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Just thought I'd mention a small bit of Mind Game news: People who can read Japanese can now subscribe to a mailing list from the official home page (go to the news section). And for the same folks, Studio 4C has put up a Mind Game discussion board, cleverly titled "Mind Game" -- "Game" in this case meaning turtle; hence the mascot. Reportedly Yuasa himself will probably drop in from time to time.
What is quite probably the single most ambitious and historic anime screening to be held anywhere ever kicked off two days ago on Tuesday: 日本アニメーション映画史 (Nihon Animeshon Eigashi), A History of Japanese Animation. Hosted by the National Film Center of the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and consisting of 37 separate programs to be shown between July 6 and August 29 (each ranging from 60 to 120 minutes, with repeats), the mammoth project will bring to the screen -- probably for the first time since most of these films were premiered -- more than 230 individual films, including shorts and full-length features, traversing the entire span of the Showa period -- from the 1924 short 蟹満寺縁起 (Kanimanji Engi) to 1991's 注文の多い料理店 (Chumon no Oi Ryoriten / The Restaurant of Many Orders).
The latter was a film completed by Kihachiro Kawamoto based on sketches by the late Tadanari Okamoto, one of Japan's greatest and most beloved independent animators of the last thirty years, whose entire oeuvre is being shown over the span of an incredible six programs. No less astounding is the fact that no less than four programs are being devoted entirely to the oeuvre of the namesake of Japan's most prestigious animation award, the Ofuji-Sho: Noburo Ofuji. Indeed, two programs will be devoted to early master Sanae Yamamoto, two to Ryuichi Yokoyama, the pioneering comic artist and creator of Fuku-chan, and two to Mitsuo Seyo, the creator of the Japan's famed first full-length animated feature, the wartime Momotaro propaganda epic 海の神兵 (Umi no Shinpei / The Sea God Soldier). The bounties extend into the post-war period; fans of early Toei Doga will be happy to discover that most of the films of Toei Doga precursor Nichido Eigasha are being shown, followed by those early Toei Doga films themselves - a rare opportunity to see these lush full-color animated extravaganzas on the big screen as they were intended. Adding to the embarrassment of riches is the chaste admission cost: ¥500 (even less for students) -- pocket change indeed in a country where movie tickets regularly run upwards of ¥2000. That's what I call putting tax money to good use.
Now if only I was in Japan!! >:(
First Mind Game, now this. This is definitely the summer to be in Japan.
Perceptive readers will note that this screening series does not quite harken back all the way to anime's auspicious birth in 1917. This is because these early films have been lost.
This series actually falls in line with a number of recent developments. One of the widely talked-about releases of 2000 was an 8-DVD set containing all anime that had won the Ofuji-Sho, an amazing and unheard of release that garnered both shouts of glee and ravenous stares from thrilled anime fans -- only to promptly sucker-punch them with the sticker price of ¥240,000 ($2200). Funny, huh? Well it gets funnier. This year they outdid themselves in both arenas. Not only is the newest DVD set, 日本アートアニメーション映画選集 (Nihon Art Animation Eiga Senshu / Japan Art Animation Movie Collection), bigger, with 12 DVDs, each on a particular theme, each chock-full with long-unavailable rarities from the vault of the the Tokyo MOMA, but the price is generously expanded to boot: ¥360,000! ($3300) They're cheap! Buy two! (after mortgaging your house)
Now you see why this series is so welcome.
I've now seen the first third of Peter Pan, and easily the high point so far is episode 12, Scary Stories, featuring animation director Hiroyuki Okiura. This is the first episode where things really come together in just the way you'd expect from an anime TV series presided over by Takashi Nakamura.
Around 1989 Nippon Animation was looking to shake up the image of the World Masterpiece Theater. Ratings were down. Times were changing. They wanted to start doing more well-known stories. Their answer? Peter Pan. It was a radical change; by far the most famous story they'd done up until then. And how to design a radically different story? How else -- with a radically different design. Enter Takashi Nakamura.
Nakamura had just completed a thoroughly punishing stint as the animation director of Akira, a film in which he was deeply involved without being able to have as much creative input as he probably wanted. Nakamura had already created extremely original and idiosyncratic pieces like Chicken Man and Red Head and The Order to Stop Construction prior to his involvement in Akira, which comes across as a very dark period indeed when he talks about it in retrospect. Peter Pan gave him back the creative freedom he'd so missed. Episode 12, featuring probably the largest concentration of single-episode designs in the series, is an all-out parade of the silly-yet-creepy monsters at which Nakamura excels, a veritable closet full of zany skeletons of the sort that will look very familiar to anyone who has seen Chicken Man and Red Head.
