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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Saturday, July 23, 2005

02:00:09 pm , 1099 words, 2445 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Omatsuri Danshaku to Himitsu no Shima

Haruomi Hosono's grandfather was apparently the only Japanese person on the Titanic. He mentions this in an interview in the mook. Fascinating connection.

Ah, what a great ride Mamoru Hosoda's first full-length feature was. One of those films where you just can't wipe the smile off your face while you're watching, and you want to rewatch soon afterwards. It's the most fun I've had watching a feature animated film in a while. Everything combines perfectly. The backgrounds are very impressive, the coloring is incredibly nuanced and gives the film such a feeling of spatial depth and richness. And most of all, the animation and directing are absolutely brilliant and a sheer delight from start to finish. You know that Hosoda's in control from the opening shots, and not for a moment does that control feel like it flags. The material may have its limits, but Hosoda's directing and the animation easily make up for that. It's a model example of how good directing and quality production can turn anything into something interesting that overcomes any problems in the source material. Just as Hosoda has always done, he turns the material into his own creation by modifying the contours rather than the actual material. In other words, the film is enjoyable to both people who care about the franchise and to people who don't.

The way the animation throughout was constantly interesting was one of the ways it reminded me of Mind Game, though here it was much fuller throughout in following with Toei's style. Otherwise it shared a lot of the feeling of the animation in Mind Game in terms of the wonderful freedom and exaggeration that you could see in almost every shot. The drawings were always interesting, and the animation full of attention to the creation of just the kind of movement that I most want to see in animation - movement that feels good. Among the more prominent cases of overlap is Ito Nobutake, who was listed quite high, perhaps second, I don't remember. I mentioned all the other incredible names. I was able to spot only a few, however, but the animation was all so interesting that for the most part I didn't care who did what. I think I spotted a bit of Matsumoto smoke, Hisashi Mori near the climax, maybe Yo Yoshinari, but that's about it. Watching this I realized what it was about the animation in Howl that left me less than excited. For a Toei production, there was a surprising degree of wildness and tension in the animation, whereas things seem to have gotten so homogenous in Ghibli's animation in recent years that it's lost a lot of excitement for me. In Ghibli's film the only places that I found exciting as animation were Shinya Ohira's and Shinji Otsuka's. Everything else seemed to be moving for the sake of moving, rather than for the sake of being interesting. In Hosoda's film most of the movement that there was was interesting, and it was combined with the directing to create an irresistible effect only Miyazaki comes near to being able to achieve.

Hosoda's style is, of course, about as far as you can possibly get from the latter, full of oddly humorous symmetries in the cutting and framing that he must have had tremendous fun coming up with. Yet they don't end in mere indulgence. The directing carries the film, while the animation fills it out, which is the ideal balance for an animated film. The film is excellently balanced dramatically, flowing from yang to yin almost imperceptibly over the length of the film as the situation changes, creating an incredibly satisfying experience, fun and hilarious in the first half and emotionally wrenching in the second. The different pieces of the film don't feel like pieces; it all comes together like one continuous flow. He continuously jumps between different characters' points of view just as masterfully as he did in Children's War Game to play out the different threads that eventually converge into the weighty finale. It was a relief and a delight to see that Hosoda had neither toned down his stylistic idiosyncracies nor been overwhelmed by the task of creating a full length film. If anything he's expanded his palette. The film feels effortless. It works as an accessible film and is unmistakably Hosoda, moreso even than any of his previous films.

Ironic then that Hosoda wasn't even present at the talk after the premiere, which was included on the DVD. Only the voice-actors were there, which seems very indicative of Toei's current priorities as a company, and their general attitude towards their 'product'. Honestly what I felt when I heard that Hosoda was moving to Madhouse (I don't know if he's freelance or what) to make a film was: "It's about time". It seemed obvious from the variety of projects he was involved in over the last few years that he'd have to find some other company to be able to make the sort of films he was obviously capable of and wanting to make. His first attempt to do something outside of Toei turned out badly because that studio apparently has an image to uphold or something (even though people who saw his storyboard said it was brilliant), but hopefully things will go better from here on out. At least at Toei he got to make films. There he was able to create a number of pure Hosoda gems over the last few years, capped by this one, so it wasn't all bad. It's a fitting end to an era. From here on out can we hope for even better Hosoda? I hope so, and am already looking forward to next summer's film.

An interesting thing I noticed was that there were only seven inbetweeners for the film, compared to about fifty key animators. I've never seen anything like that before. That's a very small number of inbetweeners. Usually the inbetweeners far outnumber the key animators. And Toei is notorious for its short schedules, so I'm not quite sure how they did it. Considering how active it was I was expecting lots of inbetweeners. Instead, lots of key animators. Perhaps that's what accounts for the high quality of most of the movement throughout the film. Curiously that's exactly what I dislike about most of Madhouse's films - lots of Korean inbetweens to fill out the movement, which just makes it more fluid without making it any more interesting, though that apparently is good enough for most people. I hope Mamo doesn't succumb to that style of doing things.



