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This summer is going to be hot. In addition to all the other items already mentioned, Ryosuke Tahahashi, famous for the hard-boiled realistic robot (not giant robot) shows like Votoms, has a new show or series or something starting in the summer called Flag that I'm rather looking forward to based on its catch copy. It's supposedly going to be shot in strict documentary style. A documentary anime. They're saying there's no precedent, but off the top of my head I can think of at least the old Tatsunoko series Animentary Ketsudan (Animentary: Decision), and the semi-documentary style Tsushimamaru: Sayonara Okinawa... I've only seen a bit of his work, but it struck me as being very cold and withdrawn in a very deliberate way, like a step forward from the realism Tomino tried to bring to robot anime. Too bad the trailer doesn't seem to work for me...
I tried to watch as much of the new season as I possibly could, but conked out after the ep 1 number twenty or so... I think what I enjoyed most of all were three or four of the background drawings in Simoun... Shichiro Kobayashi himself was in there doing actual background painting, and it showed. Bones's Host Club was well done, the perfect shoujo anime. It reminded me a bit of Mamoru Hosoda with the very formal, deliberate framing and detail-oriented directing, and I remember that Takuya Igarashi was another of the directors behind Utena (which I haven't seen) alongside Hosoda in his Katsuyo Hashimoto incarnation. Anyone watching this unfamiliar with shoujo conventions would probably be lost. Decadent is the only word that springs to mind. It was odd to see Sunao "Princess Arete" Katabuchi doing Black Lagoon. The last line of dialogue was the only part of the ep that I thought did justice to the material, which I think could have been pretty interesting. (Katabuchi is notably writing rather than storyboarding.) It reminded me of Naoki Yamamoto's We're all alive (Bokura wa minna ikiteiru), about Japanese salarymen coping with being suddenly cast into a crazy situation in the south pacific... there was some ice-skating animation by Akira Takada in the seiyu anime Love Getchu... Witchblade was overall fairly enjoyable and well directed, with some good animation here and there... Shingo Suzuki was the AD, never heard of him before... Inukami actually had some effort put into the animation... Nana ep 1 was probably the only ep out of the bunch that I was able to watch through to the end and actually enjoy considerably entirely for the story... oh, and Air Gear. I guess it's there to sell something or other, but it was possibly my favorite ep 1 of the new crop in terms of sheer enjoyment of the animation. Hajime Kamegaki worked alongside Yoshinori Kanada in the early 80s, and he's got a great sense for how to fill the animation with interesting and exciting movement, really getting the most out of the possibilities of the skating material.
Here's a list of old anime that's been released on DVD box that I threw together for my own reference a while back. It's pretty impressive how many things that used to be rare and obscure have been released in full. I'm particularly curious about Fight!! Pyu-ta, Shotaro Ishinomori's Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae (read the manga long ago), one of the first TV anime for adults, A Pro's Hajime Ningen Gyators (why did they have to release this in a huge, overpriced box?), Yasuo Otsuka's Samurai Giants, Paris no Isabelle, written by Takeshi Shudo...
鉄腕アトム Tetsuwan atom 1-2 ￥17,955 (18)
鉄人28号 Tetsujin 28go 1-4 ￥16,200 (6)
ビッグX BigX￥15,397 (4)
エイトマン 8Man 1-2 ￥9,261 (4)
サイボーグ009 Cyborg009 ￥23,520 (5)
ワンダースリー WonderThree ￥17,955 (10)
宇宙エース Uchu Ace ￥28,350 (5)
宇宙少年ソラン Uchu Shonen Soran 1-2 ￥56,700 (12) OOP
遊星少年パピイ Yusei Shonen Papi 1-2 ￥13,892 (6)
悟空の大冒険 Goku no Daiboken ￥10,868 (7)
ピュンピュン丸 Pyunpyunmaru ￥24,570 (4)
黄金バット Ogon Bat ￥28,350 (2)
わんぱく探偵団 Wanpaku tanteidan ￥34,020 (6)
ファイトだ!! ピュー太 Fight da!! Pyuta ￥24,098 (5)
佐武と市捕物控 Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae ￥39,974 (10)