Combine Nakamura's emblematic designs with the fluid and detailed animation stylings of Hiroyuki Okiura, the genius animator responsible for the striking animation of the mob scene in Akira, and things really take off. Indeed, the characters in this episode feel incredibly Akira-ish -- their poses, the way their hands are drawn. At times I almost thought that was Kaneda up on the screen talking rather than Peter Pan. Then there's this cut, obviously lifted directly from a scene in Akira:
It just feels really right as an episode, the symbiosis is there. It's like a few jazz musician buddies got together for a jam session. Okiura's attention to detail and innate sense for thrilling movement shines through in the black-backdrop story sequence: Witness the detailed animation of the skeleton exploding into a billion little bits, and the sprightly animation of Peter Pan flying by Toshiyuki Tsuru, a skilled action animator who later went on to create a lot of good physical movement in fighting anime like Ninku and Naruto.
It's true that we're dealing with a pull here that has very little to do with the pull of a Marco or a Heidi -- it's a one-dimensional pull rather than a 3-dimensional one. Putting that aside, there's much that can and should be appreciated here, if you just take the time to look for it.
Added a counter today and messed with the logo and menus.
Saw the 2002 Turkish film Distant (IMDB) - overheard someone calling it "Tarkovskian" as I dashed for the bathroom after the film. Oooh, smart. Because Tarkovsky films were playing in it? Great slooow cinematography. Every shot worked in the film - except for the last shot. It was a bit too long. Too bad. Dreary film. But nice.
Looking forward to seeing the Cremaster cycle in a few days.
I found the page in English with details about the talk Masaaki Yuasa is going to be giving at the 2004 Tokyo Digital Art Festival.
The Masaaki Yuasa ibento held by Anime Style in Shinjuku's Loft Plus One went well -- sold out, in fact! Hongo Mitsuru, the director of the early Crayon Shin-chan films, who never makes public appearances, stated that he made an exception in this case to help publicize Mind Game, which he praised ardently and in no uncertain terms, intriguingly positing it as a healthy antidote to the prevailing trend in anime films, where "everything is incredibly detailed, but SO DAMN BORING!" MG's merits were extolled in equally enthusiastic terms by the other panel guests: maverick animator Hiroyuki Imaishi, who was there as an audience member but made an impromptu appearance on stage to put in his own three cents of praise, and mod director Tatsuo Sato, who lamented his own lack of vision for not having caught on to Yuasa's potential as early on as others like Osamu Kobayashi & Tsutomu Shibayama (A Pro directors), Reiko Okuyama (famous Toei-era animator) and Shichiro Kobayashi (Madhouse art director).
A few of Yuasa's bits in the Crayon Shin-chan TV series and films were shown, followed by an overly generous sampling of excerpts from Mind Game.
The centerpiece of the night was the seldom seen スライム冒険記 (Slime Adventures), a short film directed by Yuasa in 1999, but doomed to obscurity from the moment of its inception, because it was intended purely for use at a one-time publicity event. Along with the similarly doomed Vampiyan Kids Pilot, these two peanut-sized movies constitute the entirety of Masaaki's oeuvre as director prior to Mind Game, which therefore rightfully qualifies as his feature directing debut.
The evening wrapped up with Yuasa fast-forwarding through かぼちゃ屋 (Kabocha-ya), episode 3 of the ultra-rare OVA series アニメ落語館 (Anime Rakugokan), whilst providing a voice-over summary of the story, much to the amusement of the audience.
I also just learned, from the interview recently posted on the official home page, that the total production time for Mind Game was two years and seven months, two of which were devoted to animation.
Japanese word of the day: キモオタ
Lots of good news on the Mind Game front. The official Mind Game site has put up a "Special Contents" page where there is already an interview with Masaaki Yuasa and a great review by one "Milkman" Ito. A few other items are in the works. Seems, looking a the news page, that there are tons of magazines mentioning Mind Game already: Sabra (June 24), Cut (July), Studio Voice (July), Relax (July), Nikkei Characters (No 2), Title (July). Oh, and the official release date has been set: August 7. And the film is now going to be shown nationwide! Originally it was set to be shown only in Tokyo and Osaka.
I noticed Shinji Obara is writing both Samurai Champloo and Tweeny Witches right now. Quite a juggling act.
Today is one of those lazy days when the wind coming in from the window feels like a caress.
