the most delicious, though Hashimoto’s is not far behind.

Yes, it took them six months. By that calculation, it would have taken them 15 years to make the film! (Of course, that’s exaggerating, because there would have been more people for the film, so I think it was short-sighted and misguided to remove him from the job for that reason. It might have taken slightly longer, but I’m sure he could have gotten it done in reasonable time.)

One thing I find interesting is the difference between the work Ohashi did in the pilot and in the film. It indicates his incredible flexibility as an animator. In the pilot he created traditional animation of great density and sensitivity, while in the film he created the much more artistic and impressionistic animation of the cityscape flying past at the end.

Your comment “much of it is not needed to convey the the function of the shot” is quite perceptive, because if you compare the storyboard with the final animation, you’ll see that Jun’ichi Sato goes into a fair amount of detail but the animators really add a huge amount not present.

So obviously, Iso did not work on the pilot, and Ohira didn’t do any actual animation. He was the character designer and animation director. As the animation director, it’s likely that he touched up most of the animation in the pilot, so though he didn’t do any actual animation he’s probably more or less present in most of the animation.

I think it’s a pilot that merits a lot of enthusiasm, and I personally find it tremendously sad that there hasn’t even been a single full-length animated feature in the last decade that at least made an attempt to do what the pilot did.

12/06/05 @ 15:56
Harrold
Harrold [Visitor]

Do you think Ohira would ever go independent? Or migrate towards the directors chair again?

It’s fortunate we have Yuasa in such a position now! Did he utilise Ohira in Mind Game, I read somewhere that Ohira worked on it but wasn’t credited, but the person who wrote this seemed to be crediting other things to Ohira that he hadn’t done.

And another off topic point about Ohira, I recently rewatched his FLCL 2 work and was a little dissapointed by his surrounding animation to the close up shot (apart from the 2 cats playing). It seems like he had little time to put in all the movement in he wanted compared to the close up. But then maybe it enhances the impact of the close up that way.

The closeup itself is… well I don’t know what to say, when I first saw it, I found it so lifelike I thought it was rotoscope, the movement is so real, but it’s more fluid than any normal rotoscope I’ve seen and the drawing borders on the abstract in places. It’s great. I don’t know what you think about it, I’m amazed but confused by it myself.

12/08/05 @ 09:55
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Not being Ohira, I can’t say whether Ohira will ever go independent, but he himself has indeed said that he is somewhat interested in making independent films of that kind, so it would appear not to be out of the question. I suppose it’s a question of having the time and money to do it. For now he gets to do quite a lot of work within the system, and gets to do it fairly close to how he wants, so in a way I’d think he might be better off right now - actually getting paid well to do what he does best. But I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve long wanted to see him make some short indie films entirely on his own, outside of the industry, so that he could create an entire film suited to his style and didn’t have to cohabit films otherwise animated in a way not at all suited to his own style.

As for whether he’ll migrate to the director’s chair, the fact that he’s currently working on his first directing job since Hamaji’s Resurrection ten years ago - Wanwa - might mean more directing from Ohira from now on, but who knows. I think it’s a question of finding a project someone would let him do. As much as I love his animation, I’ve found it hard that he hasn’t been able to create more of the incredibly powerful drama he proved he was capable of creating in Hamaji. Though if his animation is any evidence, he’s certainly evolved in interesting directions in the intervening years and may have different priorities now. There’s a trend for animators eventually to move to directing, so perhaps Ohira will go that way. If I remember correctly, Ohira himself mentioned in an interview that at this point in his career he already knows what he wants to do, but the labor of transferring it to paper is the most tedious part. Directing would seem to be the logical next step.

I made a comment a while back to the effect that the bit where Nishi rockets up out of the whale kinda sorta looked like it might be Ohira, and wondered if perhaps he might not have done it as a sort of friendly cameo for Yuasa… that’s all I said. I didn’t say that yes, definitely, it was Ohira.

Anyway, as for Ohira’s part in FLCL 2 (you had written Junkers 2, but I assume you meant FLCL 2), I actually agree with your assessment. When I first saw it I was frankly a little put off because I didn’t think the part preceding the shot of the two cats showed Ohira’s work in the best light. I personally love his drawings, but I thought they were striving for shock effect a little too blatantly.

Still, I do like the animation of the people. It’s very limited, but I get the feeling it’s just a question of those shots not requiring more movement than that. With just a few drawings he manages to achieve a realistic effect. But I agree it feels like it’s missing… something.

As for the cats (if that’s what you’re referring to as the “closeup"), I’ve rewatched this shot so many times… I even copied out a portion of the sequence frame by frame for fun one day to try to figure out how he got that kitten moving the way he did. It’s quite amazing if you look at it one frame at a time. Each drawing is completely different but has a wonderful flavor on its own that you don’t notice while watching the film. Doing that certainly gave me a greater appreciation of the effort that went into the work. It’s in 3s, and it’s through-conceived in the best Mitsuo Iso tradition. I don’t know whether any of those frames are inbetweens, but I get the feeling they’re not. That would make it a classic instance of “full limited". If I recall, Ohira’s work in the other FLCL episode was more typical of Ohira in that it was in full animation.

