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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« Genius PartyNew season thoughts »

Monday, June 15, 2009

11:47:06 am , 1319 words, 2929 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie

Tadanari Okamoto DVD box on June 24

Why do Gobelins films move so fast? It's an overgeneralization, but I often find the actions seem too fast to me. I love their work, and the action in itself is usually amazingly lush and excitingly choreographed, but the zippy speed is the one thing that nags at me when I watch it. I guess it's not just Gobelins work, either. I remember thinking the same thing of the actions in late 2D Disney movies. I find myself thinking a lot of the animation would be much more effective if it moved 3/4 as fast. Norio Matsumoto's acton scenes seem to move half as fast (in terms of the timing) and be ten times as effective as action. Just a random thought that hit me watching their Annecy clips of recent years.

Fantastic news on the Tadanari Okamoto DVD box front - it's coming out (like, actually coming out, for real this time) on June 24, and you can pre-order it from here. I just did. I can't wait. It will have not only all of the films included on the old 2-LD Pioneer Animation Animation set, but also every one of the many films that weren't, including the engravings-based A Restaurant of Many Orders, as well as rare commercial and early films. As a big fan, I thought I had seen most of Okamoto's films already, but looking over his list of films, I realize that there are over 10 films between 10 and 20 minutes in length that I still haven't seen - to say nothing of a bunch of the shorter ones. And this incredible deal is available to you for the amazing price of only 7382 yen!! It's really too bad they didn't include English subs (I'm assuming they didn't), as I would like for the English-speaking animation community to finally get the chance to appreciate Tadanari Okamoto's body of work in a complete form, rather than just unsubbed snippets, which can't possibly convey what the fuss is all about. (although it's hard to say whether the fuss would be 100% conveyed by subs anyway) Someone should definitely fansub at least the documentary that will be included on the set, which is a reprint from the old LD set. It's a great little documentary, and it's a perfect introduction to this great animator's work method and personality, narrated and explained as it is by the man himself, often on camera showing his work methods.

My favorite film from last year was Tropical Manila, a film shot in the Philippines on a shoestring budget by wild first-time South Korean director Lee Sang-woo. It depicts the squalid life of a Korean fugitive and his kopino family living in the slumbs of Manila. I don't know whether I was more disgusted or amazed while watching the film and in the immediate aftermath, but all I know for sure is that it had the most impact on me of any film I saw that year. It was a real cinematic jolt of the kind I hadn't felt in a long time, and not just because of the lurid and gruesome images. The film is visually extremely accomplished. It's dense and masterfully shot in a way that packs its message home with an incredible wallop. A while back I read somewhere that he'd wrapped on his next film, called Politically Sexy, but the French-language Asian Cinema blog where I read the info (HKmania) now appears to be blocked as a malware site whenever I try to reach it to confirm, and I turn up zero hits in Google when searching for mention of the film, so now I'm kind of starting to wonder if it was all just a fever dream cooked up by my overeager brain... and I was really looking forward to his next film. I hope it turns out to be true.

Along with pre-ordering the Okamoto box set, I also finally bought the Genius Party Beyond DVD box set, and I intend to write my thoughts about the whole thing once I've watched it and absorbed all the amazing extras. I knew they'd include tons of extras, and I wanted to wait until I could buy the box set so as to support at least this release, even though I hardly watch or buy much anime anymore, which is why it took me so long to finally get around to watching it. I've been dying to see Wanwa, so it's been hard holding off watching the copies floating around out there.

One thing I watched recently was Violence Jack. It's not something I would recommend to anyone I like. It was interesting for the stark contrast between each of the three volumes in terms of style and production values, showing how style evolves each year in anime, and also how staff and production values can make a big difference. But otherwise it's pretty dumb and forgettable. The extreme violence and gore was mostly laughable, except for in the last volume, where the higher production values made it somewhat more squirmy. The first volume has very little of interest in terms of animation or drawings, with a very 80s style. It was co-produced by Ashi Productions. The second is more interesting in terms of the drawings than the first volume, although very little of the animation stands out. You can see a considerable evolution in terms of the style. The third volume had several excellent bits of animation, but otherwise the jump in quality of drawing wasn't as stark as it was between the first and second volume. The good bits were courtesy of Shinya Ohira and Shinsaku Kozuma, and others. There were several other good animators - Norimoto Tokura, Hirotoshi Sano, Osamu Tsuruyama, Atsushi Wakabayashi, Hirotoshi Kawamoto, Kenichi Onuki, Takashi Hashimoto, Takahiro Omori, Kazuto Nakazawa - but I haven't tried to identify their work, as it's not as patently obvious as someone like Kozuma. I doubt Kazuto Nakazawa and Takashi Hashimoto were as easily identifiable (or skilled for that matter) back then as they are now anyway.

The part that most stood out to me was the opening chase, which I immediately thought was the work of Kozuma. It has an excellent and very peculiar sense of timing and form, and even looked at today is fun and exciting to watch, unlike the rest of the animation in the entire series. Ohira supposedly did the final bit where the boss gets his legs cut off with a thrown knife as he's speeding away on his motorcycle, although I wasn't able to identify it myself. I had information that he did that part. After I looked at it knowing that it was supposedly done by him, I could sort of identify the way of drawing humans as being similar to the style he had in the Curio Shop short he did. It also had a lush, dynamic, rich feeling that set it apart. That feeling lasts only three or four shots, which is typical of his dense work of this period. Ohira was also in the second episode, but I couldn't identify what part he might have done. The episodes date from 1986, 1988 and 1990, respectively, so the second episode would have been around the time he was in his Akira/Captain Future crazy-detailed effects phase, and I don't see anything like that in the second episode (maybe I missed it - help here?). I would like to say that the show is worth re-visiting, but other than these standout pieces of animation, there wasn't much that was interesting in terms of the directing and story. In fact, the directing and story were mostly just shoddy and cliched. The films certainly represent the preoccupations of the period. You can sense that the creators were really indulging in the freedom to do things like depict sex and violence offered by the OVA format, which was new and refreshing and edgy to them at the time.



