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"What does it matter what is truth or fiction? We can learn just as much about our past, present and future from fiction. Facts don't matter. Fiction can take us beyond the facts and reveal the essence of a time and place."
Your opinion of this book will depend on what kind of truth you come to it looking for: the hard facts kind, or the poetic insight kind.
In his latest book, Chris Robinson takes you beyond the hundrum facts and figures about indie Japanese animation to a place of the mind - his own mind, and through his mind's eye, the imagined mind of the various independent animators he encounters on a metaphysical journey through Japan.
Chris Robinson kicked animation criticism in the ass with his unconventional approach to writing about animation during his days as the animation pimp, and he's continued to do so with his various book outings. Time Out Of Mind is no exception.
This is like no animation book you've ever read. Chris actually traveled to Japan and interviewed many of the figures in this book, and after his trip he could easily have published a fact-based book full of interviews with the leading indie animators of the day. But he was visited with an insight that has apparently eluded many an author of an animation book: Nobody wants to read that sort of thing. It's boring.
Instead, Chris has fashioned a fascinating and unique journey through a landscape of the mind constructed from the shards of his experience with indie Japanese animation. His trip to Japan is re-fashioned into a metaphoric journey through the funhouse mirror reflection of modern Japanese culture and society that is indie Japanese animation.
The title of the book comes from the fact that this whole experience was a time when the author was out of his mind from the grief of having lost his brother. Beyond being technically about Japanese indie animators, the book shows the author on a hallucinogenic odyssey as he copes with grief and tries to make sense of it all.
Personal recollections about his brother and imaginings mingle with shards of interviews and descriptions and analysis of films into a narrative thread neither purely fiction nor purely fact. The animators become a figment of his imagination, sometimes speaking their own mind in obvious quotes, sometimes speaking through his mind as he digs deeper into what they're really about.
There is no replacing solid historical documentation of animation facts, but there's also no doubt that that sort of thing is boring to read, and it was high time that someone de-geekified the whole enterprise by injecting a vein of poetry and personality into writing about animation.
The thing I most learned from his writing back in the day is to never forget that it's an individual who is writing. Don't hide behind the animation like a kid immersed in a video game world. It has to be about how a specific individual encounters and interprets animation. Never try to hide the history and baggage we all bring that colors our perceptions and interpretations. That's actually the most interesting part of it - like in quantum physics, each person is a personal history whose gaze affects the broader history. Chris's book is really about a personal journey, and healing through art - one that just happens to take place in the context of indie Japanese animation.
When Chris talks about animation, it feels like it's straight from the gut. There's no mincing words. If he finds tedious, he says so. (Ah, that's the word I was looking for all this time.) At the same time, he shows that he understands and appreciates what Yoji Kuri achieved. He takes sly digs at artsy fartsy animation festival darlings like the Brothers Quay. He minces no words about anime: He has no time for it. I don't blame him.
He likes and , the punks of Japanese indie animation who care little about pretty drawings and actually seem to say something about the world around or the world within. He seems baffled by . I'm not quite sure what he thinks about , other than the fact that Furukawa is a huge baseball nut. I was happy to read his sensitive and thorough analysis of . This must be one of the first places anyone has written so extensively in English about Okamoto. Most of all, I was happy to hear he appreciated Okamoto's films as much as I do, from one animation fan to another.
I knew about much of what he said in the book, but I also learned about animators I wasn't so familiar with like . He also talks about , and three anime pioneers - . I came away with more insight into what makes all of these great artists tick.
Then there's the simple, baffling fact of the near-neglect of publishing about indie Japanese animation, which Chris's book rectifies in one swoop. His book is willful and tantalizing more than meaty in its descriptions and analysis, but at the same time it whets the appetite and does a good job of highlighting the remarkable, flourishing variety of indie Japanese animation that has been hidden behind the shadow of the anime for so long.
Although this book is technically about Japanese indie animators, it's really about how a certain individual with a unique perspective and insight views these artists' work, never feigning to be giving you the Objective Truth. It's about having fun on the journey and meeting a few interesting souls with a different way of looking at and dealing with all the good things and the bad things life throws at them.
It's also about the remarkable insights that animation can provide us about the world we live in, in the hands of talented artists. It's about having pride in the fact that animation can be a genuine, deep, meaningful artistic platform for talking about life and the issues we face.
The only disappointment was that it was such a quick read. It's an eminently readable, entertaining introduction to the world of indie Japanese animation, through the mind of one of the most honest and trustworthy champions of artistic animation in the world today. The way I see it, this book that didn't need to be and will probably have a small audience is an homage to all the Japanese artists who toil in virtual anonymity for little reward to create interesting and moving animation the likes of which we've never seen before. Thanks for bringing us along on your trip, Chris.
Anipages posts related to the artists talked about in this book:
Tadanari Okamoto: Towards the Rainbow
Koji Yamamura: A Country Doctor
Koji Yamamura: Your Choice
Keiichi Tanaami & Nobuhiro Aihara
Animation Battles of Keiichi Tanaami & Nobuhiro Aihara
Thinking & Drawing
Otogi Pro and the rise of indie animation in Japan
The First Wave of Independent Japanese Animators
Toei Doga's animators at work circa 1960
Animation in anime is simple in structure compared with its western counterparts. Basically speaking, you have genga and doga, and that's it (plus quality checkers in the form of the sakuga kantoku and doga check). It's not like in the west where a single character might be animated by a dizzying array of people. But in the early days of Toei Doga, when the role of sakuga kantoku that's unique to Japan was invented, they were using a seconding system, like in the west, though it came about as a product of necessity and was not modeled after the western system. It's just that it wasn't credited, so it's not a very well-known fact. Then for a long time in anime seconding disappeared (though there were certainly a lot of instances of rough genga being given to a key animator), until recently when seconding has resurfaced in the form of the increasingly common roles of daiichi genga and daini genga.
I thought I'd write a bit about the early version of seconding at Toei Doga since I just talked a bit about daiichi genga and daini genga.
The seconding system was adopted for the first time during production of Hakujaden in 1958. It was adopted purely because of the lack of experienced staff. Only Yasuji Mori and Akira Daikuhara, carryovers from Nichido, were experienced animators. Most of the 30 animators they'd just hired had less than a year's experience in animation. The only exceptions were Chikao Katsui and Takashi Yamauchi, who had worked briefly at Nichido before the takeover. Many of the rest were still in basic training.
Animation began on December 10, 1957. Sanae (previously Zenjiro) Yamamoto, ex-president of Nichido, conferred with top management and came to the conclusion that the only way they could make a film with this shortage of experienced staff was to appoint seconds who would clean up the rough key animation of the two key animators, as well as drawing some of the more difficult poses, before handing the key animation to the inbetweeners. Six of the more experienced animators were chosen for this role:
Yusaku Sakamoto, Shuji Konno and Masatake Kita were appointed seconds under Yasuji Mori.
Kazuko Nakamura, Chikao Katsui and Yasuo Otsuka were appointed seconds under Akira Daikuhara.
Each second in turn had four or five inbetweeners working under them. The desks were arranged into six groups, one for each second. The seconds were the leader of the group. They would go to the key animator to get the key animation themselves and bring it back and distribute it to the inbetweeners in their group.
The key animators were given scenes according to their style and personality. Yasuji Mori handled mostly the scenes involving the animals and the male protagonist Xu Xian (Shuu Sen) that required more delicate and nuanced animation. Akira Daikuhara handled the scenes involving fights and other scenes involving more broad and loose action.
Yasuji Mori's keys tended to be more nuanced and detailed about the actions in a shot, whereas Akira Daikuhara's keys were rougher and more spare, leaving more to the imagination of the second.
Seconds working under them were also assigned based on their skill and tendencies. Akira Daikuhara gave shots with more vivid movement to Chikao Katsui, gave shots of natural phenomenon to Yasuo Otsuka, and gave Kazuko Nakamura primarily shots involving the characters Bai Niang (Pai Nyan) and Xiao Qing (Shao Chin). Yasuji Mori gave his more movemented shots to Masatake Kita, and gave Shuji Konno more quiet and delicate shots requiring less broad movement due to his more detail-oriented style. Consistently assigning shots in this way helped maintain consistency despite the absence of an animation director.
In Hakujaden, after the inbetweeners finished their work, the key animators Yasuji Mori and Akira Daikuhara checked their animation, essentially also serving as the animation directors for the film. Daikuhara was less strict with his inbetweeners. He gave them more freedom to draw what they wanted. Mori was more strict. He's reported to have almost never accepted an inbetweener's work the first time, often asking for two or three retakes. After a few retakes he would say, "OK" because it would be awkward to continue asking for retakes, but later on you could spot Mori surrreptitiously fixing the inbetweens at his desk. He was exacting but kind about it.
Even in later years, seconds were never credited as seconds. They were credited as inbetweeners. Only when you acceded to key animation were you credited as a key animator. The only exception to this rule was the rebellious Daikichiro Kusube. After he had alienated all the other seconds with his bluntness and work was no longer coming to him to be inbetweened, he leapt over this hierarchy and, a mere 3 months after having been hired, convinced Yasuji Mori to let him draw key animation for certain shots of Hakujaden, without going through the seconding stage. In Hakujaden Kusube drew the key animation for those shots entirely by himself, and handed his key animation to the inbetweeners working under him.
So even though Kusube is credited as an inbetweener, Kusube actually drew key animation in the first three Toei Doga films - Hakujaden (1958), Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke (1959) and Saiyuki (1960). He first gets a key animation credit in Anju to Zushiomaru (1961). In later films he gave his inbetweeners some of the shots he had been assigned, and they drew the key animation for those shots. Sadao Tsukioka and Gisaburo Sugii drew their first key animation under Kusube on Saiyuki even though they were still credited as inbetweeners. Kusube gave Yoichi Kotabe his chance to draw his first key animation on Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon (1963) even though he's also still credited as an inbetweener in the film.
