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I started watching the first ep of Blue Drop not expecting anything, and was surprised to find myself kind of liking the directing for a reason that's hard to put my finger on. Everything about the production is lackluster, from the designs to the animation, but the directing has a kind of delicate sensibility to it that makes the humdrum material more watchable than it would seem to deserve. Something about the pacing, the way the characters react that seems a little freer than usual. It's a barely perceptible smidgin of difference, but enough to remind how rare it is to see characters in anime interact in a way that is even remotely believable in an objective, realistic sense, and not merely dictated by an ingrained rulebook of reactions and emotions.
Was happy to finally watch Susumu Yamaguchi's Keroro Gunso movie. The texture of the drawings had something of Yamaguchi's flavor in various places, most notably the bike chase through the sewer and the climax, although Yamaguchi was only credited as storyboarder and director and not animator or animation director. Certainly nothing more than a franchise film, but a solid and surprisingly delicate one. I'd like to see Yamaguchi do something where he has the freedom to go a little more crazy with the material and the drawings, which is what makes his work so fun in the first place. Here he's too constricted by the weight of the material.
Had the chance to watch Lee Sung-Gang's second animated feature and long-awaited return to the medium, Yobi, and it was a big disappointment. I miss the Lee of Texture of Skin. I can think of any number of problems with the film, most basically that it seems a jumbled mess of half-baked ideas. The designs seem more suited to TV work and were difficult to stomach. The animation was interesting in the sense that it seemed an odd hybrid of western and Japanese style, but was for the most part only functional and seemed to inherit all of the negative traits of western animation without inheriting any of the positive. Every once in a while there would be a shot or two that stood out in stark contrast from the rest as being very nuanced and interesting as animation, like the sequence where the lady pinches the cheek of the alien, but that was it. I'd be very curious to know who animated that bit so I could finally claim to know the name of a good Korean animator. I always hope to be able to catch a whiff of individuality when I watch Korean animation, and this was one of the rare instances when I felt I'd been able to do so.
I sampled bits of the film before watching it, and saw some scenes in passing that didn't make much sense but that I assumed would make sense and have the appropriate dramatic weight and nuance of significance if I watched the film from the beginning. I watched the film and arrived at those scenes only to be appalled to find that they made just as little dramatic sense as when I watched them randomly. Scenes that seemed calculated to be dramatic simply fell flat and felt mistimed. I get the impression that the film seems to have become distracted from the main storyline of the fox's interaction with the boy by a jumble of tacked-on-feeling side-stories populated by unappealing characters, and as a result fails to provide the sort of buildup of character development and dramatic impetus that would make any of the subsequent dramatic scenes have any sort of emotional impact - something that Lee Sung-Gang's first film, Mari, did so admirably. What happened to that delicate sensibility? It seems to have gotten lost along the way while they were busy trying to fill the film with amusing ideas. There are undoubtedly moments of real beauty in the film, particularly the last ten minutes or so, where it feels like we're finally seeing what Lee is really capable of, as well as some very imaginative ideas and beautiful and lush artwork.
Too bad “Yobi” seems to have been a disappointment. I remenber stumbling upon the official site some time ago and finding the bits & pieces of imagery rather interesting-looking. From the (very)limited art I saw it seemed to have a fairly appealing pseudo-anime design to it. Which, to be honest, I might have viewed as an improvement on the pleasantly inoffensive but not terribly engaging (charachter-animation)style of the director’s last film.
Not that I actively disliked “Mari” or anything. It certainly had a nice delicate feel about it. But I’m unsure how exactly to feel about it. Or really commit to any kind of criticism of it. I feel crippled not having any insight into korean language, (animation)culture etc.
One of the bits that most appealed to me in the pilot was that kung-fu action. Unfortunately, none of that was in the film. Either I misunderstood the message the pilot was sending, or they changed their mind on that aspect of the film afterwards…
I can relate to your not quite understanding how to approach the animation style of Lee’s first film, but actually that’s precisely what I find I like about it, at least now. At first I was put off as well. At first glance it seemed to be nothing but stodgy, flat flash-type animation, and I didn’t quite understand where this style came from, how/whether to appreciate it, etc. But it grew on me after a while. It’s certainly an efficient animation style, but I find it does have a definite visual appeal. More than anything I found the aesthetic of the film a breath of fresh air amid a lamentable tendency for them to copy Japanese styles, a laudable attempt to distance themselves from the overwhelming gravitation pull of Japanese and western stylistic influence. A great direction more than anything, in other words. I liked that they’d tried to find their own stylistic voice. Yobi seems to backtrack stylistically in that sense. There were a lot of iffy points in Mari, but overall it was dramatically convincing, and what disappoints me about Yobi, even more than the style, is that it wasn’t dramatically convincing like Mari. In the end I know Lee has it in him to create stuff that’s as layered and psychological as his early stuff and first animated & live-action films, so I’m hoping his next project is a return to that territory, whether animated or live-action. (I’m hoping live-action.) Anyway, in the end I’m just as ignorant as you on the cultural/historical aspects of recent Korean animation, so I can only try to look at it in terms of what it was I liked about it.
I live in ROK at the moment and get cable T.V. (not sure why… never asked for it or paid for it to my knowledge)
I don’t really see any korean animated t.v. shows on. It may just be that I work during cartoon hours, or that I don’t watch t.v. much, but I’ve never seen anything except localized japanese stuff. Well there’s commercials and such, but that doesn’t really count.
That’s not to say that korea isn’t animating a ton, but rather they aren’t animating for their own directors much. So if it’s hard to find a distinctive korean animation voice, that’s probably why.
Before I watched this movie I did not expect it to reach the brilliance of Mari Yiagi or Oseam. Maybe because it was intended for younger audiences.
It had some nice animated moments but nothing more to give recent Korean full length animated movies the edge.
While the Taiwanese-Korean movie “Grandma and her Ghosts” had much worse animation but a far better plot.
But when it goes to independent animation Korea has some interesting films to offer.
Better check the short movie compilation “If You Were Me: Anima Vision” along with the 3 live-action films. In there is also a very nice short film by Lee Sung-Gang titled “Bicycle Trip".
Hi Pete, thanks for the comments. I’ve actually seen the Anima Vision compilation film. I saw it at the Vancouver International Film Festival two years ago, and wrote about it here. I really liked Bicycle Trip and would like to see it again sometime soon. For that matter, I’d like to see Lee getting back to making short films like that. He is a master of the form. And I agree about Grandma and her Ghosts… I picked that up on DVD when I was in China not long ago (mentioned it on the blog a ways back) and though I couldn’t understand anything, somehow I could tell that the script seemed pretty solid, at least more than I’d expected, though the film was really pulled down by the animation.
For “Grandma and her Ghost” I hope the following interview with the film’s director and script-writer helps:
Thanks, Pete. That was a fascinating interview providing a peek into the Taiwanese animation industry. I didn’t realize the film was already almost a decade old.