Random person
Random person [Visitor]  

Of all the days to pick a release… I’ve become incredibly limited in my animation-watching these days, but dearly wish I could check out his oeuvre as opposed to snippets like you mentioned. I’d volunteer to help subtitle the documentary, but then I’m not exactly translator-quality in my language skills to put it lightly. Unbelievable price considering it’s Japan!

I swear I thought you had mentioned Tropical Manila before, but not on the blog, it turns out - probably on the forum or something. I’ve been keen on watching that too because the entire thing sounds so crazy.

Keen to know what you think of Genius Party Beyond, of course. At least this one was entirely worth it, although I can’t say it was something I personally enjoyed from start to finish - but once I can, I’m plonking down for it.

And it might be early but here’s to another year of Ben.

06/15/09 @ 17:15
Ben [Member]  

Haha, it’s a hint from above that you need to self-gift yourself a nice DVD box this year. It’s true, though; it’s a pretty good bargain for a Japanese set. There is more than 7 hours of material on there, after all. (to say nothing of the intrinsic quality of the stuff)

You remember correctly - I did mention Tropical Manila before. I was just excited to hear that he’s working on a new film, and wanted to convey the Good News to the world at large. I’d be very curious to know your impression of the film. Unfortunately it seems unlikely to get screened anywhere.

It’ll take me a good while to go through the Genius Party box set, as there is quite a bit of material there. There must be a good 3-to-1 ratio of extras to feature. Studio 4C have really outdone themselves this time. I’m particularly happy about those two big ekonte books. Just wish they were in color. (I’m curious to hear your opinion in more depth once I’ve watched the set.)

Thank you very much, RP. Amazing to think that yet another year has gone by. Hopefully I’ll have more to say in the coming months than I have recently.

06/15/09 @ 23:44
Leedar [Visitor]  

Personally, I think Norio Matsumoto isn’t the best example of an animator with more relaxed timing.

And no, I am not going to suggest someone else. :-P

06/16/09 @ 07:25
Jordan S.
Jordan S. [Visitor]  

I’d always presumed that Gobelins films had to move so fast to do anything at all in such limited time and I’ve never minded them for that. On the other hand, I’d be first to complain at such lack of restraint in a feature film: it’s at least one of the main reasons I rate Selick’s Coraline so lowly (though with that it wasn’t that the animation was too fast but that the shots were too numerous, the cutting between them too frequent, and with so much happening in any one of them I found it impossible for the most part to catch more than a half-second glimpse of continuous animation) and why I adore the direction of Michel Ocelot and, to a lesser extent, René Laloux (as he takes things rather too slowly even for me). For me, skilled animation is worthless if one needs to slow the footage down to frame-by-frame in order to see it and even relatively amateurish and flawed animation can be enjoyed just for being animation if the direction allows the viewer to observe it with some real attention.

Being a New Animation Animation release, it’s not out of the question that it will have English subtitles (their releases of Kawamoto Kihachirô and Yamamura Kôji’s
oeuvres do, for some of the films at least) but it’s not certain either (there weren’t as many films to sub with those, for one thing). And, anyway, as much I’d love to see these, I still have numerous discs of short films that I’m only part-way through: I still haven’t seen all of Yamamura’s or even Ocelot’s.

06/16/09 @ 11:21
Ben [Member]  

Jordan - I understand the need to cram as much as possible into one minute. I’m amazed at how they’re able to make what feels like miniature films the way they do, layering so much detail into each and every shot and achieving a laboriously honed balance in terms of the overall development. I guess, really, my complaint is that I’d like to see them make a film in which they didn’t feel they had to put everything on fast-forward, so that I could actually see what’s happening for once. I feel the skilled animation on display in the films is somewhat wasted by being sped up excessively. Or maybe I’m just getting old and these tired eyes can’t keep up with animation anymore. I haven’t seen Coraline, but I agree with the comparison. Actually, what I’m trying to get at goes beyond merely the short Gobelins films, which obviously have to move fast because they’re so short. It’s not about speeding up things to cram it into a short span. I’ve always felt that there’s a mindset that seems to pervade western animation whereby things always have to be moving at an extremely fast pace for some reason (even feature-length animation). I’ve always had difficulty appreciating that style of animation. It’s a bit of a conundrum to me, because the actions in western animation can be so much richer and more worked than the actions in Japanese animation, yet often I find they have less impact because they have this sense of timing where things seem to zip, zip from one pose to the next, rather than flowing naturally. I brought up Matsumoto simply because he is one of the (numerous) examples of Japanese animators who manage to invest his actions with rich nuance with a slightly slower timing lacking in that zippy sensibility.

06/16/09 @ 11:40
Leedar [Visitor]  

While Japanese animators work in a more naturalistic manner, this doesn’t preclude a sort of ‘zippiness’. It’s not the same as Western animation, but there is a lot of minimising of inbetween poses in Japan as well.

I suppose the difference is, J-animators are often implying something by the absence (e.g. the cliche sword slash is ‘cooler’ than a fully enunciated one), while Westerners are emphasising the poses. Actually cutting the inbetweens would remove ‘believability’, though, so they stay, but are rushed past.

06/18/09 @ 01:07
vitalik [Visitor]  

Hello respected Ben. You in lists of works of Karisuma Animators could not add their new projects? Thanks. sorry my english

06/20/09 @ 12:18