Makoto Nagasawa, the animator who would later go on to animate the impressive cave dance scene in Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon, was an inbetweener in Shuji Konno's section under Yasuji Mori on Hakujaden, but starting with Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke the next year was transferred to Yasuo Otsuka's section because he was deemed more suited to that style of working. I've heard it often said that Mori's drawings look simple and easy to draw, but can be wickedly hard to get right, and Nagasawa relates that he felt the same way: he liked Mori's drawings, but didn't like having to draw incredibly detailed movement. He was an animator more suited to working under Yasuo Otsuka. It was because he was working under Akira Daikuhara and Yasuo Otsuka that Nagasawa, still an inbetweener, was able to experiment and play with the timing of his shots a little in Saiyuki and inject some personality into the animation. He inbetweened the key animation of Sagojo writing in pain after Goku shrunk down and entered his body.
The strictures became looser starting with Saiyuki, just as the more old-fashioned look of the old films began to be modernized with Tezuka's flavor in this film. The last scene of Saiyuki features some of the more fun work on the film. Five of the animators more interested in movement were apparently given freedom to do whatever they wanted with the scene, as the storyboard for this scene was sparse and there was a big crunch on to get the film done. Those five were: Yasuo Otsuka, Kusube Daikichiro, Gisaburo Sugii, Makoto Nagasawa, and Sadao Tsukioka. Makoto Nagasawa drew some of his first key animation here, even though most of the rest of the work he did on the film was inbetweening. Otsuka famously drew the bullfight, and Tsukioka drew the striptease. Nagasawa officially became a second in the next film, Anju to Zushiomaru (1961), skipped Sinbad's Adventure (1962) to work on a short, and then became a key animator and did the dance scene in Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon (1963).
Yasuo Otsuka was the only one of the seconds in Hakujaden who acceded to key animation in Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke in 1959. Two other experienced key animators were brought onboard for this film: Masao Kumakawa and Hideo Furusawa. (Furusawa was another ex-Nichido animator.) Thus there were five key animators on the second film, each with their own seconds and inbetweeners under them. The first five inbetweeners listed in Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke were in fact the seconds on that film: Daikichiro Kusube, Chikao Katsui, Kazuko Nakamura, Shuji Konno and Masatake Kita.
Accession to key animation happened slowly, and could take a few years. Dissatisfaction with this is partly what led Gisaburo Sugii and many others to leave for Mushi Pro before they became key animators (on paper). Many others were weeded out by this stringent trial period and gave up on animation altogether, realizing that they were interested in the drawing side of animation, but to work in animation you had to be fundamentally interested in and capable of creating movement the way Sadao Tsukioka and Yasuo Otsuka were.
Saiyuki (1960) featured the same 5 key animators plus Osamu Tezuka. The first 7 inbetweeners listed were probably the seconds on this film: Shuji Konno, Masatake Kita, Daikichiro Kusube, Reiko Okuyama, Chikao Katsui, Michihiko Yoshida, and Kazuko Nakamura.
Anju to Zushiomaru (1961) saw Kusube bumped up to key animation alongside the aforesaid five key animators. Makoto Nagasawa and Reiko Okuyama meanwhile were bumped up to seconding. The first six inbetweeners listed in this film were presumably the seconds: Shuji Konno, Masatake Kita, Reiko Okuyama, Makoto Nagasawa, Chikao Katsuio, and Michihiko Yoshida.
Next year's Sinbad's Adventure (1962) saw three of those seconds bumped up to key animation: Reiko Okuyama, Masatake Kita and Chikao Katsui.
Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon (1963) featured the seven key animators of Sinbad minus Akira Daikuhara and plus Makoto Nagasawa. From this point on I'm unclear who the seconds were.
The seconding system continued at Toei Doga until at least Wan Wan Chushingura (1963). I'm not sure at what point it was abandoned. It's possible it happened around the time of the start of TV anime, as there were considerable staff changes that occurred over the next few years, with many people moving to doing TV work and the studio abandoning the focus on quality animated filmmaking of the early years.
Interestingly, during the first few Toei Doga films, key animators were responsible for drawing the storyboard for their sections. Hence, they had the freedom to expand their sequence as they wanted to fill it with all sorts of shots and actions. People took this to such extremes that director Taiji Yabushita was obliged to call in an editor from Toei's Kyoto photography studio for Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke (1959) to have a non-partisan third party produce the film's final cut. In Gulliver's Space Travels (1965) you could even say this freedom and absence of directorial control made the film uneven and lacking in narrative force. Each section is drawn with great freedom and vivacity, but little is done to unify the film.
I was asked to talk about the hierarchy of anime production, so here is a very basic explanation of some of the key steps in anime production. As a way of outlining the basic workflow, I'll give a brief rundown of what each of the terms that you find in anime credits entails. The terms are ordered in basic production order, from pre-production tasks to animation tasks to final assembly.
I'll limit this discussion to the terms that pertain to the animation without touching on the other aspects like writing, production, art, etc., because otherwise it would take way too long to write, and I know less about those. Please take this as what it is: the gleanings of an enthusiast. I've never worked in anime; this is just what I've been able to piece together from reading and watching anime for a long time, so please forgive any inaccuracies or vagaries.
I'm sure more detailed versions of this information are available, but I thought I'd write my own brief version for any readers of this blog who might feel they don't know enough about what each production task entails. I don't know as much as I wish I did about all this, but I've written what I know.
Read Peter Chung's posts in this thread on my forum to learn more details about this from someone who has actual experience on the Japanese production floor.
設定 Settei = or
The pre-production stage involves drawing lots of drawings to get a sense of where to go with the production, from drawings of the world to character sketches. Settei is a catchall term for pre-production work, although it can also be used to mean 'design', as in character design. The character design sheets are a type of settei. Bijutsu settei 美術設定 are another type of settei - they're line drawings serving as the basis for background art. Often nowadays the English word design is used in place of settei. You see numerous other types of design credits of many TV shows nowadays: Bijustu design, prop design, etc.
イメージボード Imeeji Boodo =
Image boards are another type of pre-production drawing, but unlike settei, image boards are basically concept art not intended for actual use in the production. They are drawings made to flesh out production, to come up with ideas, to establish the direction for the production's visuals and atmosphere. Hayao Miyazaki famously draws lots of rough watercolor image boards before each film to flesh out where he wants to go with the film.
絵コンテ Ekonte =
After a script has been written, the storyboard is drawn. Ekonte literally means picture continuity. It is the blueprint of every anime. You can see a small example of a storyboard panel by Yoshiyuki Tomino here. Basically, it consists of a summary of what happens in each shot: a drawing showing the visuals, the length of the shot, the dialogue, sound effects, and camera instructions. Satoshi Kon once said that the storyboard is like another script; it should tell its own story.
Some storyboards like Tomino's are rougher and others more detailed. Satoshi Kon's were very detailed and could almost double as layouts. Most anime ekonte are in the same format. Each storyboarder has his or her own style. Some directors who can't draw get a talented animator to draw their storyboards based on the director's instructions. The storyboard for Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday was drawn by Yoshiyuki Momose, the one for his Gauche the Cellist by Toshitsugu Saida.
Different storyboarders have different standards for the amount of information they provide about what is supposed to happen in a shot. For a particularly important sequence, a storyboarder might devote several pages to visually depicting a single long shot that requires a particular succession of character movements, essentially creating a spare rough genga. Other storyboarders might leave it up to the animator to give them more freedom to have fun with the animation.
Knowledge of your animation staff's capabilities can affect the way a film or TV episode is storyboarded. You don't storyboard scenes requiring tricky, nuanced character acting if you know you don't have staff capable of bringing that sort of thing to life. Instead, you wind up storyboarding things in a 'safe' way that winds up being proportionately less communicative in terms of the directing. Conversely, storyboarders who know how to storyboard in a way that will involve the animation in the directing and who know they will be able to rely on good staff can produce more ambitious work. Satoshi Kon was only able to storyboard Tokyo Godfathers with all those long static shots of character acting because he knew he had staff like Hideki Hamasu and Shinji Otsuka who would be up to the task of animating his challenging shots.
Storyboards can be drawn by the same person who will go on to process the episode or movie (the enshutsu or technical director) or by a different person. Toei Animation is famous for not crediting storyboarders, only episode directors, because their episode directors are all expected to draw their own storyboards. (Not only this, Toei's episode directors are also supposed to take care of the voice recording sessions, something usually handled by the audio director, which perhaps helps account for why so many Toei directors developed into such auteurs.)
Normally the sequence in the storyboard is the final say, although I've run across some rare instances where storyboard shots were slightly altered by an ambitious key animator and kept in the final product. This happened in two instances I know of - in Soul Eater and Xam'd - and in both instances it was obvious why it was kept as is (because the animation was awesome), so although uncommon, it does happen occasionally if the animator really does something good with it. Usually I doubt this will be tolerated, and most animators would not do this.
Usually in Japanese animation, the storyboard for a movie or TV episode will all be done by the same person. On occasion, storyboards are done by several people. For example, in Bones' Tenpo Ibun Ayakashi, Akitoshi Yokoyama was given the credit of sento sekkei 戦闘設計 or battle design, a roundabout way of saying that he drew the storyboards for the battle sequences throughout the show. (In other words, one person would draw the storyboard for the episode, but just the battle portion would be storyboarded by Yokoyama.) He was given this unusual task due to his uncommon skill at conceptualizing action sequence in a way that makes exciting use of three-dimensional space. Norio Matsumoto storyboarded his action sequence in the third Naruto movie, as did Yutaka Nakamura in the Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shambala movie.