巨人の星 Kyojin no hoshi box & bara
サスケ 1-2 Sasuke ￥13,325 (3)
バンパイヤ Vampire ￥8,978 (5)
アニマル1 Animal1 ￥23,625 (5)
タイガーマスク Tiger Mask 1-3 ￥34,020 (6)
どろろ Dororo ￥8,978 (5)
海底少年マリン Kaitei shonen marin ￥9,875 (3)
妖怪人間ベム Yokai ningen bem ￥28,350 (5) OOP
タイガーマスク Tiger mask 1-2 ￥34,020 (6)
忍風カムイ外伝 Ninpu kamui gaiden 1-2 ￥24,499 (4) OOP
紅三四郎 Sugata sanshiro ￥28,350 (5) OOP
ハクション大魔王 Hakushon daimao ￥51,975 (7)
アタックNo.1 Attack No.1 ￥89,586 (18)
あしたのジョー Ashita no Joe ￥45,000 (16)
アンデルセン物語 Andersen Monogatari 1-2 ￥8,978 (5)
原始少年リュウ Genshi shonen ryu ￥26,460 (5)
さすらいの太陽 Sasurai no taiyo ￥26,460 (5)
アニメンタリー決断 Animetary ketsudan ￥19,845 (5)
さるとびエッちゃん Sarutobi ecchan ￥26,460 (5)
国松さまのお通りだい Kunimatsusama no otoridai 1-2 ￥26,460 (5)
アパッチ野球軍 Apacchi yakyugun ￥23,625 (5)
ど根性ガエル 1-5 Dokonjo gaeru ￥25,326 (4)
海のトリトン Umi no toriton ￥28,350 (5) +bara
ミラクル少女リミットちゃん Miracle shoujo limit chan ￥26,460 (5)
バビル2世 Babil2sei ￥30,240 (6)
エースをねらえ! Ace wo nerae 1-2 ￥15,876 (3) +bara
侍ジャイアンツ Samurai giants 1-2 ￥28,161 (4)
空手バカ一代 1-2 Karate baka ichidai ￥22,680 (6)
ゼロテスター Zero tester ￥21,546 (5)
はじめ人間ギャートルズ Hajime ningen gyators ￥66,150 (11)
魔女っ子メグちゃん 1-2 Majokko meguchan ￥28,350 (6)
元祖天才バカボン Ganso tensai bakabon 1-3 ￥28,350 (6)
ガンバの冒険 Ganba no boken ￥19,492 (6) +bara
アラビアンナイト シンドバットの冒険 Arabian night sinbad no boken 1-2 ￥25,137 (7)
アンデス少年ペペロの冒険 Andes shonen pepero no boken ￥14,800 (8) OOP
ドカベン Dokaben ￥113,400 (33)
ピコリーノの冒険 Picolino no boken 1-2 ￥25,137 (7)
無敵超人ザンボット3 Muteki chojin zambot 3 ￥22,680 (4)
魔女っ子チックル Majokko chikkuru 1-3 ￥9,261 (2)
家なき子 1-2 Ie naki ko ￥28,350 (5)
宝島 Takarajima 1-2 ￥17,766 (4) OOP
花の子ルンルン 1-2 Hana no ko runrun (5)
キリン名曲ロマン劇場「巴里のイザベル」Pari no isabelle ￥11,671 (4)
キリン名曲ロマン劇場「野バラのジュリー」Nobara no julie ￥11,671 (4)
あしたのジョー2 Ashita no joe ￥27,000 (8)
ニルスのふしぎな旅 Nils no fushigi na tabi ￥28,350 (6)
釣りキチ三平 Tsuri kichi sanpei ￥34,020 (6)
戦国魔神ゴーショーグン Sengoku majin goshogun ￥34,020 (6)
じゃりン子チエ 1-4 Jarinko chie ￥15,876 (3)
黄金戦士ゴールドライタン Ogon senshi gold lightan 1-2 ￥28,350 (4)
ワンワン三銃士 Wanwan sanjushi ￥23,342 (7)
六神合体ゴッドマーズ Rokushin gattai god mars 1-2 ￥26,271 (4)
パタリロ！ Patariro 1-2 ￥22,491 (4)
さすがの猿飛 Sasuga no sarutobi ￥85,050 (24)
スペースアドベンチャーコブラ Space adventure cobra ￥40,446 (9)
太陽の子 エステバン 1-2 Taiyo no ko esteban ￥23,625 (4)
魔境伝説アクロバンチ Makyo densetsu acrobunch ￥23,625 (4) OOP
Cat's Eye 1-2 ￥28,010 (9)
ストップ!!ひばりくん Stop!! Hibari-kun ￥18,711 (3)
スプーンおばさん 1-2 Spoon obasan ￥21,546 (6)
未来警察ウラシマン Mirai keisatsu urashiman 1-2 ￥28,350 (4)
プラレス3四郎 Plawres 3shiro ￥35,721 (6)
装甲騎兵ボトムズ DVDメモリアルボックス Votoms ￥94,500 (20)
GU-GU ガンモ Gugu ganmo 1-2 ￥25,515 (5)
とんがり帽子のメモル Tongari boshi no memole ￥54,810 (11)
巨神ゴーグ Kyojin gorg ￥40,000 (8) OOP
星銃士ビスマルク Seitoshi bismark 1-2 ￥30,240 (5)
蒼き流星SPTレイズナー Aoki ryusei SPT layzner 1-2 ￥19,845 (5)
破邪大星ダンガイオー Hajadaisei dangaio ￥5,040
忍者戦士飛影 Ninja senshi tobikage 1-2 ￥28,350 (4)
超獣機神ダンクーガ コンプリートボックス Dancougar 1-2 ￥28,350 (4)
ゲゲゲの鬼太郎 III Gegegeno kitaro III ￥61,425 (20)
マシンロボクロノスの大逆襲 Machine robo chronos no daigyakushu 1-2 ￥28,350 (4)
宇宙船サジタリウス Uchusen sajitariusu 1-3 ￥27,405 (5)
ビックリマン 1-2 Bikkuriman ￥34,020 (6)
アニメ三銃士 1-2 Anime sanjushi ￥27,216 (5)
青いブリンク 1-2 Aoi blink ￥14,175 (3)
チエちゃん奮戦記 Chie chan funsenki 1-2 ￥18,711 (4)
ひみつのアッコちゃん Himitsu no akkochan I (1969) 1-4 ￥19,800 (4)
ひみつのアッコちゃん Himitsu no akkochan II (1988) 1-2 ￥28,799 (6)
ひみつのアッコちゃん Himitsu no akkochan III (1998) 1-2 ￥19,800 (4)
東映アニメモノクロ傑作選 Toei monochrome masterpieces 1-3 ￥9,261 (3)
Back-catalogues are always an interesting thing to explore. Whether it be discovering how much of a difference a great storyboard can make upon viewing Isao Takahata's storyboard for Jacky the Bearcub #5 of 1977, or seeing the faint outline of his later style in his earliest work on Ken the Wolf Boy from 1963, or discovering Osamu Dezaki's crazed early work on Goku in 1967 after having only been familiar with the trademark Dezaki style of Blackjack or Cobra or Aim for the Ace... There are always little side-jobs a creator has done over the years that can be interesting to discover for the insight they can offer on a person's evolution or hidden, unexplored possibilities.