Amazed but confused is the perfect phrase to express what makes this shot interesting. I like it, but WTF? It gives you that sort of impression when you first see it. How the heck does he come up with that sort of movement? It’s realistic yet cartoonish, full of deformations yet somehow feels physically accurate in the final movement. It’s kind of similar to that breakdancing in Ghiblies 2, with all those wild unexpected transformations.

Right now the question is… what’s he got cooking in Wanwa? I have no idea what it’s going to be like. The mismatch of that excruciatingly cute title with of all people Ohira is just too delicious. First kittens, now puppies?

12/08/05 @ 16:38
Manuloz
Manuloz [Visitor]

arf! you already mentionned that there was another Tsutsui film in the works at Madhouse ^^’

But is there some rumor about who will be AD on these 2 movies?

12/08/05 @ 23:27
Harrold
Harrold [Visitor]

Sorry I did mean FLCL 2 and not Junkers, I don’t know why the hell I wrote that?

But I didn’t know you had said you thought a bit in Mind Game might be Ohira, I remember where it was I read it now it’s from a readers review on amazon for the Hakkenden box set. The reviewer also says Ohira worked on Samurai Champloo Episodes 14 and 21.

As for the close up shot, I didn’t actually mean the cats, which is truly brilliant and confusing and like you say has that flavour of Ghiblies 2 (thanks for your comments on it), but rather the shot of Naota reacting to something offscreen. This is Ohira as well yes? It’s seems jarring compared to the surrounding shots, like it’s too real?

Maybe I’ve gone mad though, from looking at too much of his work.

Thanks again for the Junkers information, is Ohira’s credit in the main film as original character design just related to his work on the pilot?

12/09/05 @ 02:06
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Manuloz:

Sadamoto Yoshiyuki is definitely go for Hosoda’s Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo. Frankly I’m more excited about Nizo Yamamoto being onboard as the art director. The character design/AD of Kon’s Paprika is going to be Masashi Ando, the music is going to be by Susumu Hirasawa, and the screenplay is going to be co-written by Mizukami Kiyoshi. Basically the PA staff all over again.

You can’t imagine how delighted I am having not just Kon but even Hosoda making a Tsutsui film. Though honestly I wish they’d picked a less juvenile story for Hosoda’s film. He’s written so many other great books. (though to be fair, I haven’t read it either)

Harrold:

The part in Samurai Champloo episodes 14 and 21 that person was referring to was done by Nobutaka Ito, the person who animated the escape sequence surrounding the mystery shot in Mind Game.

The closeup shot in FLCL 2 was indeed Ohira as well. I love the way he builds up tension with stills up until that shot and then, wham, suddenly lets it all loose in that wonderful reaction shot. As for it being jarring, well, the whole sequence is jarring… I think that was the point, for some reason. Ohira is just being himself.

Watching too much Ohira all at once can definitely skew your view of animation…

It’s just as you say for Ohira’s credit on the Junkers film. Komatsubara tried to retain certain aspects of Ohira’s original design in the film design (the hairstyle, the clothes), but otherwise it seems fair to say that the film designs are entirely Komatsubara’s. Ohira had also drawn some intriguing designs before the pilot that are different from those used in the pilot. They’re much more cartoony, with Hiromi’s expression very free and loose, and they’re quite far from the image one would normally have of Ohira, but they’re truly wonderful and make me wish the film had been made with those designs.

12/09/05 @ 10:22
Manuloz
Manuloz [Visitor]

Thx, I have seen all the credits now that they are all other the net.

As an Gainax fan… surely I’m happy to know Sadamoto is onboard, it’s good opportunity for him to do something different,and ultimately to work with Hosada.
As for Hosada, he shows us again that he chooses his staff with great care, chara designer from “Gainax” and art director from “Ghibli” … hope it will turn out truely good.

With all those movie produce, like 2 from Madhouse, 2 from Gonzo… what’s about Gainax, hope they will made that Aoki Uru movie.
Last year there was also rumors about a new Okiura movie at IG… w&s

12/09/05 @ 10:57
Benjamin Sanders
Benjamin Sanders [Visitor]

Where have you managed to see Ohira’s design work for Junkers? I’d love to be able to see some of the actual drawings these animators you mention like Hashimoto, Iso etc. do, keys, character designs. Especially Ohira’s unused work for Junkers.

12/22/05 @ 14:27
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

The booklet of the Japanese DVD contains(small) scans of the early (pre-pilot) designs made by various people including Ohira. I meant to scan Ohira’s in and post it but never got around to it. Sorry about that. I’ll definitely do that when I get back home in a month. They’re worth seeing. A while back I also put together some of Iso’s keys from Evangelion into animated Flash sequences to make them easier to study frame by frame, but those are also back home. I’ll post them when I get back. It’ll be my belated Xmas present to readers. Apart from that I think the only time I’ve ever seen an actual key by Ohira was from the documentary that accompanied Animatrix. You’ll be happy to know that the makers of the upcoming book of key animation from Otogizoushi are smart and made sure to include as much of Ohira’s work on the series as they possibly could, so there will probably be a lot of Ohira’s keys in that book, which I’m really looking forward to.

12/22/05 @ 15:02
Benjamin Sanders
Benjamin Sanders [Visitor]

Well that would be splendid if you manage to put those things up for us to paw over.

Anyhow I hope you have a wonderful christmas and new year, and I look forward to the new insights into japanese animation your site will bring in the future!

12/22/05 @ 15:31