Between storyboard & animation: Assigning shots and animation meetings
The next step after the storyboard has been drawn is to assign shots to animators. This is done by either the director or storyboarder or producer, or a combination of the like; I'm not sure exactly. The allocation is usually done according to animators' aptitudes. A storyboarder might even storyboard a sequence with a particular animator in mind.
After an animator has been assigned certain shots, the animator has a sit-down meeting with the director to talk about what the director wants from those shots. This is called a sakuga uchiawase 作画打合せ or animation meeting (saku-uchi 作打 for short). If an animator is unsure what is required of them from the storyboard, it's important for them to talk to the director or storyboarder at the animation meeting to find out what exactly is required of them so it doesn't cause problems down the line.
Animators are always given entire shots or sequences of shots, not just certain parts of a shot like in the west. They animate everything in a shot. In the old days, it was common for entire TV episodes to be animated by one or two animators. As time went on, more and more people were used to animate TV episodes. Nowadays it's not uncommon to see TV episodes with 30 key animators, many of whom may have only done one or two shots to help fill in the holes. Sometimes an animator did only one shot in an episode because that shot was particularly difficult or was something they're specialized in. (For example the way Hideki Kakita was called in in that recent Bleach episode to draw just one important shot of an explosion.)
The sakkan is occasionally credited at the end of the key animation credits to indicate that they drew a few shots to help fill in the holes. Key animation credits in anime are normally ordered according to number of shots animated. Sometimes a group of animators who contributed particularly significantly to an episode will be credited separately as a group.
Oftentimes, if an animator is assigned a shot, it's because the director knows what to expect from that animator, and that animator's particular style is desired for those shots. An animator who's particularly good at explosions, or robot kung fu, might be called in to do just those shots in an episode, and their animation won't be corrected despite looking slightly different from the rest of the show. Hence the trait that makes anime so unique: You'll find entire sequences animated in a style different from the rest of the show.
The extent to which this is tolerated or desired depends on various factors such as the nature of the production, the schedule, the director, and the episode director. Sometimes, as in the case of the first half of Samurai 7 episode 7, various circumstances led to the creation of a whole half episode in a very idiosyncratic style that didn't jibe with the rest of the show, but was very interesting as animation. That episode's director, Hiroyuki Okuno, is obviously the one who brought Hisashi Mori on to that episode, as they'd been associates for a long time.
Note: The term storyboard originally referred to color drawings pasted up on the wall to flesh out a film's direction, as they used to do it at Disney. Japanese ekonte are different. They're not brainstorming. They're the skeleton of the film; the final word on the length and content of every shot in a film. But storyboard has come to be used as the translation for ekonte.
レイアウト Reiauto =
After a key animator has been assigned a shot, the first thing they have to do is to draw a layout, or a more detailed version of the image for that shot in the storyboard. The layout determines the relationship between the characters and the background. The background art will be drawn by the art department (bijutsu 美術) based on the layout. The layout gets checked by the director for content and then is passed on to the animation director to make corrections before it is given back to the key animator to proceed with drawing the actual keys.
In anime, the layout is almost always drawn by the key animator except in rare cases where a separate layout man is credited. The most famous examples are Isao Takahata's Heidi (1974), Marco (1976) and Anne (1979), in which Hayao Miyazaki drew the layout for every episode. Tsutomu Shibayama drew all the layouts for Osamu Dezaki's classic Gamba's Adventure (1975). The term gamen kosei 画面構成 or 'scene structure' was used in Heidi and Marco but the English word layout was used in Gamba. This may have been one of the first uses of the term in anime. 'Layout' was used in Anne.
原画 Genga =
The next step after the layout has been approved and/or corrected by the animation director is for the key animator to draw the genga or key animation. Key animation is the heart of animation in anime. Many people have a hand in every shot of animation, but it's the key animator who creates the personality of that shot. To take character animation as an example, the key animator essentially draws the most important poses along the arc of a character's motion in a particular shot.
The key animator learns what he or she is supposed to draw in a particular shot from the storyboard and from the animation meeting held when their shots were assigned. The key animator needs to understand the story and what the director wants to convey in those shots before they start working.
Key animation isn't necessarily a place for flamboyant personal expression. Most of the time, the requirements are quite specific and leave little room for improvisation. But if an animator with an idiosyncratic style produces a piece of animation that stands out but is still good, there are many production environments that will not only allow it through, but not correct it. This depends on not only the sakkan but also the director to whom the sakkan is responsible. In other cases, they might just correct the faces but leave the basic movement intact. That's obviously what Hiroyuki Okuni did with Hisashi Mori's animation in Samurai 7 episode 7 in an attempt to make it more acceptable.
Different key animators have different aptitudes. Some are good at drawing faces on model and are called in for shots that require good character drawing skills but not necessarily good movement skills. Other animators are good at drawing vigorous physical actions. Others are good at effects like smoke and explosions.
In the early days, an animator would often do a whole episode or half episode. Nowadays, an animator typically handles a handful of shots in sequence. Nowadays if you see a solo episode outside of shows where that regularly occurs, it's usually a special thing like in Kaiba or Kemonozume, where the whole production is quite unique and artistically minded and the director gives a certain animator permission to animate a whole episode by themselves as a personal challenge.
Inbetweeners advance to key animation, and particularly talented key animators can then advance to working as animation directors or assistant animation directors, helping to correct the drawings, if they wish to.
第二原画 Daini Genga =
Traditionally in anime, after key animation, the next step would be for the animation director to check the key animation and apply the necessary corrections to bring the characters to model. A new role was recently invented as a buffer between the key animator and the animation director: second key animation.
Nigen 二原 for short, second key animation is a relatively new concept in anime. This person does what in the west is known as "cleanup" - cleaning up the rough genga before they're passed on to the animation director to be checked. This step permits key animators to pump out more animation than if they had to produce a more polished shot. For example, an animator who might be good at action can draw several complicated shots in rough form in the time it might take them to draw one polished shot. A nigen would then clean it up. Infrequently you will also see a daiichi genga 第一原画 or first key animation credit, which is presumably a way of distinguishing between the people who drew the rough key animation intended to be cleaned up by the daini genga crew and the people who drew regular key animation.
(Note about the term Sakuga 作画: Sakuga is used among some western fans today to refer to flamboyant or particularly nice animation in anime, presumably something learned from the online Japanese community devoted to following animators, but in fact sakuga is just a generic word meaning "animation". You can have good sakuga and you can have bad sakuga; sakuga isn't a term of approbation. In old anime pre-dating Toei Doga (pre-1957), sakuga was one of the words used to credit the animators. Literally, it means "the person who drew the drawings". When used alone in latter-day anime, it often means that the person credited with sakuga drew all of the animation. Normally, animation would be broken down into genga (key animation) and doga (inbetweens), but if someone draws all of the animation themselves, they will be credited with sakuga.)
作画監督 Sakuga Kantoku =
The sakuga kantoku or sakkan 作監 for short is the person who is in charge of looking at all of the key animation handed in by the key animators and, if it is too badly drawn or strays from the character design, correcting the drawing in part or in whole. The literal translation "animation director" can be misleading, because it seems to imply more of a creative say in filmmaking decisions than is actually the case. The movie Jin-Roh more accurately translated the term sakuga kantoku by using a less literal translation: "key animation supervisor".
The job of the animation director can be an arduous task, especially if working with animation outsourced to iffy studios who send in bad animation that needs to be thoroughly revised to be passable. Many animators would much prefer to draw animation than do sakkan work, even though presumably a sakkan may be better paid.
Every sakkan is different. They technically can correct everything if they want, including the time sheets, so the key animation could wind up looking completely different in the final product. Some sakkans correct everything, while others are more permissible and only correct the really bad work, either because they don't think it's necessary or don't have enough schedule. Tomonori Kogawa famously threw away much of the key animation he was given for the Ideon: Be Invoked movie and drew it from scratch himself because of his exacting standards, and because for him it was actually faster to do that than struggle to correct someone else's drawings.
Sometimes key animation is corrected, other times not. Sometimes a piece of animation may be flamboyant and stick out, but the animation director won't correct it because it's good animation by a well-known animator. In the past, key animators' work often went straight through into the final product. The Yuzo Aoki episode I blogged yesterday is an example, but there are many more. Aoki was sometimes credited as sakkan when he did solo key animation. An extreme example is Hajime Ningen Gyators: Takao Kosai is credited as the animation director, but he didn't correct any of the animation. Everything in the show is raw key animation by the animators. Credits in anime can be deceptive and ambiguous this way. Sometimes key animators aren't even credited due to some unknown behind-the-scenes circumstances.
Animator personality comes through often in action scenes because sakkans, who are often also the character designers, are more likely to devote their energy to correcting the faces than the movement, especially if the movement and drawings are good.
The term sakuga kantoku was coined in 1963, again at Toei Doga, for the role played by Yasuji Mori on the film Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon. Prior to that there was no single person overseeing the animation of an entire animated film in Japan as has become the norm today.
In recent days, the animation director role itself has become atomized into specialties. Common sub-credits include "mecha animation director" and "effects animation director".
総作画監督 Sou Sakuga Kantoku =
In the old days, when schedules were longer and there was not as much burden on the sakkan, it was only necessary to have one sakkan per TV episode or movie. In recent years, it has become common to see many sakkans in a single TV episode or movie. Yet another role was invented to supervise all these sakkans: the chief animation director.