No one offers a better example of this than Dezaki, who was rather prolific on a variety of TV shows during the early 70s after the breakup of Mushi Pro, leaving behind a healthy stock of material waiting to be rediscovered by an intrepid fan. While at Mushi Pro Dezaki worked alongside many of the people who he would go on to take with him when he left the studio to form Madhouse with Masao Maruyama et al., most prominently Sugino Akio, who worked with him on Tomorrow Joe. Masami Hata stayed at Mushi Pro until the very end in 1973 and did his earliest work for TMS under Dezaki that same year.
The decade of the 70s for Dezaki consists almost exclusively of work for TMS because Yutaka Fujioka provided the funding for the founding of Madhouse, so there was a sort of obligation relationship there. Dezaki was one of the people to whom Fujioka turned to provide a pilot for Nemo, the project that was essentially the reason Fujioka got into animation in the first place, which should make it clear how close they must have been. Dezaki was one of the pillars of TMS, even while not technically being a TMS person. It was for TMS that Dezaki directed the bulk of his most famous TV work - Aim for the Ace (1973), Gamba's Adventure (1975), Treasure Island (1978), etc. All of these are still fairly popular today, as is his very first show, Tomorrow Joe (1970). But between the two came his very first job as TV series director for TMS in 1973 - Jungle Kurobée - which still remains a mystery item to most people, for the unique reasons outlined below.
A Pro is more famous as being the force behind those distinctive TMS shows with fast-paced action and simple designs like Dokonjo Gaeru and Ganso Tensai Bakabon. This is the style that eventually led to Doraemon, albeit in watered-down form, sapped of the zing and animated frenzy that made these early shows so memorable. Jungle Kurobée falls into that line at first sight, but it was directed by Dezaki with animation from the still young Madhouse, rather than A Pro. The Madhouse of this era is permanently associated with Sugino in my head, so the stylistic disconnect is a little hard to fathom. But the fact is, there's a lot of overlap in the staff in these early formative years, accounting for the similarity - first and foremost Yoshio Kabashima, who would go on to be one of the main A Pro people, also working one more time with Dezaki on Gamba's Adventure in 1975, which is the last time we see Dezaki doing this sort of material. So Kurobée sort of acts as the missing link between Goku (1967) and Gamba (1975) for the gag vein of Dezaki that I've always loved. Dezaki recently directed a film of Hamtaro that I'd be curious to see, as the material seems an obvious extension of this stylistic line. I've heard it's quite dynamic, which is exactly what I'd expect, knowing his early work. This material seemed to liberate him to get in touch with a primitive inner energy that you don't see in his other more 'realistic' work, and that's something I'd have liked to have seen more often, but I think it started to be out of tune with the times from the 80s on.
Kurobée was cancelled after only 31 eps, while Dokonjo ran for more than two years, but this had more to do with the fact that Ultraman was airing in the same time slot as Kurobée on another channel than because of an inherent difference in quality. Kurobée shares most of the qualities that made and make Dokonjo and A Pro's later shows so exhilirating and fun, from the dynamic cutting and simple layout and designs to the vivacious and characterful animation that pushes the medium of limited animation to its limits. Kurobée further benefits from the acid wit and manic pacing that characterized Dezaki's work on Goku. Dezaki himself admits to having a particular soft spot for this series. This was his first job for TMS after Fujioka had gave him the money to found his own studio, so he really put the effort in to do the best work he could to pay back the favor, and it shows. The first ep, which Dezaki storyboarded (he did 8 other storyboards and a lot of correcting), bursts with an inexplicable frenzied energy. He achieves a sort of nirvana state in the pacing, with events unfolding less based on logic than on a sort of genius instinct for what will create the most viscerally exciting flow of unexpected action.
The story itself is simple, as the series is purely episodic, with only the vaguest running narrative. In that it's like all of the other shows that followed. But the basic story is at the root of the show's woes. It's why Kurobée has been banned from ever being shown on TV or released on video in Japan. Kurobée is the story of a boy from the imaginary country of Pirimi in Africa. By mistake one day he stows away on a plane heading to Japan and overnight finds himself in an alien land unlike anything he's ever seen. A Japanese family finds him and offers him shelter for the night, and in return he vows to repay the favor. He digs a large hole several meters deep, indicating that he will have repaid the favor once he has filled the hole with rocks, one rock for each good deed, as is the custom in his land. The rest of the series relates his escapades trying to repay the favor, one good deed at a time. It's a classic clash-of-cultures setup, with Kurobée acting as a sort of naive cypher there to spotlight the foibles of Japanese society. Walkabout came out two years earlier, and must certainly have been an influence on Hayao Miyazaki when he came up with the basic premise just before leaving A Pro for Nippon Animation.
The problems started when the manga version by Fujiko Fujio was reprinted in 1989. (The manga was written while the anime was airing, but only loosely parallels the anime.) An activist group formed to combat discrimination against Africans in Japan successfully petitioned for the banning of Little Black Sambo on the basis of its racist portrayal of Africans, and subsequently brought the same accusation against Jungle Kurobée. The publishers, and Fujio himself, decided to play it safe to avoid litigation, and the book was retracted. The anime version was not technically implicated in the whole debacle, but by association it is effectively banned as well, meaning no reruns or DVD release.
I support this group's fight. Discrimination is alive and well in Japan and elsewhere, not only against blacks but against native Ainu, burakumin and others. It just doesn't seem like banning Jungle Kurobée is the solution. For one, it's highly debatable whether the accusation is true. It seems fairly obvious that Kurobe is not a vehicle to caricature a specific culture or race. Kurobe could have been a fairy from a magical kingdom and the clash-of-cultures setup would have functioned just as well. The anime itself hasn't even been impugned. Cowardice and/or laziness to address the accusation on the part of the publishers and creator are largely responsible for its disappearance. The show's inherent quality and historical value make it regrettable that any circumstance should prevent it from being seen. Rather than allowing a third party to make the decision for us, the most satisfying solution would seem to be to give posterity the opportunity to judge the matter with its own eyes.