Japanese word of the day: 虚無
I thought I'd talk about 細田守/Mamoru Hosoda today. Nobody over here will have heard of him, because as of yet he has only directed two films, both Digimon, both short, and both of which were -- mangled doesn't quite do justice to what was done to them -- eviscerated for US audiences. You thought Robotech was bad? The Digimon movie seen here consists of random sequences from 5 different movies. Nobody over here got a chance to see how good a director this guy really is. In Japan he became famous overnight because of those two movies. They're what got him invited to direct Howl's Moving Castle.
So what's all the fuss? You'll just have to watch the films to see for yourself.
Just kidding. It's best to go back to Hosoda's first piece of Digimon, episode 21 of the TV series. Having been at Toei for a few years, I guess he was invited to do an episode of Digimon, and, not being too keen on the series, he picked the one episode that doesn't take place in the usual Digimon universe, but rather is set in modern-day Tokyo. He then proceeded to go in his own very personal direction with the episode. Here we see not monsters or adventures, but just the way kids really live today in modern-day Tokyo, ugly tenements and all, captured lovingly with slow, poetic directing of almost Tarkovskian proportions, photorealistic backdrops, and a very restrained story.
Well, the first movie, , basically picks up where this left off. With exactly the same time allotment, Hosoda created a small masterpiece really quite unlike anything ever seen in the genre. The backgrounds are no longer merely photorealistic, they really are based on actual photos taken by Hosoda around Tokyo -- see this page for examples. (And yes, I've read in an interview with Hosoda that he himself did the location hunting for both films.) This is a big part of what makes the movie so incredibly fresh and convincing. It's realism, but not the quasi-neo-realism of a Takahata. It's closer to the poetic realism of Oshii, but without the dopping helpings of self-indulgence. It's really one of the best examples of sci-fi/fantasy I've ever seen, because it doesn't think of itself as such -- it doesn't bash you over the head with the stuff -- it merely tries to capture the way kids would react to this one-time, curious, magical event in their otherwise ordinary, real world. With very little plot, Hosoda manages to create a seamless 20 minutes where every image is perfectly composed, and every moment is made to count. To give the film the relentless forward drive he wanted, in a brilliant stroke he used Ravel's Bolero as the only piece of music. As hackneyed as the piece may be, in this case it really works, and doesn't feel gimmicky. It took guts and imagination to do something like that, and skill to pull it off.
The next film, entitled , goes in a slightly different direction. We're still in the real world -- Hosoda is only interested in the real world -- but we're back in a situation more recognizably Digimon, with the various protagonists and the monster plot and so on. With forty minutes this time, Hosoda creates a more epic story that manages to remain simultaneously believable and fantastic. The theme is again the interconnectedness of kids. In the first film we saw the kids at their perches in the tangle of tenements communicating with each other via cell phones, while here the internet provides the stage, suggesting a wider, global scale. The protagonists are dispersed all over the country, and kids from around the world take part in the events via the internet. Hosoda again keeps the focus on real kids living their lives in the real world, with the event this time being one that they approach more like an everyday problem to be solved, rather than an evil to be defeated. It's not a monster that appears out of nowhere destroying buildings. Just a bunch of kids getting together to try to figure out how to fix a computer bug. Hosoda again subverts the genre, recasting it into something more humane and believable.
I should also mention that the animation in both of the films is absolutely superb and worth seeking out on its own merits. I was shocked when I first saw War Game, the look was so bold and obviously Ohira-school.
1 AD 山下高明 Takaaki Yamashita
2 AD 山下高明/中山久司 Takaaki Yamashita/Hisashi Nakayama.
I've seen these two guys' names occasionally as animators in odd places since then, and always been impressed by their work. The big animator in both films is Hideki Hamasu, who I believe animated the cuts of Hikari crying/coughing near the end of 1, my favorite in the film. Ken'ichi Konishi is also there. He animated my favorite cut in 2, the wobbly walk of the kid getting up to take a leak.
Hosoda has also done a lot of other stuff, of course, but no full-length movies yet. He's been active since 1995. Up until the Digimon movies in 1999 & 2000 he mainly directed/storyboarded TV episodes. Since then he seems to have shifted his focus towards commercials and short films, for example Superflat Monogram, Atagoul and most recently an unusual OVA in a new genre called "ganime", an amalgam of the word for "drawing" and "anime" to convey the idea of an anime consisting entirely of stills. For some reason he uses the pen-name 橋本カツヨ/Katsuyo Hashimoto occasionally, usually when storyboarding or doing an op/ed, as in the case of Samurai Champloo recently, where he directed and storyboarded the op.
The pilot can actually be viewed online, and it's a really nice, infectious little musical piece. I read the original manga by Hiroshi Masumura a long time ago, and I loved it (as well as Masamura's other stuff) for its loopy, beatnik atmosphere. This pilot manages to capture quite a bit of that feeling. It's done by Digital Frontier, the digimation company that more recently did Appleseed.