This role was presumably created to ensure that this added level of supervisory complexity doesn't wind up having the opposite effect of creating visual disparity. The sou sakuga kantoku oversees all of the sakkans and maintains uniformity between them by adding corrections to their corrections, in much the same way as the sakkan does with respect to the key animators.
動画 Doga =
After the drawings of the key animator have been checked by the director and the animation director(s), the next step is for the animation to be inbetweened by the doga or inbetweener.
Genga and Doga are an inseparable unit. The inbetweener fills in the movement of the key animation. How this is done isn't arbitrary. The key animator determines what poses the inbetweener is to draw, and where, using what's called a time sheet and a tsume shiji つめ指示 or timing chart. See this set of key animation drawings from my post on Shoichi Masuo for an example of a tsume shiji, and this one for its accompanying time sheet. The tsume shiji is the part that looks like this in the key animation drawings: ├────────┼────┼─┼┼┼┼┤ (see here for a more detailed explanation of what this means.) The key animator may also draw nakawari sanko 中割り参考 or inbetweening references for particularly complicated shots. The inbetweener is also responsible for cleaning up the lines of the key animation and preparing the drawings to be handed to the next department, the coloring department.
Unlike key animation, inbetweening doesn't leave much room for personal expression. It's where you are supposed to bring alive the expression of the key animation. The inbetweener draws the instructed drawings, and that's all. But inbetweening does require considerable skill in its own way. Badly inbetweened animation can ruin a shot of perfectly good key animation, while good inbetweens can improve mediocre key animation.
Traditionally, animators in Japan go through a period of apprenticeship as inbetweeners before acceding to key animation. One day they're offered the chance to give key animation a shot, and from then on out they're key animators. How quickly this happens depends on the studio and the animator. Some turn in bad animation and are sent back to inbetweening. Some choose to remain inbetweeners. You'll often spot a random famous animator in the inbetween credits if you watch a lot of old shows. Some of today's young talented gif animators like Kenichi Kutsuna and Ryosuke Sawa (Ryo~timo) skipped the inbetweening apprenticeship step and did key animation right off the bat.
After the inbetweener has done his or her job, the doga kensa 動画検査 or inbetween checker inspects the inbetweens. They're like the animation director for the final inbetweened animation. After that, the animation is sent to be colored by the shiage 仕上げ or finishing (now sometimes called digital paint) department and then to the photography (now sometimes compositing) department.
The term doga literally means 'moving drawings'. Doga was coined by Kenzo Masaoka (1898-1988) so that the Japanese would have their own word for animation instead of having to borrow the western word animation. Kenzo Masaoka is considered the father of anime for his pioneering work in the 1930s and 1940s. Thus, initially, doga actually meant simply animation in the broad sense of the term. It seems to have been around the time that Toei Doga (=Toei Animation) was founded in 1956 (when Toei purchased Nichido) that the genga/doga duality came into play and doga began to be used exclusively to mean inbetween animation.
(Aside: Sometimes a DVD will contain footage of the actual raw animation drawings. The term Genga Satsuei 原画撮影 or Gensatsu 原撮 for short refers to footage of just the key animation drawings, without backgrounds, sound effects, music or anything. Similarly, the term Doga Satsuei or Dosatsu 動撮 for short refers to footage of the fully inbetweened animation (i.e. key anmation + inbeteweens).)
演出 Enshutsu = (TV) or (movie)
監督 Kantoku =
There are various terms for director in anime, which can be confusing. The kantoku or director is the one who oversees the whole project, steering it towards completion by coordinating the various main staff, and making important creative decisions about the project as a whole. The enshutsu or technical director is responsible to the director, and does the physical work of putting together all the components (art, animation, sound) into the final product. As I mentioned above, the animation director is not a 'director' in the same sense. The animation director mainly just corrects key animation. Animation directors answer to both the director and the technical director.
In a movie, the kantoku or director has most of the creative control. The enshutsu or technical director in a movie is there mostly to alleviate the burden on the kantoku by handling the technical tasks that the director might not know about or might not have time to take care of. The director might now know certain photographic techniques, and would rely for this on an enshutsu with more experience in such matters. The enshutsu might also check layouts or key animation for the kantoku and correct lines of dialogue or drawings in a pinch. Ko Matsuo and Shogo Furuya helped Satoshi Kon tremendously in this role on his films.
Among other things, the director is there to make sure things are on track. The director of a TV series checks the storyboards for each episode, and may in fact re-do them or have them re-done if they're not satisfactory. Satoshi Kon had to re-draw the storyboard by Shogo Furuya in episode 2 of Paranoia Agent, and Hayao Miyazaki reportedly re-drew the storyboards submitted by Yoshiyuki Tomino on Future Boy Conan from scratch even though Tomino is still credited. These rejected storyboards might have gotten accepted under other circumstances (Tomino was widely relied upon for his storyboards), but the chief directors happened to be auteurs with exceptionally exacting artistic standards.
In the old days, enshutsu was used to refer to the director of a whole TV series. Nowadays, the word kantoku is used for that purpose, and each episode of a TV series has its own sub-director who oversees that particular episode. The episode director is referred to as the enshutsu. I assume the more holistic and supervisory role of kantoku evolved in the natural course of things as productions became more complex and production methods evolved accordingly.
Enshutsu seems to entail something quite different in a TV environment. The basic job of episode director is to hold meetings with and coordinate the heads of the different sections - animation, art, coloring, photography - in such a way as to achieve the objectives of the storyboard, which is ideally drawn by the episode director, but often these days is drawn by someone else. The episode director checks layouts and key animation as they are handed in to make sure the key animator drew what was required in the storyboard, calling for a retake if not, otherwise passing the key animation on to the sakkan. After everything is assembled, the episode director is responsible for getting any mistakes taken care of and putting together the final package.
Other tasks of an episode director incllude marking the rush copy used during voice actor recording sessions in such a way that the voice actors know when to read their lines. If everything isn't ready by the time of dubbing, they put together a provisional rush copy of an episode using raw materials like key animation or inbetweens so that the voice actors will have some visual material to work with. Episode directors also put together next episode previews by choosing which shots to use in the preview from those that are complete.
Episode directors in a TV series seem to have comparably much more control over the creative outcome of an episode than the enshutsu in a movie. They're essentially a mini kantoku. Thus you can get an episode like Mitsuo Iso's episode of RahXephon that's remarkably different in tone and style from the rest of the series due to the tight control exercised over the episode by the director of that particular episode. Although naturally, the director of the series would have to approve whatever the episode director decides to do. Talented storyboarders/directors like Keiichi Hara, Hosoda Mamoru and Atsushi Wakabayashi honed their talent working on TV shows where they were allowed to direct episodes in their own particular style.
Almost all anime TV series have a director supervising the whole show and a separate episode director for each episode. TMS's Hajime Ningen Gyators Group Tac's Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi are among the few examples I know of that didn't have a series director, only episode directors.
Yet another level was added to this already complicated hierarchy with the recent creation of the role of Sou Kantoku 総監督 or chief director. Some productions have a chief director, a director and a technical director.
Ever since I watched episode 78 of the second Lupin III series the other day, it got me wanting to watch more, so I've started going through the series, though not in order yet. I just watched episode 30, one of the episodes mostly animated by Yuzo Aoki, and I really enjoyed Aoki's drawings, so I thought I'd just post some snaps from the show since I don't have time to write anything long today.
This episode finds Zenigata and Lupin captured by a Gadaffi lookalike trying to mount a revolution in the middle of the desert in Morocco. Yuzo Aoki's style comes through best in the Gadaffi character and his minions. He doesn't have to worry about drawing them on model like Lupin and Zenigata. Maybe he even designed the sub-characters for this episode himself.
The hilarious thing about this episode is that the Gadaffi character evokes Tensai Bakabon. I don't know whether it was intention or not, but the drawing style of the face is similar in a lot of the shots, and they use the same voice-actor, Masashi Amenomori. So the whole time he's talking about starting a revolution with his army of foreign mercenaries, all you can think about is Bakabon Papa. I guess I got this because I've been watching TMS's amazing Ganso Tensai Bakabon series from 1975-77. (See an image from the legendary 'gekiga' episode of that was entirely drawn Sanpei Shirato style by Manabu Ohashi, watch the crazy opening featuring the moon crashing into the earth directed by the late Osamu Dezaki.)
Even just in the general mood and looseness of the drawings the second Lupin series reminds me a bit of Bakabon as well as the other mid-70s TMS shows - Gyators, Dokonjo Gaeru, Gamba's Adventure, etc. It reminds me far more of those than it does of Cagliostro or any of the latter-day Lupin outings. Those mid-70s TMS gag shows were all so dynamic, free and unconcerned with being pretty and orderly. You didn't really see anything as free and crazy in the 80s, much less later.
I used to dislike the second series because of that wackiness - I preferred the more grounded first series - but now I appreciate it a lot more. It's a very different show. It's much looser in its stories, the quality is much more uneven, and it doesn't take itself seriously at all. They take the implausibility of the show's various gimmicks to absurd extremes. In the first show they tried to make it at least somewhat plausible when Zenigata showed up at the most unexpected moments to try to arrest Lupin. Now they just say 'The hell with it.' It's almost like watching Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny.
I just like the roughness of the lines in these opening close-up shots of a jeep. And the fact that the little details are right. It's very Yasuo Otsuka-esque, lavishing loving detail on a jeep. Otsuka actually did a lot of uncredited animation and correction work throughout the show.
General Gadaffi via Tensai Bakabon. I like the way his head looks like it's coming out of his chest. Yuzo Aoki has a way of stylizing certain elements of the body like the hands here that you start to be able to identify as his work after you've seen it a few times.
I like this gnarly drawing of his hand.