As I was looking at the amazing list of creators Madhouse had on display at their booth at the Tokyo Anime Fair recently (here), my heart skipped a beat when I ran across the name of Masami Hata. Here was a photo of Masami Hata, looking dignified and noble and decidedly more weathered than in the last photo I'd seen of him circa 1980 working on The Legend of Sirius, and he was making a new movie for Sanrio at Madhouse slated for winter 2007. Crazy. I've had something of a fetish for Masami Hata for a long time now, and threw together a filmography a few years back to prove it, as well as to try to get his work more known. So needless to say, I'm super excited. The new film, entitled Nezumi no Monogatari or Story of a Mouse, will also be based on a story by ex-Sanrio Films executive producer Shintaro Tsuji, like Hata's masterpieces The Legend of Sirius and Fairy Florence. It looks to be aimed at very young audiences, as most of his stuff of recent years has been, but it'll still be nice to see some more work from Hata.
Since entering the new millennium I haven't seen much of his work, and began to assume he might have retired, so it was great news to me personally to see that this veteran active since the very beginning of anime who directed some of the best and most unique anime films of the last few decades was making a return to the silver screen. Hata has received scant attention for his work, which perhaps isn't surprising since most of his major work dates from more than two decades ago, and stylistically has generally been more international and less identifiably "anime". But that international quality is precisely what makes his work special. His low profile also seems to have been a deliberate thing. I've always found it hard to verbalize what it is about Hata's work that captivates me, but it has something to do with this - the fact that he had the humility to not make the sort of career decisions that might otherwise have turned him into an anime idol. Though he showed he could create serious, dark drama with real power, he always stuck to speaking to younger audiences. Hata reminds me of Toshio Hirata in that respect - he somehow manages the magic trick of creating boldly personal work that remains impersonal and unpretentious. He's the embodiment of what it means to be a pro. He went on creating work that seemed oblivious to passing stylistic fads within Japan, when almost no other director at any studio over there seemed to be able to do the same. He had his eye on the goal the whole time. I can't think of any anime director who strikes me as having a greater sureness of purpose.
Here is a representative sample of Hata at his very best, roughly divided into his various periods:
We'll begin with that show I've long gone on about to no end, Goku's Big Adventure. Hata directed eight episodes in total. Episodes 9 and 10 are easily the best, and show Hata at his career best right from the start. Hata was never this uninhibited again, which I guess is what youth is about. In 1001 Nights and particularly in Cleopatra we have a rare chance to see Hata the animator in action. He animated Caesar and Antonius, along with a few other characters and scenes, in Cleopatra. Clearly Hata prefers coming up with the ideas to the arduous labor of transferring them to paper, but here he shows that he could function brilliantly as an animator if need be. Right after this Hata directed a few episodes of Osamu Dezaki's Tomorrow Joe, of which #14 shows him at the height of his powers.
Immediately after leaving Mushi Pro Hata drew the storyboard for episode 1 of 1973's Wild West Sam, and this is a great showcase for the talents of Hata the storyboarder at this transition period. Other than this Hata was actually quite busy storyboarding many of TMS's classic gag shows, but they're impossible to find over here, so only worth mentioning in passing.
Hata's most famous work was done while he was at Sanrio Films, the now defunct animation arm of Sanrio. His first project was co-directing the brilliant Little Jumbo in the year or so before 1977, which is unfortunately not available here. What is perhaps Hata's most famous piece came the year after - the masterful Ringing Bell. In it he showed that it was possible to balance dark, suspenseful drama with cute characters, creating a finely balanced short film with a universal style and theme compelling to people of any age. We can see a return of Hata the animator in the equally brilliant Unico pilot and the odd but memorable Winds of Change. The next five years of Hata's time at Sanrio were occupied on the two most significant achievements of his career: The Legend of Sirius and Fairy Florence.
After Sanrio Films disappeared, Hata acted as a pinch hitter director for the colossal Nemo, and did the very best he possibly could given the very difficult circumstances, as Yasuo Otsuka relates. I don't know how it came to Hata to direct the gross-out TV series Ping Pong Club in 1995, but he was a surprisingly perfect choice, and he handles it with his usual deft comic sense. In 1997 he handled the very different Tamagocchi mini-series, which allowed him free reign to do what he does best, breathing wonderful life into the inhabitants of a made-up microcosm. Hata touched on a wide variety forms and also went back to storyboarding for various shows during this period. It's high time that he came back to direct another film!
I wonder if there's any way of seeing more of 's work? Some of his work was included on The Planet and it was easily among my favorite work on the disc, with its hand-drawn aesthetic obviously dating it to an older generation. Some parts were like an Escher drawing come to life, while others were line studies that reminded me of McLaren. It stood out as obviously of a different era and mindset from everything else on the disc - not to discount the more recent stuff, as some of it was really inventive. Nowadays people just wouldn't seem as prone to do anything so laborious by hand. Reading up on him reveals that he's made quite a number of films over the last few decades, and was even involved with the NFB in some manner. Norman McLaren springs to mind when you watch his films, and indeed they apparently met at one point. A few months back I noticed that Uplink also released what appears to be a continuation of The Planet - Animados Musicales. (clip) Which reminds me that I still need to see Mercano the Martian... Now if they'd release a DVD of Bras's work, that would just top the cake with icing.