Other than that, the much-talked-about is probably his main accomplishment since the Digimon movies, but it's not available anywhere yet. He's certainly shown himself to have the talent and the artistic integrity to make a great full-length movie, so I hope he does so when the circumstances seem right, as obviously he didn't feel they were for Howl. Even if he never does, he's still a name to watch. Along with Masaaki Yuasa, he could be one of the big figures of the next generation.
I was sitting by Pitt River today broiling reading Shimao when I decided on my next translation: 月暈. I still haven't figured out how to translate this strange but wonderful title. The story is no less head-scratching. How am I going to translate something I can't even visualize? It'll be a good challenge.
After sitting by the river for an hour I was driven by the heat to seek the shade in Minnekhada Park, where voracious biting flies drove me crazy and home. Could hear blasting in the distance where urban sprawl is elaborating its ineluctable course. Girls everywhere are wearing hotpants, and it's hard not to stare. I'm still hobbling from my torture session on the mountain two days ago.
Japanese word of the day: 挫折
I bought strawberries two weeks ago and they were delicious. I bought strawberries today and they were mediocre.
Found myself rewatching Akarui Kazoku Keikaku today. I find this oddly nondescript story of three people walking around Tokyo looking for ways to commit suicide somehow strangely uplifting.
There was a very finely and delicately animated bit around the middle of Peter Pan #6 where Tiger Lily and John are boarding the pirate ship. I wonder who did it.
On this sunny, beautiful day, this is how I'm feeling:
Today felt like the longest day ever. I walked a total of 20 kilometers with a cumulative elevation change of 2000 meters. I tried to make it to Alouette Peak over in Golden Ears Park, but I conked out just a bit before the end. I was cramping up. That's what I get for diving in the deep end. It's been months since I did any major hiking.
I'm lucky enough to have found a means of seeing the old Nippon Animation World Masterpiece Theater series Peter Pan, and I'm really looking forward to it. I was surprised to find out a short time ago just how many great animators were involved in it. Presumably they were attracted to the show because of who was in charge of the character design, 1980s Karisuma Animator No. 1, Takashi Nakamura. He animated the op too. Here's a sampling of who did what in this series:
Hiroyuki Okiura was also animation director on episodes 12, 20 and 28.
I have a poster on Coosun's BBS to thank for this list.
I've already seen episode 22, the climax of the first half of the series, which is a must-see for Nakamura fans. I've honestly never seen such a well animated meisaku episode. I've heard that there was an episode where the animators got into trouble for drawing more than 10,000 cels, and were forced to trim it down. I'm guessing this is the episode. Truly what I'd expect of Nakamura, who made his name drawing animation far above the norm in terms of both quality and quantity in his episodes of Gold Lightan and Urashiman.
Hiroyuki Imaishi's Dead Leaves DVD goes on sale July 24. Here's a rare film in anime: one long action scene - and what action! Imaishi threw in everything he's got. It's 60 minutes of pure Imaishi - an animator's film to the core, like they used to make in the good old days. And it's the wildest stuff to be seen in an anime film in many a year. I don't know how well the film was received in Japan, but I'm guessing over here it's going to tank. Unless you specifically watch animation for the animation, you won't get this film. Most anime fans don't give a shit about animation. It cuts away all the unnecessary padding and gets right to what's really important: action! action! and more action! You won't find this sort of thing anywhere else right now. Even Yoshinori Kanada, his great sempai, reportedly now draws stuff that's tame in comparison - they say his characters in the film had downright normal proportions compared to the rest. Anyway, this film was one of the year's big events, not to be missed by fans of real, full-blooded ANIMATION.
40 people in Japan have one more chance to see Mind Game before the rest of the world. Another screening is being held on the 30th, this Wednesday, in Roppongi, sponsored by Anime Style. Anime Style is also holding a Masaaki Yuasa special event tomorrow, Sunday, where they will be showing video clips of his animation as well as the Slime Adventure short he directed, plus excerpts from Mind Game. Guests include Masaaki Yuasa, Robin Nishi, Tatsuo Sato, Koji Morimoto, and Mitsuru Hongo (director of Shin-chan).
Anime Style has pretty much become the company handling most Mind Game-related side-releases. They're publishing the comic, they're going to publish the "mook" (movie book), they're holding these events, and they've been putting up lots of interviews and stuff with Yuasa on their page. The latest is an interview on Yuasa's "Best 20" (animation, naturally). The mook will also have a new interview with Yuasa.