Zenigata surrounded by the mercenary army.
Zenigata and Lupin captured.
Look at this terrible drawing. It's from the second half of the episode. It looks totally different from the first half. The shapes are loose in all the wrong ways. There's none of the obvious instinct for stylization borne of experience that Yuzo Aoki learned working on all those A Pro gag shows. At one point around the middle of the episode the drawings suddenly get really bad like this. The weird thing is that Yuzo Aoki is the only animator credited, but obviously this couldn't have been drawn by him. Maybe they forgot to credit the other guy, or he didn't want to be credited because he did such a terrible job. Still, I kind of like the fact that in this series you can see such dramatic changes in drawing style from one moment to the next. It's not always great, but at least the drawings are full of variety and personality, and occasionally there's some better animators like Yuzo Aoki to show how it's done.
I've just watched the latest Doraemon movie, this year's Robot Army movie, and it's a well made film. I enjoyed it much better than 2009's Spaceblazer film directed by Kozo Kusuba, which I found insipid and bland. Unfortunately, Kozo Kusuba is directing next year's film. It's too bad, because every other film since 2006's Nobita's Dinosaur has been quite fun and entertaining as well as featuring quite a bit of good animation. The 2011 film gets back to the standard set by the earlier films.
Nobita and the Robot Army is directed by Yukiyo Teramoto, who returns for a second stint after 2007's Underworld movie. This time she has not Kaneko Shizue working under her as animation director but a bigger team headed by up-and-coming animator Naoyuki Asano. Naoyuki Asano has staged a blazing ascent since doing his first work on Doraemon as a key animator in the 2008 Green Giant movie under director Ayumu Watanabe and animation director Shizue Kaneko. The next year he was one of four animation director under Shizue Kaneko, and the year after that he became the chief animation director supervising five animation directors.
The line of development of the new 'look' of the Doraemon movies cam be traced thus: Ayumu Watanabe -> Kenichi Konishi -> Kaneko Shizue -> Naoyuki Asano.
Kaneko Shizue, already a great animator in the movies, did a good job of carrying on the more pliable, hand-drawn look Kenichi Konishi created in 2006, and the newcomer Naoyuki Asano seems like he's continuing to do so. I'm not exactly sure what he does as the chief animation director. An animation director's job is obvious - they correct key animation - but I don't know what the job of a chief animation director entails.
For once I've seen the original movie of which this is a remake (movie #7 from 1986). Dialogue has been rearranged and scenes completely re-staged, but otherwise the remake is identical to the original in the broad strokes. And a big improvement. Usually re-make spells disaster, but the Doraemon films from the 1980s needed updating, and they've done it well here by adding lots of nuance to the character acting and simply updating the technical aspects. The art is of better quality, the directing is tighter.
What before felt two-dimensional and static now feels three-dimensional and dynamic. More effort has been put into bringing out the characters' emotions. Where before they seemed to move like expressionless robots, now they react with anguish and more complex emotions. Their body language and facial expressions are far more pliable and various than before.
There is a bit of a disconnect between the simplicity of the concept of Doraemon and the new look. Doraemon was in step with its simple stories when it was drawn simply and two-dimensionally. The quality of the art now seems to outstrip the material. Before it didn't take much effort to believe it when Doraemon stepped across the Anywhere Door to another place or Nobita put on the Takecopter and flew in the sky. Now it requires an extra dose of suspension of disbelief.
But there's no denying that the films needed updating, and the better quality makes the films much more watchable. They did a good job taking the basic traits of the old show, such as the way they draw a circle around the pupil when a character is surprised, and built on and expanded the range of expressions while still keeping the core of the characters.
Yukiyo Teramoto has brought to this film a sense of lyrical beauty that the original was missing. There is a scene where we watch fog rolling down a valley onto the surface of a lake in the morning light. There's a scene where we watch Nobita walk in a dark forest in silhouette. Neither of these scenes serve any narrative purpose, but they're among the more beautiful in the film. Then there's the scene, pictured above, where Nobita walks through the ruins of his hometown. It's quite a striking scene because the nuanced, realistic rendering of the ruins isn't something we'd expect to see in Doraemon.
The characters not only look more three-dimensional, they move in a more three-dimensional way. They bend their bodies into all sorts of configurations the likes of which you never used to see in the old Doraemon. The opening scene is a good example:
This kind of fun character acting is the essence of the new Doraemon. Even scenes that don't jump out as being flamboyantly animated are full of amusing posing like this that keeps the animation lively throughout.
Aside from the character animation, the effects animation and action sequences in the new Doraemon are also a big improvement over the old movies. For example, the scene where Shizuka accidentally causes the robot to destroy a building is basically the same as the original. Except that now, when the building explodes, it explodes and crumbles with an Akira level of maniacally detailed animation.
This was probably animated by Takashi Hashimoto. The animation of the explosion seems like his style. The animation of the building collapsing is impressively detailed. I haven't seen this level of detail of a building collapsing since Shinya Ohira's animation in Akira. Doraemon isn't where I expected to see it.
Another example featuring good effects and good action is the scene where the enemy robot breaks through the mirror leading to the real world. In the old film, it wasn't very excitingly animated or directed. Action scenes were never Tsutomu Shibayama's forte. In the new film, the scene was animated by a flamboyant animator who makes it a hair-raising experience.
The effects in this scene are quite interesting. Instead of drawing a simple laser beam as in the original movie, this animator makes it a pulsating line of star-shaped energy. The forms are quite beautiful to watch. I suspect this scene was done by Hidetsugu Ito, though that's just a guess and I'm not sure.
The FX throughout the film are generally quite nice, as there was an FX & Mecha Animation Director, a role that you don't normally see in anime. Suzuki Tsutomu, whom I recall for his work on Outlaw Star (op, 12, 23), played this role. Perhaps he is the one who invited another great action animator who did good work on Outlaw Star to the film - Susumu Yamaguchi. Robot Army featured a lot of outside faces like this who have never worked on Doraemon before.
The 2008 Green Giant movie also had an FX Animation Director - Hiroshi Masuda, who played the same role in the 3rd and 4th Naruto movies around the same time (which I wrote about here). Hiroshi Masuda has been involved in most of the recent Doraemon movies. In Robot Army he is credited as one of the animation directors. Incidentally, Hidetsugu Ito also acted as FX Animation Director in the 4th Naruto Movie.
The 2006 Dinosaur movie was notable for the slew of outside animators it brought in. There are a lot of other talented outside animators in Robot Army: Takashi Hashimoto, Hidetsugu Ito, Susumu Yamaguchi, Manabu Ohashi, Fumiaki Kota, Tatsuya Tomaru, Junichi Hayama, etc. Fumiaki Kota has been a regular in the films since Green Giant in 2008. Then there are all the regular faces like Masami Otsuka and Masakatsu Sasaki. Masami Otsuka in this movie was almost exclusively devoted to animating the low-key scenes of interaction between the main characters. It was good casting - it allows him to show off what he's really good at.
"Good animation in Doraemon" used to be an oxymoron. Now it's common sense. Over the last decade, I've come to expect that each new Doraemon film will feature quite a bit of good animation by talented in-house and freelance animators. Ayumu Watanabe's 2006 dinosaur film is probably the best known of the recent Doraemon films, as it was the most flamboyantly animated of the whole series, but pretty much every successive film over the last decade has had a lot of good animation.
That didn't used to be the case. For about the first two decades of the yearly movies, the animation was stodgy and perfunctory. It seems like it was around the time Ayumu Watanabe became involved in the Doraemon movies, at the end of the 1990s, that that animation in the Doraemon movies started to become more active and interesting. Masaya Fujimori was one of the animators who helped spice up the animation in the movies around this time.
It's not coincidentally with the 2003 film, directed for the first time by Ayumu Watanabe, that things really started picking up. The animation director system switched from Sadayoshi Tominaga handling everything to a 4-person system. Talented animators were brought in from the outside like Yuichiro Sueyoshi and Hiroyuki Aoyama. This trend continued with the next film in 2004, which featured Masaaki Yuasa and Kenichi Konishi. Things exploded with the next film, the 2006 remake of Nobita's Dinosaur, and from there onwards each new film has hewed, to a greater or lesser extent, to the standard of more dynamic directing and animation set by the 2006 film. (I wrote about the 2008 movie and the 2010 movie before.)