A few weeks back I noticed Susumu "Gucci" Yamaguchi was going to be doing another ep, 102, so not having seen 21, I was looking forward to it to see how his work had evolved over the years since Outlaw Star. I checked out 101 just to get some frame of reference on the show's style, and was surprised how well done it was. Nothing extraordinary, but solidly crafted. Yamaguchi's early work was the epitome of youthful fervor, with crazy drawings and wild action like a cross between Utsunomiya and Imaishi, so I didn't think we'd be able to see his true flavor come through in a show like this. With the exception of one place where he put his all into a great action sequence full of laborious and thrilling background animation, which we don't see much of anymore these days, the ep didn't have quite the feeling of velocity in his early work, but it pulled you in the same way his old work did. The only name I recognize is Yasushi Shingo, who was in most of Gucchi's eps of Outlaw Star, so perhaps he did the good part. Gucci is the only one who's done solo eps like this in the show.
I was surprised that Kenji Nakamura/Takashi Hashimoto's wrapped up on only its 3rd ep, but on second thought, it makes sense in view of the astonishing work they did in those few eps. It's more surprising that this kind of work was shown on TV to begin with. It was a stylistic tour-de-force on the order of Cossette. The second ep wasn't done by the main team, so while similar on the surface it was lackluster and missing the other eps' spark of genius. With the finale (ep 11) we were back to the grin-inducing manic directing of ep 9, with a huge array of animators in tow to boot (33 KA), including Soichiro Matsuda, Kakita, Hashimoto, Yamashita Takaaki and his protege. Stylistic quirks were kicked into thrilling overdrive, wrapping up the story nicely. The kitty's movement at the very end was wonderfully nuanced and delightful, so presumably Yamashita. Elsewhere it looked like Akira Takada. I don't think anyone saw this one coming. Bravo Kenji Nakamura & Takashi Hashimoto. Encore!
went out with an impressive bang in the last episode, 24, with all the major animators we saw throughout the series filling the ep with non-stop animated excitement. Not much else to say other than gokurousama! It was great to see Satoru Utsunomiya get a chance to do a lot of work here, as I remember hoping he'd get to. On top of that Matsumoto did a lot, but interestingly though there was a bit of action it was mostly low-key everyday life animation. Then Hiroshi Okubo did a lot of great action, while the now up-and-coming Ryochimo made a name for himself in no time short.
I've talked about Eiichi Yamamoto's 1973 classic Kanashimi no Belladonna in the past, but few have probably had the chance to see it over here. Well, denizens of the big apple now have a chance to do so. The film will be getting a limited screening starting this week in New York City. See the linked page for details.
This year is shaping up to be the year of Madhouse. As if it weren't enough that they already had on the lineup for 2006 a new film by Mamoru Hosoda, a new film by Satoshi Kon, and a recently announced TV series by Mitsuo Iso, today Madhouse announced that Masaaki Yuasa is producing a TV series there called Kemonozume. Now, this either means Claw of the Beast or Canned Beast. Hard to tell because it's in katakana. It would be very Yuasa-like if it was spelled the way it was in an intentional pun on those two meanings. Either way, the series will also be created by Yuasa, and will air this summer on WOWOW. Madhouse apparently entered into a contract with this cable station at the end of last year, and Yuasa's series will be followed by one by Tatsuo Sato and presumably more afterwards. Perhaps Denno Coil is next on the lineup.
Although I've never been a big fan, I have to hand it to Madhouse this time. They've managed to corral three of my absolute favorite currently active creators in anime into heading their own projects, all in the same year, all of them 'firsts' of one kind or another for each director. I'd like to know who on earth was responsible. Masao Maruyama? Either way, my hat is off and my head is scraping the ground. Again, I guess my only concern is that they might pull a muscle doing so many wonderful things all at once. Seems like they're overextending themselves. (They have about ten other shows in the works.) I hear Mitsuo Iso is handling the Photoshopping and Aftereffects for his series all by himself. But I'll be optimistic and instead take this to mean that the studio is allowing each person to do his work in the manner best suited to his respective style. Because in Iso's case it doesn't come as a surprise that he would choose to do such a thing, since he's been working towards precisely that sort of approach for several years now. In any case, I don't see how they could go wrong at this point. They've got what you might call 'critical mass'.
I often hear about the passing of filmmakers or artists in their old age, many of whom I liked or at least had a vague familiarity with, but rarely am I particularly moved or touched by their death beyond a generic feeling of sadness that a great artist has passed.
Today on visiting hydrocephalicbunny I was devastated to learn of the death of the person whom I would possibly qualify as my favorite filmmaker of all time, Walerian Borowczyk. I gasped audibly when I read the news, and I still haven't recovered. The man has apparently been living as a hermit for the last ten years, but I've always held out the hope that one day we could see another film, even just a short, from Boro, because there's no way a mind like his could possibly stop creating, even in old age. It seems he did continue to be active as a sculptor and painter, but it was not to be for the filmmaker in Boro. It's a terrible loss for cinema. That it should have taken me more than a month to find a site even mentioning his death is depressing proof that he remains all too little known around the world despite his obvious artistic genius and his citation as an influence by many of the greats active today like Jan Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay and Terry Gilliam. I can only hope that time will change that, but the nature of his work suggests that it won't. He followed his instincts to places most people wouldn't dare to go, which almost certainly helped to kill his career as a filmmaker, getting him labelled as a glorified pornographer by people who couldn't see behind the surface to the absurd humor underneath, but he was always true to his artistic vision. He's a director who is too full of contradictions, too unmanageable, to ever become common property. It's sad, but perhaps it's best that way.
