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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Monday, February 26, 2007

12:44:25 am , 900 words, 1390 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie, Movie

Azur et Asmar etc

Susumu Yamaguchi, Gear Fighter Dendoh #37I just came from watching Michel Ocelot's latest feature from last year, Azur et Asmar. I was a bit put off by the CG at the beginning, but quickly got used to it, and found it to be a delight typical of this director. I knew I was watching a European and not an American film from the first moments where the wetnurse alternately feeds the two babies on one and the other breast. Ocelot has a tone that is all his own and unmistakable. He was credited with some seven or eight titles at the end, basically most of the key creative tasks, so that accounts for the feeling of unity in all of his films. I love his style of narration, with its lullabye-like repetitions and simple declarations that ring with such an honest force. The film was a visual feast overflowing with the flat forms, vivid colors, lush patterns, and visual symmetries that so I appreciate in Ocelot's films. The color is always very well thought out and a source of unending delight in his films, with the bold way the screen is patterned by patches of sharply contrasted colors, betraying his lineage in paper cutout animation. He never seems to abandon that approach, and I think that lends his films their backbone. Here the CGI wasn't used for mock realism as it is in US features, but still with the same aesthetic as paper cutout animation, which I found refreshing. Exposed skin was somewhat realistically modeled, but clothes remained totally flat and unmistakably 2D in typical Ocelot style, which seemed to be the main change stylistically. The visuals were more ravishing than ever, and the story was a typical Ocelot fairytale with a moral message that didn't strike me as moralizing for a moment, something I find to be rare in animated films for children. It was a film I wish more children would see, full of genuine fantasy and beauty, naive in the good sense of the word, without the fake and obsequious humor of most animated films. I liked how the theme of racial understanding in the film was mirrored by a bit of text near the end of the credits that said something to the effect that "This film was made by a large group of people of various nationalities who got along very well."

It's interesting to see that Susumu Yamaguchi of Studio Torapezoid is the director of the second Keroro Gunso movie that comes out March 17. He only directed two episodes, so it seems unusual for him to have been chosen from among all the other folks. It seems likely that the outstanding quality of the latest of those two, #102, turned some heads and got him a quick promotion. I've always wished Yamaguchi would be able to work on projects that allowed him to not have to worry about sticking to model and such, but to really pump out that kinetic action that he's so good at. I'm thinking there will be some wonderful Yamaguchi kinetics in this film, so I'm looking forward to it, but I still kind of wish he'd leave Sunrise. I'm in the process of catching up on his work on Gear Fighter Dendoh, which appears to be the start of his approach in recent years - when he does an episode now, it's not just as an animator; he always tries to storyboard/AD/animate the episodes he does, and usually draws the big action sequences, investing them with his unique genius for thrillingly choreographed action. I also watched the third episode of the Pretty Sammy OVAs, which had a short sequence of dense action typical of 'Gucchi. I figured out watching it that his hands are an easy way of identifying his drawings, though they're pretty darn distinctive overall. His Utsunomiya blood seems to shine through, with the way the joints are sectioned off like a marionette.

Speaking of franchise films I'm looking forward to, there's the new Doraemon film coming out one week before the Keroro Gunso film on March 10. I don't know why they've embarked on remaking all of the old films instead of doing something original, but the unexpected tremendous quality of the first sally in the venture revokes any right to complain. The second feature is notable because it's the first Doraemon film directed by a woman, namely Yukiyo Teramoto. (There's a video interview with her on the official site). She's also supported by a woman animation director, Shizue Kaneko, whom I remember animated one of my favorite sequences in the last film, the one where Nobita says goodbye to the dinosaur at the end. It's rare to see such a tag team in feature animated filmmaking in Japan, so I'm eager to see the result. She talks about wanting to take a new approach to the actual animation, favoring freer drawings and forms with more expressive squashing and deformation, which sounds like it bodes well. The trailer confirms that the animation continues in the stylistically richer direction of the last film. Rather than the overwhelming animated blitzkrieg of the last film, though, with its titan animators called in from elsewhere, I think maybe here we're going to see them trying to tap the potential the younger Shinei animators, though hopefully with a few interesting faces to liven things up. The bit with Doraemon in the bedroom in particular looks nice.

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2 comments

philip
philip [Visitor]

loved azur&asmar, as did my kids (4&6). it’s been picked up by the weinsteins for release in the u.s. and folks are worried they’ll change important bits (i.e. censoring the breastfeeding scene and translating the arabic). i so hope not…

02/27/07 @ 04:52
Ben [Member]  

Translating the Arabic would destroy an important element of the film, that feeling of being immersed in the foreign, so that would be a tremendously stupid thing to do. But it’s good to know it’s going to get seen over here.

02/27/07 @ 18:35