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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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

03:22:53 am , 560 words, 2556 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Warring States

Today I finally managed to see Keiichi Hara's last Shin-chan film (and the last film he made period until this year's Kappa), Warring States from 2002, and it was just as good as I expected. It's not just a good Shin-chan film, but a good film, something none of the subsequent films are. Hara's pared down aesthetic reaches its peak here. Hara doesn't make even the pretense of attempting to beguile his audience with unnecessary frippery or gimmickry. When the family time shifts, he does it without a single effect. In one shot they're in the present day, and in the next shot they're in the past. It's almost shocking in its unflinching bareness.

The contrast with Mitsuru Hongo's gimmick-rich fantasy adventures is greatest in this film, especially in comparison to Hongo's own version of the warring states movie, Unkokusai, which involved strange looking time machines, giant robots, a mad foreigner out to control history, and a talking dog. In contrast, the core of Hara's film lies in his loving focus on the little everyday things. We come away feeling for the people because he's gone out of his way to show how people would really have lived back them. When one castle's army attacks another castle city, the attackers first take the time to destroy the crop fields around the castle, which the warriors in the castle had up until that point been working. The fighting moves through various stages as the armies close, from long-range bombardment, to spears, to swords, in a well defined strategic procession that Hara clearly researched and puts great effort into depicting accurately on the screen. It's like an Akira Kurosawa movie, animated.

The battle scenes that bookend the film really steal the show and have a more powerful effect than any other sequences of this kind I've seen in animation, not because of any spectacular animation, but because of Hara's honesty and earnest enthusiasm with the material. He clearly loved what he was doing, and the film reflects his personality. What's nice is that, with the limited resources available at Shinei, and within the confines of a franchise film, Hara managed to make a great film that doesn't feel cramped by the technical limitations, though I do wonder how it might have looked at another studio with more means available. For example, he had to cut one ambitious crane shot that looked like it could have come straight out of Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace from the storyboard because, not surprisingly, he was told that it would be too hard to produce. Shinei produces one of these films a year, along with a new episode a week - with the same staff - so I don't really blame them.

This film shows what it is that makes Hara unique - his ability to tell a story, bring characters alive, and involve the audience. It's perhaps the most straightforward but also the most assured and convincing of his films. Whereas all of the previous films caused him considerable birth pains, the knowledge that this would probably wind up being his last film (much to his own relief) seemed to free him from creative tethers and allow him to create the film straight through in one go without any hesitation. You can feel that assuredness in the smooth flow of the story to its moving conclusion.

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