My first introduction to Borowczyk's films was Blanche (1971). I watched the film in the AV room of Leeds University when I was studying there in 2000, not knowing anything about what to expect. To this day I can still distinctly remember every detail of the experience of watching the film, down to the odor of the room I was sitting in and my emotions watching the various parts of the film, the impact of the film on me was so great. I've already lamented the fact that this masterpiece is not out on DVD, and I'll take this moment to do so again. I don't usually like to make generalizations this broad, but to me personally it's one of the handful of great films of the 20th century, and at the very least it's certainly one of the great films of postwar European cinema. An adaptation of the story of Mazeppa, the film shows Borowczyk's genius for editing and framing shots with an almost fetishistic eye for the beautiful details of everyday objects, as if the objects themselves were the proxy subjects of his films, silently observing the tragedies of love being played out by their owners. The film was among the first to make authentic use of medieval music, and benefited immensely from brilliant performances by great actors including the aged Michel Simon.
Not long afterwards I had the chance to see the other masterpiece of his early period, his first full-length feature, Goto, l'ile d'amour (1968), which confirmed the suspicion I had after watching Blanche that I'd stumbled across something great, and something that few people seemed to have heard of for some reason. Goto was completely different, yet just as great as Blance. It was an inspired dystopian fantasy that worked on every level - formal beauty, brilliant acting, multilayered theme. It was the first film in which we could see his preoccupations with the overriding power of love on the human creature emerging. In Blance this theme was brought to what I think is its best form in his oeuvre, as afterwards it begins to be diluted by more direct depicitions, and frankly many of his later films are hard to recommend, though they're universally beautiful to behold. His genius as creator of images of formal beauty never flagged, even while the difficulty of getting his films made started seeping into the films themselves. Thankfully he made a comeback about fifteen years ago with his last film, Love Rites, which seemed to finally do what he'd be striving to do all those years in a way that was true to his vision.
The Borowczyk who had such an influence on the great animators active today is actually the Borowczyk I discovered only recently. Watching his films it is obvious that they were made by someone trained in the craft of animation, and someone with a very personal approach to the craft at that. But if finding his films is hard enough, most of them available only in horrifically edited and dubbed foreign editions, finding his animated films is well nigh impossible. Recently a number of them have appeared as extras on a number of DVD releases, so I've been able to get a basic sense of what his animation was like, though I have yet to see his Kabal films, which are still among his most highly regarded from everything I've heard. They're the only films that he actually drew among everything I've seen. Most of it is surrealistic collage of a decidedly Freudian vein. Some people have compared Boro to Luis Bunuel, and Boro's animated films definitely strike me as the sort of films Bunuel might have made had he been an animator. There are always little anti-clerical touches here and there in most of Boro's early films, albeit more light-hearted than the shotgun-to-the-head treatment Bunuel gave the church. I guess it was a natural reaction for a Pole and a Spaniard of their time. Borowczyk's animation seems ripe to be rediscovered for its intrinsic originality and fascination, as the missing link to his film period, and also as the precursor of some of the great animators active today.
In the comments section noted below, Daniel Bird mentions that he's hoping "to put together a modest exhibition of artworks for a 'tribute' to Borowczyk at Norwich Animation Festival in October." I wish I could be there. Boro's wife and actress in his early films, Ligia Branice, was reportedly with her husband right until the end. My condolences. R.I.P.
Some links by way of introduction to the man and his work.
- An overview of Borowczyk's life and works (Daniel Bird)
- Gallery of Boro's sculptures and paintings, from an exhibit of his work at Annecy (Animation World Network)
- Objects of Desire: Borowczyk on Video (Chris Blackford)
- GreenCine obit, with some interesting discussion in the comments section
The last arc of Toei's omnibus of classic Japanese gothic horror stories is actually an original story, unlike the previous two. I was rather disappointed with the middle arc involving Yasuhiro Nakura (to say nothing of the first, which I was expecting), but I had high hopes that Takashi Hashimoto wouldn't let me down with the last, and after watching the first episode today I'm glad to say that they were definitely keeping the best for last.
The first episode in the arc, #9 of the series, was quite simply stunning. It was one of the most original and refreshing anime episodes I've seen anywhere in a long time. All of the elements combined perfectly, and every moment was precisely honed down to the millisecond. Takashi Hashimoto had never been known for his character animation, and had never done a character design as far as I know, so I had no idea what to expect, and was ready to be underwhelmed. But he upended those expectations in a big way, with inspired and original designs far, far removed from the typical. Each character is wonderfully unique, the expressions rich, the forms comical yet realisic and the lines expressive and free. He himself was the AD of the first ep, so it was truly a delight to see.
The animation itself was rich and nuanced, but what made it truly satisfying is that it works as a whole with everything else - art, sound and directing. The whole world looks like a moving ukiyo-e by Hokusai or Hiroshige, and the characters are overlaid with patterns that make them blend into these surroundings. Mahiro Maeda's attempt at something similar in The Count of Monte Cristo seemed a little forced, but here it works effortlessly. The sound is fascinatingly surrealistic, adding a lot to the elliptical directing. The director, Kenji Nakamura, had previously done the CGI action spectacular Karas, which had impressed me even though I don't usually enjoy CGI. I could tell this guy knew what he was doing. I believe before that he worked as assistant director under Mamoru Hosoda, which perhaps helps to explain his similarly tight, meticulous, detail-oriented directing style. He's got a virtuosic knack for jumping around with shots to create a convincing feeling of space.
It really does come together brilliantly. Every moment is a delight, and he knows how to carry it over the length of the episode so that no moment feels unnecessary. A sense of tension builds through oddly placed shot after oddly placed shot of the eerie (and vaguely familiar) paintings that seem to decorate every nook and cranny of the mazelike building interior, and this tension is eventually released in a fantastic burst of energy that attains the feeling of power it does because it's done with Hashimoto's masterly, controlled animation.