Here is a summary of the key credits for the Doraemon movies over the period during which the staff transformation took place that led to the improvement of the quality of the Doraemon movies. For more about the Doraemon films, refer to my post on A Production.
|2003 #24 Wind Riders|
|Dir: Tsutomu Shibayama / Chief AD: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Tetsuro Karai, Shizue Kaneko, Masaya Fujimori, Yoshiaki Yanagita|
|Notable animators: Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Masaru Oshiro, Toshiharu Sugie, Atsuko Tanaka, Yoshinobu Michihata, Hiroyuki Aoyama, Yuichiro Yano, Toshihiko Masuda, Hiroshi Nagahama, Koichi Murata|
|2004 #25 Wan Nyan Spacetime Adventure|
|Chief Dir/Line Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / Dir/Storyboard: Tsutomu Shibayama / AD: Tetsuro Karai, Shizue Kaneko, Masaya Fujimori, Masayuki Sekine|
|Notable animators: Masaaki Yuasa, Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Kenichi Konishi, Sachiko Kamimura, Masaru Oshiro|
|2006 #26 Nobita's Dinosaur (Remake of movie #1 from 1980)|
|Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Kenichi Konishi|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Tetsuro Karai, Shizuka Hayashi, Tatsuzo Nishita, Hideki Hamasu, Shingo Natsume, Masakatsu Sasaki, Shizue Kaneko, Masaru Oshiro, Ryotaro Makihara, Hisashi Mori, Shinji Hashimoto, Yasunori Miyazawa, Norio Matsumoto, Takaaki Yamashita, Shogo Furuya, Hiroshi Masuda, Tsutomu Suzuki|
|2007 #27 Underworld (Remake of movie #5 from 1984)|
|Dir: Yukiyo Teramoto / AD: Shizue Kaneko|
|Notable animators: Ryotaro Makihara, Masami Otsuka, Hiroshi Masuda, Masaru Oshiro, Shingo Natsume, Masakatsu Sasaki, Toshihiko Masuda, Shizuka Hayashi, Hiromi Hata, Ayumu Kotake|
|2008 #28 Green Giant|
|Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Shizue Kaneko / FX AD: Masuda Hiroshi|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Shizuka Hayashi, Masakatsu Sasaki, Ryotaro Makihara, Tamotsu Ogawa, Norio Matsumoto, Fumiaki Kota, Masahiro Sato, Yoshihiko Umakoshi, Ikuo Kuwana, Kiyotaka Oshiyama, Shigeru Kimishima, Nobutaka, Naoyuki Asano|
|2009 #29 Spaceblazer (Remake of movie #2 from 1981)|
|Chief Dir: Kozo Kusuba / Chief AD: Shizue Kaneko / AD: Naoyuki Asano +3 others|
|Notable animators: Masami Otuska, Hiromi Hata, Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Shizuka Hayashi, Satoru Utsunomiya, Nobutaka, Motonobu Hori, Masashi Okumura, Fumiaki Kota|
|2010 #30 Mermaid Legend|
|Dir: Kozo Kusuba / Chief AD: Naoyuki Asano / AD: 5 names|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Masaru Oshiro, Yasuo Muroi, Shizuka Hayashi, Majiro, Yu Yamashita, Hiroyuki Morita, Fumiaki Kota, Tetsuro Karai, Hiromi Hata, Hiroshi Shimizu|
|2011 #31 Robot Army (Remake of movie #7 from 1986)|
|Dir: Yukiyo Teramoto / Chief AD: Naoyuki Asano / AD: Hiroshi Masuda +5 others / Mecha & FX AD: Tsutomu Suzuki|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Susumu Yamaguchi, Ito Hidetsugu, Tomaru Tatsuya, Kota Fumiaki, Masaru Oshiro, Manabu Ohashi, Shoko Nishigaki, Takashi Hashimoto, Takaya Hirotoshi, Tobe Atsuo, Shigeki Kudo, Hiroyuki Morita, Junichi Hayama, Masakatsu Sasaki, Nobutake Ito, Motonobu Hori, Hiroki Harada, Ayako Hata, Shinichi Kurita, Takashi Mukoda|
|Director: Yukiyo Teramoto|
|Script: Higashi Shimizu|
|Chief Animation Director: Naoyuki Asano|
|Art Director: Makoto Tsuchihashi|
|Storyboard: Yukiyo Teramoto, Tetsuo Yajima|
|Line Director: Minoru Yamaoka|
|Character Design: Shizue Kaneko|
|Animation Directors: Masahiro Kurio, Tomofumi Nakura, Hiroshi Masuda, Aya Takano, Hiroko Yaguchi, Shingo Okano|
|Mecha and Effect Animation Director: Tsutomu Suzuki|
|Masami Otsuka||Takayuki Uragami||Susumu Yamaguchi|
|Hidetsugu Ito||Tatsuya Tomaru||Koichiro Ueda|
|Masahiro Emoto||Fumiaki Kota||Yukari Karai|
|Masaru Oshiro||Nobuhiro Osugi||Yumi Chiba|
|Hisashi Kagawa||Manabu Ohashi||Takeo Oda|
|Yuki Ito||Osamu Miwa||Hitomi Kakubari|
|Mai Tsutsumi||Daisuke Mataga||Kanako Watanabe|
|Takayuki Gotan||Tetsuhito Sato||Emi Kamiishi|
|Hiromi Taniguchi||Masahiko Itojima||Masayuki Koda|
|Masashi Eguchi||Aki Kuki||Jun Ishikawa|
|Yuko Yoshida||Yukihiro Ishida||Hanako Enomoto|
|Yujiro Moriyama||Kunihiro Abe||Akiko Matsuo|
|Misato Abe||Takahiro Takamizawa||Shinichi Yoshikawa|
|Toshiyuki Sato||Shoko Nishigaki||Riki Matsuura|
|Takashi Hashimoto||Hirotoshi Takaya||Atsuo Tobe|
|Shigeki Kudo||Hiroyuki Morita||Junichi Hayama|
|Masakatsu Sasaki||Nobutake Ito||Mamoru Sasaki|
|Kazuo Sakai||Motonobu Hori||Hiroki Harada|
|Ayako Hata||Shinichi Kurita||Takashi Mukoda|
My latest indie Japanese animator discovery is Satoshi Murai. In 2009, one year after graduating from the Graphic Design Department of Tama Art University, he animated a beautiful, dreamy music video for the song A Play by Japanese alternative electro-hop outfit ALT (ALT home page).
It's a ravishing video that doesn't scream "music video" the way most do. It comes across more like a visual poem. I didn't even realize it was a music video until after looking into it.
The video begins with a woman's voice saying, "There are an infinite number of worlds over here, over there, and inside you. But they're also nowhere. The curtain will soon fall. The journey will soon end. It's time for bed."
In a city somewhere in the world, a child is tucked into bed in. This soft, faint scene from our plane of reality then fades out, and the screen explodes into color as a bubble floats up and bursts into a dream-creature that's half television/half beetle. A male voice launches into a rambling, monotone recitation of disjointed poetic images, and the visuals echo his strange words and rhythm, morphing between abstract and identifiable forms. It's like we're witnessing the ether from which the images of dreams are created as our brain pieces together the shards of our everyday experiences into a bizarre visual collage.
Like the words, the hazy images morph quick and fast and create an intoxicating experience that evokes the fertile, poetic creativity of the brain as it cooks up dreams at night. "Nobody remembers the beginning. It's dark outside now. That day I lost something and I gained something in exchange." Sometimes the images directly mirror the words, other times go on their own trajectory: A coffee thermos hovers in mid-air pouring coffee, and morphs into the eye and beak of a bird. A fish runs with human legs. A black and white TV shows a flickering image of a pair of trousered legs walking. For just a second we catch a glimpse of a house hidden in the trees at dusk.
The video feels so unlike a regular music video because of the abstract song. Rather than a catchy pop song, it's a glitchy wash of ambient synths through which a voice swims in a monotone random-walk recitation of playfully alliterating, randomly rhyming chockablock phrases that evoke disjointed images. It's the Japanese answer to alternative hip-hop bands like Clouddead. The visuals and audio are a perfect match with one another, neither making sense but both seeming to make sense together.
The visuals occasionally remind me of Gianluigi Toccafondo, with broad splotches of paint tracing distorted renderings of familiar objects that transform into other objects by stretching and warping. But A Play is far more varied and flexible in its technique and texture. It isn't exclusively produced by painting over and transforming live-action images the way Toccafondo's work seems to be. It switches between very broad abstract painted strokes and more minutely detailed traditional animation, such as the moment where ants are meticulously drawn milling about in a grayscale pencil cross-section of the sleeping boy's head.
As it turns out, Satoshi Murai himself is part of the ALT collective, and he either did or helped with the music of this video. He also does his own solo music. Satoshi Murai's Soundcloud page features the same brand of pleasingly glitchy ambient electronica. So he's an animator-musician, like Ryu Kato. The ALT collective have a number of other visually interesting music videos available on their home page.
I don't know if Satoshi Murai is still part of ALT, but he's currently part of another collective - the Tymote collective, an 8-member group that does cutting edge creative work in motion graphics, illustration and music. You can see more work like A Play in the Palm station ID that Satoshi Murai did at Tymote for the 24-hour music station Space Shower TV. Explore Tymote's home page to see more of the outstanding visual inventiveness of this group.
Like most animators working today, Satoshi Murai has a twitter feed.
The last few days I've been doing some catch-up on what's new lately. I haven't watched much anime the last few months, so I missed out on a quite a bit of the little bits of good animation that have been done here and there, of which apparently there's been quite a bit. It's a shame that so much good work is done in shows that otherwise are of otherwise little interest to me, much less to a non-anime watching audience. The talented animators deserve a bigger audience. I'm beyond tired of seeing good work buried in crap shows that I wince having to watch just to see some good animation. I pretty much can't bring myself to write about it anymore. Luckily there are a lot of you guys out there tweeting or blogging about this kind of news, so it's easier than ever to catch wind of a good bit of animation in some crap show or other.
A-1 Pictures' iDolm@aster is a case in point. Tadashi Hiramatsu did animation in the opening of this show that I had to mute to be able to endure watching for two minutes and it still made me vomit in my mouth a little. Such a great animator relegated to doing this crap. So much for A-1 Pictures being the new ambitious studio on the block. A lot of Gainax people staffing this one. With that and the news of Trigger's formation, it seems there's a big exodus from Gainax going on right now. I'm not terribly crushed. I've been wanting some of the talented people working at Gainax to go elsewhere to have opportunity to do work that is not dictated by the bizarre whims of this studio, which admittedly did get a lot of fine work produced. But I obviously was not the only one feeling it was time for them to move on.
Hiroyuki Imaishi directed a five-minute sequence in the latest episode, episode 15, which is worth checking out if you're not tired of his style yet.
