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For a while I decided to stop writing posts about awesome anime people who died because I was getting a little depressed, and there were too many to keep up, but Moribi Murano died yesterday and I just want to say a small word in homage.
I saw a neglected Madhouse film from 1982 entitled Wandering Clouds (浮浪雲 Haguregumo) a few days ago, a film I'd been wanting to see for a long time. The high point of the film was a special scene near the end of the film done in a different style. It's one of the most stylish and affecting sequences I've seen in anime.
Historical figure Sakamoto Ryoma plays a significant role in the film, befriending the protagonist boy. Sakamoto Ryoma helped bring Japan into the modern world, but his efforts earned him the enmity of the shogunate, and in 1867 he was assassinated at an inn in Kyoto while having dinner with a friend. The scene in question depicts his assassination.
This is how the scene goes:
The boy runs across town frantically, arrives home, runs to his mother and, sobbing, announces that his beloved mentor Sakamoto Ryoma has been assassinated. Fade to black. Red leaves blow across the screen. The style is sketchy, the only color is red against the black background. Dimly lit figures are revealed by a faint touch of red light shining on the shoulder and across half of the face. They begin running, to a horrible grating, scraping sound. They enter an inn, kill the innkeeper who appears at the door, and rush into the building, where they find Sakamoto Ryoma and his associate. Sakamoto Ryoma barely has time to draw his sword before he's cut down. They slash him dozens of time to make sure the job is done.
From the unsettling animation, which shifts between extreme stillness to extremely fast movement, to the use of only blood red coloring, to the grating sounds that scrape at your ears, it's a jarring and unexpected but totally convincing and powerful scene that does the material justice. It's all the more powerful because it's so different from the style of the rest of the film. It's one of the most stylish sequences of samurai action I've seen. It's quintessential anime in that it achieves its effect through artistic styling rather than detailed animation.
The scene was directed by Moribi Murano and animated by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. I can't claim to have seen much of Moribi Murano's work as an animator, but this is undoubtedly one of his most impressive contributions in animation and deserves to be seen by fans. He was more than a manga-ka. What little work he did in animation is almost all unique and creative. This scene and Unico on the Magic Island are classic examples of anime - nay, animation - at its best.
Moribi Murano was specially appointed to direct the sequence by Madhouse producer Masao Maruyama, who knew Moribi would bring the right tone and style to the scene. Though nowadays more known for his manga of a very different sort like Hoero Bunbun, Moribi began his career in animation and was one of the main figures behind the gekiga-styled 1968 adaptation of Shotaro Ishinomori's Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae, a seminal series that was one of the first narrative anime expressly intended for a more mature audience. Moribi's scene in Wandering Clouds could be said to be something of an encore, a modern updating, of the style of Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae.
Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae was arguably one of the seminal shows behind the anime aesthetic, in the sense that it compensated for the lack of movement with shortcuts like every one else, but it did so with much more creativity and artistic flair. It made an art out of the stillness inherent in limited animation, consciously and deliberately using stillness as an expressive tool. In a way it was the birth of the Madhouse style, which champions artistic and idiosyncratic directing and more mature and sophisticated animated storytelling. Working alongside Moribi were Rintaro and Mamoru Masaki. Mamoru Masaki directed Wandering Clouds and wrote the classic Madhouse flick Dagger of Kamui, which Rintaro directed and Moribi designed. Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae is one of Moribi's less well-known works, but also one of his most impressive and historic.
I'd noticed a few months ago that Moribi's web site was no longer up and wondered what was going on. Supposedly he had been hospitalized since January. It's a shame it's gone, because it had a lot of nice samples of his manga and things. I was kind of hoping that he was secretly working on some personal project all this time, as suggested by a tantalizing concept image on his site, but I guess not. I've never had the chance to actually read any of his manga. I'd like to rectify that.