Incidentally, perhaps not surprisingly, Hashimoto is here joined by Hideki Kakita, that other master of explosions and miscellanous effects. How odd to see them together without a massive catastrophe in sight. We could see the two working together on Eureka Seven recently. A few years before we could see them in a slightly more surprising context - Dokkoida, one of UFO Table's earlier shows. Kakita did some nice explosions in 6, while Hashimoto did some in 7. Kakita also did explosions in various other spots. His patently realistic style and meticulous layout make his shots stand out in stark contrast in the show, but it's ceratinly an interesting studio in that they always do their best to make the animation as interesting as possible. They even brought in Naoyuki Onda for one of the episodes, which is almost shocking. It's like they're doing it with a wink to all the animation freaks out there. It's unfortunate that a sense of balance and control in all of the other elements seems to get lost in the process in everything they do. Similarly they also seem to try to have at least a solo animator episode or two in each show, as well as a few duos. Here there's a solo by Futoshi Higashide in 5 that is truly unhinged in the best possible sense of the word. It's probably what brought him to Hiroyuki Imaishi's attention for Dead Leaves. It's a classic example of an animator bursting with energy and talent given the spotlight to ham it up over the length of a whole episode in a manic burst of bravado animated showboating, like Tetsuya Takeuchi did more recently in Honey and Clover.
I discovered another Norimitsu Suzuki ending - the third season of Galaxy Angel A, from 2002. When I started watching the ending, I thought movements were suspiciously good, so I had a feeling it had to be someone I was familiar with. This is the oldest of his endings I've seen. The reason I checked the show out was to see some more work by Shigehito Takayanagi, the director of the third season, because I rather liked what he did with ep 4 of 1998's Popolo Crois. He's directing a new show called Himesama Goyojin that starts next month.
I watched the first episode of Tomomi Mochizuki's Shinigami no Ballad, and I actually preferred it in its simplicity to his previous show. I guess I'm just a softie for stories like that.
Norio Matsumoto was in Noein 21. While watching the episode I got the feeling the drawings were somehow different. It felt like the staff had all been consciously influenced by Matsumoto or something. As it turns out it was because Akira Takada was the AD. He was one of the main staff behind Haibane Renmei and has worked together with Matsumoto on a number of occasions, so that probably explains the similarity. I really like his drawings. And right from the first shot I thought there was something different about the directing. It was much tighter, showed a clearly better sense for drama, so I was wondering who did it. On seeing the credit at the very end I finally remembered I'd been told beforehand that it would be a Hiroyuki Morita storyboard. It showed. And Matsumoto was well used here again, providing the pivotal scene revealing Atori's true motivation with just the sort of nuanced expression and acting required to give the scene the proper impact. Which leads me to wonder aloud to myself something I've long wondered: Who assigns shots? The storyboarder, the ep director, the director? Surely not the animation director? I'd suppose the storyboarder, but I've never seen shot assignments in storyboards. Either it's just written somewhere else, or the person who processes the storyboard (ep director) must do it.
I enjoyed Ergo Proxy, though it's nothing nearly as new as I would have hoped. The moody directing and laid back Blade Runner-esque storytelling of Dai Sato (how many shows is he juggling?!) are obviously the attraction of the show and not the animation, but I thought the animation was quite nice in its own way and entirely sufficient. Anything more would probably be a distraction. The first episode seemed to veer between two or three completely different styles, which is explained by the fact that Naoyuki Onda (Z Gundam New Translation) was one of the three ADs. I'm usually not a fan of animators who are only good at drawing drawings, but I still rather like his drawings, even though they strike me as being somewhat lifeless. The scene in the mall in episode 2 seemed to provide the best example of what it was they were aiming for with the show in terms of mood and directing, with the music and slo-mo action combining to riveting effect. I look forward to a nice dystopian vision of a consumerist society run amok, just the sort of thing I'd expect from Dai. At the same time I wish they'd had the guts to set it in the real world, which is infinitely more strange than any science fiction I've ever seen. But I guess anything more direct in that direction would be like biting the hand that feeds them.
Are there any properly drawn cats in anime? It seems like whenever I see a cat it's so hideously drawn I have to avert my eyes. Cats, dogs, animals in general. I get the craving to see a properly drawn animal every once in a while, and it's a desire that's rarely consummated. There seems a definite deficiency in life-drawing skills among the rank and file over there. And I don't think it's something that can be blamed on fashion or preference. I've seen some shows where the cats were definitely supposed to be drawn realistically, and the results made it quite clear why severe stylization is opted for in almost all cases. People can't draw cats. I don't mean to sound harsh, I guess it's just that I like cats and want to see them properly drawn. Today I was re-watching The Heroic Legend of Arslan, which I haven't seen in more than a decade - quite a nostalgia rush! - and I was quite impressed to see that the horses were properly drawn. Explanation: AD Kazuchika Kise. (not Kazuya, though I don't blame them for misspelling it, as I did the same thing at first) So right now I'm looking forward to the last arc of Ayakashi to see if there are going to be some properly drawn cats in there. Even if there aren't it sounds promising. Supposedly Takashi Hashimoto will actually be involved in the actual work on the episodes, rather than just a distant "original design concept". Nakura's episodes (or at least the one I could stand to check) were a disaster, no surprise, because he wasn't even involved.
Ryutaro Nakamura's getting super meta on us again with a new show about a girl trying to break into the seiyuu biz played by a girl trying to break into the seiyuu biz. Also seems to be his way of wrangling the moe phenom into his own more realistic terms, and it's kind of fun.