In other disappointing news, a great animator whose work I used to really like, Susumu Yamaguchi, is directing Sunrise's new Gundam show, Gundam AGE, and it looks really stupid. Normally it should be considered a pretty big prop to be appointed to direct the latest sally in one of anime's biggest franchises, but personally I think his talent is completely wasted here. Without his personal stamp on the work, what's the point? There are other people who can competently helm yet another humdrum Gundam. Susumu Yamaguchi is about more than that. It must be a cushy position, so I can't blame him. How much of a living could he have made just sticking it out as a lowly animator doing awesome but unrewarding animation?
The answer to that seems to be hinted at by Kiyoshi Tateishi, who occasionally goes by the name Takashi Shiwasu (see his home page): not much. Tateishi is an animator who's been active since about 2000. Recently he was animator in the opening of Bones' No. 6 and just-started Un-Go. He blogged at some length five days ago about "escaping" the anime industry, stating that he decided to take a break from the "mire" of working in the anime industry, complaining about bad working conditions (though his wording was pretty vague, so I'm not sure exactly what he was talking about).
The sad thing is that when I hear about all these talented people working in the industry, the only thing I can ask them is: Why bother? You could make a way better living, and probably live a happier life, doing something else. Which is the last thing I want to have to say to them, since I enjoy their work. But it's the hard truth. The answer will probably be because they love animation, and that's the right answer, but there's clearly something wrong when people that are pretty talented like Kiyoshi Tateishi (he's got some solid drawing skills that make him a good layout man) can't take it anymore and up and quit.
There was some good work in the otherwise bland and generic new IG outing Guilty Crown. Notably the fight looked like Yutaka Nakamura, but he's not credited, so I don't know who it was. Could it be Toru Okubo? Has he gotten that good since his already pretty good action scene in Tsubasa Chronicle in 2006? Admittedly that's a long time to improve, but I haven't really followed his work closely, so I don't know.
Bones' No. 6 episode 10 had some animation from one of the more appealing of the younger hot-shot animators working today, Yoshimichi Kameda, who did a lot of similar work on Bones' second Fullmetal Alchemist TV show. I find his style a little forced and striving for effect, but I still like his work better than a lot of today's young animators. At least it feels like he's devised his own approach rather than just mimicking Yoshinori Kanada or something. I'll have to check out this show to see if there was any other good work. Bones has been so prolific since I took a break.
Naruto Shippuden's new opening starting with episode 231 is a typically wacky piece by Akitaro Daichi. What an odd idea to get this guy to do a Naruto opening. Either they forgot to look at his CV or they wanted to inject some absurdity into the absurdly long-running show. It's got some enjoyably crazy animation in it. Animators include Hiromi Ishigami, Tokuyuki Matsutake, Hiroyuki Yamashita and Yu Yamashita.
Bones' Un-go is the latest Noitamina show. I suppose the fact that it's distantly inspired by Ango Sakaguchi is supposed to make it edgy, but so far it just looks like anime. It's the Fullmetal Alchemist team, so perhaps that's why they've got Yun Koga doing designs. FMA was huge with the HS girls apparently. Seiji Shimizu seems like the one they turn to to make them a long, talky, story-based pan-gender hit. The one thing I liked about the show was the two shots of the guy flipping around the in the opening, and the ending, which is uncredited for some reason but fairly screams Norimitsu Suzuki. I've no idea who did that flipping part - Yasuyuki Noda? Yuki Komatsu?
Speaking of openings, Gundam AGE's had Yasushi Muraki, but there was nothing in the opening that was really good. I suppose he did the part where the two giant robots fight each other with light sabers, but it wasn't particularly enjoyable to watch if it was him, which is unusual. Ken Otsuka, Akira Amemiya, Shingo Abe and Iwao Teraoka presumably drew the other mecha parts of the op.
Whatever happened to Yasuhiro Aoki? He seemed poised to take off as a director. Now he's animating fights in Madhouse's latest Marvel superhero anime Blade? Way to go, anime. That's how to use talent. He animated some part of the fight in episode 9 together with Satoru Utsunomiya. Extraordinarily considering the talent involved, the animation is totally uninteresting.
The most satisfying episode animation-wise that I've seen during my catch-up has been Bleach episode 341. It's the closest thing to a Naruto 133 that I've seen in the show. Animators involved include Hironori Tanaka, Fumiaki Kota, Hiroshi Kamogawa, Yuki Hayashi, Takaaki Wada, Shinichi Kurita and Yoshimichi Kameda. There are two big explosions in the episode at around the 1/3 mark (image 1 above) and 2/3 mark (image 2 above). Both are really beautiful and in a totally different style. The second one is obviously Hideki Kakita. The first one I'm not so sure. The whole action scene around the first explosion is really amazing. I suppose it must have been the work of Hironori Tanaka and/or Shinichi Kurita. The fight at the beginning was also nice, though it pales in comparison to the insanity of the animation around the first explosion. The explosion fan in me was satiated after watching this. Some of the best explosion work in recent memory.
Ayaka Nakata's Cornelis (2008) is an enigma. A man dressed in a red blazer, red pants, red hat and red suit stands motionless at the center of the screen. He shushes the viewer a few times, as if to silence an unruly audience before his performance begins. His finger still to his mouth, suddenly he slides to the floor, his finger suspended in mid air above his body. A strange dance begins. His blazer seems to take on a life of its own. It peels off him, inverts itself to its white interior, and gives birth to an identical copy of Cornelis - adorned in white blazer, white pants, white hat and white suit. Cornelis and Cornelis' converse peer at each other warily across opposite shoulders, in sync, as if across a twisted mirror. Then they hug each other and begin a strange dance in which their peeled off clothes give birth to more and more Cornelis clones. The dance escalates to a swirl of bodies that finally implodes into the kernel of the orignal red Cornelis.
I was baffled at first, but then came to realize that trying to dig for some deeper meaning is probably beside point. I suspect this film is meant to be enjoyed as a pure exploration of dance and motion. It's like a beautiful modern dance piece, heightened to the fifth dimension of animation where you can contort and transform the human body in ways not possible in real life. It's like George Schwizgebel via Erica Russell - an abstract dance in celebration of the freedom of animation.
Every moment of the animation is packed with nuance. The expressions and body movements of the man at each juncture all seem to betray some unknown emotion - joy, surprise, anguish - at which has just transpired, as if he were miming out a dramatic story. The way he holds his hat above him, inverted, at just such an angle, with such an expression of conviction and purpose, seems to have some obvious meaning to him that we just don't grasp. The man's deliberate poses and expressions make the whole affair seem simultaneously amusing and deadly serious.
The film was supposedly originally conceived without sound, as a pure exercise in abstract body motion. Ayaka Nakata states in an interview that, after every action, she would ask her character Cornelis what he wanted to do next, and would animate the next movement that came to mind. Thus the film evolved in an unpredictable new direction after every juncture, purely as a way of following the inner logic of the character.
All I know is that it's an enjoyable film, and a well made one. It's a beautiful abstract dance of bodies that's never boring or predictable. At every turn you're surprised by some new way that the bodies intertwine and invert and swirl around. The animation work is strong in its spareness and deliberatness. Nothing is wasted. It does what it needs to do in 3 minutes without dragging it out, and feels like it says what it wants to say. The bodies are well drawn in all sorts of configurations, without being over-animated.
I like this film because it feels pure and assured. There's no pretense of attempting to convey a deep message or emotion, or striving for effect, like there is in a lot of films by young Japanese indies. The style is well controlled, showing an effortless ability to come up with creative new ideas that don't feel predictable. A look at the illustrations on her web site confirms that she has a fresh and rich imagination. Each illustration is completely different in its style and concept, but presents some creative new blending of concepts.
As it says in her profile, Ayaka Nakata has been working on commercial ad work since her graduation. Cornelis was the first film she made after graduating from Tokyo Zokei University. Earlier during her studies she made three films: The Day When a Tongue-Clicking Bird Appeared (2004), Grandma's Needlework Room (2005), and Kikimimi, Act 2: Mirrors (2007).
The Day When a Tongue-Clicking Bird Appeared (watch here) is her first film, and she didn't do most of the animation. It's obviously more rough around the edges, but still a pretty good execution of an interesting concept. A man wakes up one morning to find a bird on his head. The bird clicks its tongue "tsk" every time something annoying happens to the man. Every time it does so, it gets bigger and bigger. The next morning, he finds the bird gone, but finds that other people have been infected by the bird's irritated clicking, and have become irritable clicking birds themselves. The cutting is fast and controlled, and she develops the story at just the right pace for its meaning to come through loud and clear. The bird is the little demon of impatience in all of us. Urban alienation and anomie only propagates more of the same.
Grandma's Needlework Room (watch here) is completely different in style and tone, but even more assured and well executed than the previous film. It's a brief but moving remeniscence about a little girl's experience in her grandmother's needlework room. In a short span, thanks to its warm, lamplight palette, the tender images of this film make us feel the weight of emotion of the narrator's memory. The film is remarkably not schmaltzy or excessively sentimental. The film accurately conveys how magical and grand certain things seemed when we were children, that when revisited seem prosaic. The farm where I spent summers in France growing up had shrunk in both grandeur and magic when I re-visited it many years later. Through something very specific and personal she manages to tap the universal. The only problem is the sound design, which could use polishing. Cornelis has a perfect accompaniment that complements every little movement.
I haven't seen her graduation film, Kikimimi, Act 2: Mirrors, but I assume it must be worth seeing. I like that you can see the artist improving with each film. Since making Cornelis Ayaka Nakata has been working mostly on advertising animation, but she also recently did an episode of Rita et Machin, a series based on the French picture books of the same name that also featured episodes directed by an unusual assortment of indie and industry talent such as Toshio Hirata, Hideki Futamura and Hiroco Ichinose.