Josh [Visitor]

You put perfectly into words what’s always bothered me about Madhouse’s work. I was actually kinda worried when you announced that Hosada was heading there - their animation just feels so empty most of the time that I’d even rather see him end up with the Appleseed studio, since I doubt Ghibli would give him another chance. Their loss.

Probably the first question I have is, is this movie enjoyable for people who don’t know anything at all, good or bad, about the One Piece franchise? Is it like Castle of Cagliostro, where you can enjoy it fine as a stand-alone film, or is it like Beautiful Dreamer, where it helps quite a bit to be familiar with the basic storyline and character interactions? Judging by his Digimon films I’m guessing the former, but it would still be nice to know, in case I have to scour the net for fansubs of the first couple episodes.

And damn, Hosada had a completed storyboard for Howl’s? That makes me even more disappointed in the final version, and I didn’t think that was possible. Has there been any official reason why he got kicked off the project, or is Miyazaki just a control freak?

Anyways, I am very excited about this film, hopefully it’ll hit the fansub circuit soon. I don’t want to have to wait for whichever American company has the rights to the franchise to release it in god knows how many years it’ll take for them to get caught up in the series.

07/23/05 @ 17:40
Ben [Visitor]

Everyone involved was strategically tight-lipped about the whole debacle, so I don’t think there even was an official reason, which is pretty strange. You’d think they could have said something at least. But it seems pretty obvious it’s what you said. Artistic differences. Honestly I think they shot themselves in the foot by doing that, since they’re supposed to be looking for new faces to take over Ghibli and all.

From what I’ve heard he had completed about a third of the storyboard, or maybe half, I don’t remember for sure. I’d love to see it if Ghibli didn’t burn it or something, but I doubt that’s going to happen.

I haven’t seen a single episode of One Piece and was able to thoroughly enjoy the film, so I’d say it’s not necessary to do any sort of homework heading into the film, but admittedly, the film does not go to the length of explaining the very basics of the story - such as who these people are or why they are travelling on a boat - so inevitably it can’t escape completely from being one piece (sorry) of a franchise. I suppose it can be said to work as a stand-alone to the same degree that his second Digimon films does. Without explaining the background, the story is presented in such a way as to form a coherent and self-contained unit of drama.

07/23/05 @ 19:10
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

I agree that I’d like to see it on the fansub circuit soon. Seeing that Ben has watched it, I presume it’s out on DVD..

I also agree that Madhouse has that problem. Unless the director can pick most of his animators (like in Paranoia Agent) you’re not necessarily likely to get that well animated stuff…

I wonder if Hosoda will ever go into TV series? All I know is that so far he’s doing oriignal character designs for this upcoming Toei thingy called Ikinari Happy Bell.

(I’m hoping he does something because again there isn’t much to look forward to in the near future… There’s Satelite’s next project with somewhat unusual character designs by Takahiro Kishida, a Madhouse one directed by Sunao Katabuchi, Dai Sato’s project with Manglobe called Ergo Proxy, ….)

07/23/05 @ 19:51
Josh [Visitor]

Yeah, I definitely agree about how Ghibli screwed themselves over. In my opinion, Hosoda was the perfect person to take over the studio - I like both Momose and Morita, but they’e alternately too experimental/commercial to recapture the Ghibli magic of old, while Hosoda seems to completely embody it.

07/23/05 @ 22:18
neilworms [Visitor]

Momose and Hosada instead of Takahata and Miyazaki, how does that sound?

Takahta being the more experimental artist and Miyazaki the crowd pleaser that still has some degree of artistic integraty. (even if howls was a disappointment)

07/23/05 @ 22:27
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

By the way… sorry to be off-topic, but would you happen to have a Japanese credit list (in particular, animators) for Spring and Chaos?

And about Ghibli replacements, I remember someone who thought Kawamori would be a good choice… okay.

07/27/05 @ 04:30
Ben [Visitor]

This is so classic. For the US release they translated all of the credits quite nicely - but they left out just the animators. I love it. Quintissential example of what I was saying way back when. Unfortunately I sold my Japanese LD long ago, and I don’t see a list anywhere, so I can’t help you. I think Norio Matsumoto did the part where Toshi and Kenji are talking by the window.

07/27/05 @ 09:35
Ben [Visitor]

> Ikinari Happy Bell

This raised an eyebrow, so I looked into it. It’s actually Mamoru Yokota.

07/28/05 @ 16:21
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Whoops. Sorry. Guess there isnt much news on what he’ll be doing next then, besides the fact that he’s at Madhouse. I suppose he’ll stick to films…

07/29/05 @ 08:09
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Hm, a copy of the movie appeared somewhere, but it’s wrong, it’s only 1 mb big or so..

…again offtopic, but here’s some light humour with Yoshitoshi ABe’s (Haibane Renmei [and most of the script too], Lain, Niea_7, Texhnolyze) take on ‘moe’.

07/30/05 @ 17:47