I'd long wanted to see a bit of Space Pirate Mito and got to see the first two eps. It was just the sort of fun, well made children's series I'd thought it was, with the old-fashioned spirit of Animal Treasure Island. A shot in the opening actually had a whole bunch of pirates swarming over a ship as if in homage to the old inspiration. Susumu Yamaguchi was an animator in the op (and ep 3), so I suspect he must have done that section. I know almost none of the names in the show, but Takamitsu Kondo's characters are great - cute and catchy, but with few lines and easy to move, so that even without any great animators the drawings and movement are always nice to look at. The only names I recognize come in ep 12, where Nobutake Ito and Takashi Tomioka co-AD'd the episode, which sounds incredible.
Today I had the pleasure of watching , completed in 2000. Watching it I was able to spend one of those rare and wonderful moments in life when art manages to bridge over the void and make it all seem worth it. That feeling will go away soon. I can't really describe the film any more lucidly than that, and in a way don't want to spoil the mystery of the experience by probing too much into how it was made, though I probably will do so once the effect has worn off, as the effect achieved was too stunning and masterly to remain uncurious. Every image spoke of inordinate effort and conviction, and it didn't feel like technical showing off as another similar film I've seen did. It's been years since I read the book, so I was a little perplexed at moments, but without a single word he manages to convey the story and the atmosphere of the book vividly and lucidly. Adapting a story as well-known as this one could surely have turned into something far more pedestrian, but everything here fell right into place. What I found most incredible about the film was the textures. The simulacrum of life. The texture of a wall. The way a drop rolls down, or the way steam rises from a bowl of soup as it's being poured. Small moments like these were perfectly observed and executed and arranged to create a flawless rhythm. All the more incredible, then, that the mimesis comes to us via plaster. Animation is alive in people like this. It's unfortunate that the only way one could see the film would be via a copy off of Polish television, as it definitely deserves to be seen by more people. If he's been active for more than two decades, as I hear he has, this immediately makes me want to see his earlier work, and I'm sure other people would feel the same way if they could see this.
I'm hardly a Clamp fan, but I'm surprised how much I enjoyed . Both were solid films. Different, but both well produced. It was less of a surprise that Tsutomu Mizushima's film was good, but I was surprised how much effort the young staff working on the other, shorter film managed to put into the film. I may have even been more impressed with that one because you really felt these young animators putting in their all into the film. To name the scenes that impressed me: Shinichi Yokota's scene at the beginning in the forest with the young boy was full of lively movement; Sachiko Okumura's scene in the bath was nice; Toru Okubo's scene with the bird men near the middle had some good action; what I assume would have to be Chikashi Kubota's one-shot chase in the air - probably the shot they said they had to halve from 600 drawings - was typically thrilling, even almost out of control; and finally Naoyoshi Shiotani's final battle in the air was the capstone. His last shot of the bird imploding was perhaps the most spectactular shot after Ohira's few shots. You can tell he put a lot of thought into how to make it as effective a shot as needed for that climactic moment.
Tsutomu Mizushima's film was quite interesting. His directing perfectly balanced mysterious horror with his patented absurd humor, so it was great to see that he'd pulled it off. The art and photography was spectacular. The music was great. A few bits reminded me of Isang Yun and Walter Hus's first string quartet, which was odd. It was interesting to see how Kazuchika Kise's unreasonably long characters were made to move. I can imagine it must have been even harder moving them on a widescreen. A scene where a character is trapped in a sort of vent and his limbs fill up the screen in a tangle plays well on this. He really put some loving into drawing those looong hands. Animation-wise Ohira's and Hashimoto's scenes were of course great, as was Okiura's, but the real hilight for me was Miyazawa's at the beginning. It's overpowering, to think how many drawings he must have drawn for that sequence. Reminded me very much of his work on Dead Leaves in terms of the constant limited motion over the span of several minutes, but the deformations and the crazy ideas in there were amazing. At one point the character has several arms. He doesn't have several arms because his arms are moving fast or anything, it just looks like he has several arms for a while just for the heck of it. And you kind of accept it while watching. Bewildering. Miyazawa's scene was definitely a shock. Other than that it was great to see that not only did they not correct Ohira's section, they actually retained the unique way in which he drew his key animation using shades rather than pure lines in the final product, and had the inbetweens done in such a way that they would match the keys. Thank goodness there's a studio that lets Ohira do his thing like this. I still can't get over the story about how they had to hold an emergency meeting among the staff to try to figure out what was going on in his keys in the shorter film. Ohira is no longer human. His spirit soars somewhere in the stratosphere, far above mortal heads. I'd actually be more interested in seeing the keys for that tidal wave than for the bunny in Mizushima's film, interesting though it is. You get the feeling he's letting them off easy with that bunny.
Seiichi Hashimoto was in Eureka 7 43 along with other interesting people. Presumably he drew the dancing and the swirl where the face looks a uniquely personal interpretation of Yoshida. Otherwise Seiichi is often pretty hard to pick out. He does good work without sticking out. Muraki et al would have done the battle with which the dance alternated. A good section. Each episode has had some interesting work for the most part, like Noein, which had Hiroshi Okubo again in 20, so it's almost pointless to point each instance out. A lot of Bones animators worked on ep 13 of Gaiking alongside lots of good Toei people apparently as a favor to Takaaki Yamashita protege Tatsuzo Nishita on the occasion of his first job as AD: Yutaka Nakamura, Takashi Hashimoto, Soichiro Matsuda, etc. etc. etc. Imaishi storyboarded ep 18 of Black Cat.
I had the funniest dream last night. I dreamt I was assigned some seriously hard shots on a new movie alongside animators like Hiroshi Okubo and Yutaka Nakamura. Having never drawn a second of animation in my life, I was naturally sweating bullets and wondering how I was going to do it. I can't imagine how I could have gotten into such a situation. The things we come up with in our dreams.