中田彩郁 Ayaka Nakata filmography
2004: 舌打ち鳥が鳴いた日 The Day When a Tongue-Clicking Bird Appeared
2005: おばあちゃんの作業部屋 Grandma's Needlework Room
2007: 聞耳 第2幕 鏡 Kikimimi, Act 2: Mirrors
2009: コルネリス Cornelis
2011: リタとナントカ「ナントカのおたんじょうび」Rita et Machin: L'anniversaire de Machin
About two years ago animator Aaron Long (Youtube page) wrote on his blog a three-part post about a particular episode of the second TV series of Lupin III that began airing in 1978 and ran for 178 episodes. You can read his posts here:
I just recently discovered Aaron's posts and loved the drawings he'd posted. I hadn't seen the episode in question, but I could tell he had indeed struck upon one of the more interesting episodes in the second series. The drawings are just great, with crazy and loose posing and expression the likes of which you rarely see in anime. Yet the drawings are solid and look good, not sloppy. They have a great sense of stylization. Most people focus on the closing Miyazaki episodes, but there was a lot of other good work done in the second series.
The episode in question is Episode 78, which aired on April 9, 1979. I looked into it and found the staff behind the episode rather easily. The head animator of this episode is Yoshio Kabashima, one of the great ex-A Production animators. The storyboarder of this episode was also an ex-A Pro animator: Yuzo Aoki. Both of them acted as the animation directors of the Mamo movie released in 1978, the same year the second TV series started. Neither of them are well known in the west, but both were among the best animators of their time in Japan, with supple character drawings and dynamic movement that were a pure product of their A Pro heritage
I was really impressed by Aaron's post, because without even knowing the names of the people responsible for either episode 78 or the Mamo movie, he manages to connect the two. He realized that the same guy (or guys) had to have been responsible for the two. And he's exactly right.
Yoshio Kabashima is better known for being the animation director behind Osamu Dezaki's Gamba's Adventure, one of the great classics of anime. He was also the animation director of Yasuo Otsuka's Tenguri and animated the scenes with the calf. I'd actually mentioned Yoshio Kabashima's involvement in this episode of Lupin way back in 2004 in a post on the staff behind the New Lupin series.
Yuzo Aoki in the 70s was one of the wildest and most flamboyant animators you've never heard of. His episodes of Lupin III stood out from the others, and I'm sure it's these that Aaron is thinking of when he talks about the animator behind this episode, even though Kabashima happens to have been responsible for a lot of the good drawings here, like that pictured above. Even in Hajime Ningen Gyators, a few years earlier in 1975, a show in which everything is so individualistic and outrageously drawn, Yuzo Aoki stands out. He's one of the few animators I've been able to identify on the show. In Mamo he's best known for animation the insane car chase with that massive truck, but he also animated much of the scene with the helicopter at the beginning.
These two ex-A Pro animators together acted as the animation directors of the Mamo film a year before episode 78 of New Lupin, giving that films its distinctive character styling, with its lanky characters and very flexible and loose approach to character drawing that is so at odds with Yasuo Otsuka's work on the first Lupin III show from 1972, to say nothing of Cagliostro from 1979. If Cagliostro seemed like a throwback to the earlier show, Mamo was the companion piece to Part II, with its wacky, unpredictable, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink atmosphere of cartoonish anarchy and very loose drawings.
Yoshio Kabashima unfortunately didn't do much else in the New Lupin III series, but Yuzo Aoki did much great work both as a storyboarder and an animator. His episodes are worth seeking out on their own, as even seen today they have a very unique character. Here is a list of what episodes he worked on in New Lupin III:
青木悠三 Yuzo Aoki's work on New Lupin III (1978)
30: Key animation (solo)
35: Key animation (half episode)
69: Key animation
74: Key animation
(85: Uncredited key animation?)
96: Storyboard and key animation
124: Storyboard (and uncredited key animation?)
129: Storyboard (and uncredited key animation?)
138: Storyboard (and uncredited key animation?)
146: (Uncredited key animation?)
149: Storyboard (and uncredited key animation?)
Episode 78 is actually the first episode in what's known colloquially among Japanese fans as the Broadway series. The Broadway series refers to four episodes storyboarded by Yuzo Aoki and written by Yoshio Urasawa that take place on Broadway and are mostly pure slapstick episodes: episodes 78, 106, 117 and 128.
Here are a few snapshots from episode 69, the episode where Zenigata falls in love but his girl gets killed by the gangster Cabane. Yuzo Aoki animated most of the second half, and his style comes through very well in this episode. The drawings of Cabane and his gangsters near the end in particular are high proof Yuzo Aoki.
Rag dolls, roots, plastic bags and clumps of string come alive and go on a journey of the imagination in Jan Svěrák's wonderful new fantasy film Kooky (2010). Not animated by stop-motion in the traditional way, the film is rather a combination of live-action and puppetry. Technically, it's not animation at all. But it belongs firmly within the great tradition of Czech stop-motion filmmaking, from Jiri Trnka's Midsummer Night's Dream (1959) to Jan Svankmajer's Alice (1988) to Jiří Barta's In the Attic (2009).
The story concerns a little boy whose old, unsanitary pink plush doll gets thrown away by his hygienically obsessive mother. The boy dreams of the little pink doll's adventures as it journeys trying to get back home to him.
Kooky, as he's named, travels through the forest that borders the landfill on the outskirts of town, where he meets an assortment of the gods who inhabit the forest, some good and some not so good. What ensues combines action movie thrills with the intrigue of a power struggle as the elder of the forest helps Kooky evade his pursuers while also struggling to maintain power. For a puppet film, the production values are high. The puppets are finely crafted, the pacing is tightly controlled, and the scenes are precisely lighted, staged and shot. And the whole is balanced by a tone of easy, lighthearted humor that never strives too hard for laughs.
The heart of the film is in the wonderful variety of creatures that they come up with to inhabit the forest. In this pantheistic world, each of these fabulous creatures is a little god representing one of the living materials of the forest - conks, roots, mushrooms, acorns, antlers, etc. They're the pantheistic representatives of the forest ecosystem. The puppets are each different from one another and lovingly crafted from found material. Each comes across as having its own unique personality. Just like Jiří Barta's In the Attic, much of the delight of the film comes in just sitting back and enjoying the parade of strange creatures made of bits and pieces of of inanimate objects.
Each character's mode of existence is tied to its substrate. Kooky knows he's a teddy, and knows that he can't get wet because it takes three days for him to dry. When he does get wet, he takes his own stuffing out to allow himself to dry. With his fake pink fur, he's out of place in the forest and coveted by a rapacious burnt plastic bag and crumpled soda bottle who scavenge the forest for man-made materials to bring back to their rightful home in the dump.
The forest elder who takes Kooky under his wing looks like nothing so much as a wizened old tuber, replete with rhizomes as a wirebrush and taproots as limbs. He's nicknamed Godam because of his foul mouth. Another creature is made of an amalgamation of tangled ropes and strings. He stands between the natural world and the world of man: he's neither purely natural nor purely man made, and hence his personality is neutral chaotic. He's scheming but craven, siding with whomever will permit him to act out his natural compulsion to entangle hapless victims in his web.
Intertwined into the simple narrative about Kooky trying to get home are various themes that give the narrative heft and depth and that make the film more than merely 'kooky' kids fare. It's also about struggling with corruption, group identity, nature vs man, and the importance of imagination. Kooky is a prime example of how to make a children's film. The story and struggle are simple and mythical like a children's book. But at the same time, it's subtly witty, its visuals are gritty and unprettified, its themes are complex and ambiguous, and its tone is grounded and realistic. No cute characters, crude jokes, lazy pratfalls, and pop culture references in a desperate attempt to maintain children's attention.
The beauty of the film is how it's all based on existing reality. You have a metropolitan area bordered by a forest, and beyond that you have the dump where we deposit the detritus of civilization. Those are the basic terms of the deal most developed countries have struck with nature in this day and age. Nature acts like a buffer to guard us from the horrors of our excess consumption, all while the detritus continues to infiltrate and destroy nature in the form of pollution and development. This film merely brings the existing tension between nature and man into tangible form by way of a story and characters that embody the various facets of that tension. And it does so elegantly and implicitly, masquerading as a children's story, rather than trumpet it aloud. It appears simple at first sight, but has a deceptive thematic complexity if you choose to pull it apart.
At first when I saw the pink doll come alive at the beginning of the movie, my heart sank. It felt cheap; a lame gimmick. But very soon you forget that you're watching puppets. Your mind adapts to the surreality of the situation, and it's then that the puppets truly come alive. Deep down, animation is about the suspension of disbelief. Kooky is no different from Grave of the Fireflies in the sense that both films work their magic on our emotions because their art invests dead matter with life. It's just that we rarely experience a moment of dislocation in anime because we're not reminded of its artificiality the way we are in Kooky or in other recent films in the Czech tradition. Perhaps the intent was precisely to create a moment of dislocation that would make us aware of the fact that suspension of disbelief is an implicit part of creativity and imagination, and to remind us of what comes naturally to children, but most adults have lost.
It's only when Kooky switches back to reality and the little boy that we're reminded of the unreality of the situation. The fact that there are no scenes combining live actors and puppetry is telling of the fact that the puppets are creatures of the boy's imagination. And we might not have truly believed in these creatures had there been humans right next to them. Combining the two would have wrecked the fantasy. It would have turned into a cheap Muppets movie. Which Kooky emphatically is not. With its dark overtones and grimy, gritty visuals that never shy away from the inherent ugliness of life, this is a unique type of deeply satisfying children's film that could only have been made in the Czech Republic.