Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Thursday, August 5, 2004

05:55:22 pm , 1041 words, 1196 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Yasuo Otsuka documentary

First of all, thanks to Cartoon Brew and Alan for really nice write-ups of my blog!

My ship came in from the Amazon a few days ago, and so far I've had a chance to watch Eternal Family and the Yasuo Otsuka documentary I talked about in a previous post. Seeing as I'd mentioned a lot of Otsuka's animation in the Toei Doga posts, I thought I'd start with the latter. Everyone with an interest in either Toei Doga or Ghibli or anime history or even just animation in general should pick up this documentary if it's tempting. It's got English subs, and it's a solidly-made documentary offering a good look into how a master animator animates.

The film progresses in simple chronological order, beginning with Otsuka's childhood sketching steam locomotives, and ending with his latest endeavor as the head of Telecom Animation's online animation school Anime Juku. For me the most moving part of the film was seeing Otsuka in action drawing Goemon. I was impressed by the speed with which his pencil flies through the drawings, and the perfect clarity with which he explains how he comes up with the movements. This is what makes him a great teacher -- a knack for knowing how to clearly articulate his methods, and showing you exactly how to do it. It was also really neat to see him flipping through his old childhood sketchbooks. I already knew that he had taught himself how to draw by continually sketching jeeps and trains and things from an early age, but they were far more impressive than I'd imagined. It makes you realize that certain talents really are more nature than nurture.

As a fan of Otsuka, it was nice to finally get to see the real live Otsuka, after having reading so much about him and seen just about everything he's done. He comes across as just the sort of warm and effusive person you would imagine from his work. Maybe that's something that can be said about most great animators -- that their personality comes through in their work. It can certainly be said about Mori (viz Otsuka's interesting comments about Mori's "introverted" and Daikubara's "extroverted" drawings) and about Toei Doga-era Miyazaki, with all his barely restrained energy and free-flowing ideas.

As I thought, the film also doubles as a good capsule history of Toei Doga, covering a lot of the basics covered in Otsuka's autobiography (and my posts), even delving quite deeply into Yasuji Mori's importance. Also, watching this film really makes you want to try your hand at animation. Otsuka's openness is very encouraging. The way the film steps you through the process of animation, one drawing at a time, at various moments throughout -- particularly so the scene where Otsuka goes through the entire process of conceptualizing and drawing Goemon drawing his sword -- really gives you a feeling for the rush of creating movement from still drawings; or, as the film's title is cleverly translated, JOY IN MOTION. It was so nice to see those students tittering in innocent glee upon seeing the sequence they just drew move, "My drawings moved!" and to hear Otsuka respond "That's the reaction we all had when we started out as animators."

One thing that I learned from the film was that Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Gainax regular and CD of Evangelion) got into animation due to Otsuka, having joined Telecom circa 1984 as a student in order to study under Otsuka (they showed his impressive student pieces), which creates an intriguing link between Otsuka and the animation in Honneamise.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is the one where Otsuka is giving a lecture at the Multimedia Art Institute. What he says in this scene captures one of the things I like about Otsuka's approach, and conversely, what I dislike about most anime, so I'm going to transcribe the english subs for the scene here.

While drawing on a white board to explain how most people draw characters in Japan:

Everyone tries for perfection. Nine out of ten draw these beautiful characters. They put in a lot of details with a fine pen. You've all seen this kind of character. They add pretty highlights to the eyes. They pick a hair style. The person at the next desk is doing the same. Maybe ponytails, or parted in the middle. Here's what I do with a character like this. I just fill in the eyes. Add a nose, eyebrows and a mouth. Takes a few seconds to draw. That's a character too. If you follow the crowd, you won't think of this. Everyone in Japan draws the same big eyes. Cute hairstyles with lots of detail. Maybe this looks like heresy. But it's original. It stands out.

It's funnier when you're watching it.

Finally, listening to Otsuka urging students at Ghibli to learn to draw things roughly, quickly, freely -- to learn not only the virtues but the appeal of rough drawings -- I got to wondering what Otsuka will think of Mind Game. Because I can't think of a Japanese animated film in the last decade that better embodies the ideas Otsuka talks about in this film. At least, that's my interpretation. Mind Game goes much further than Otsuka would, admittedly, and towards altogether different horizons, but I think the fundamental idea behind the film -- the thrill of animation that effectively integrates kinetics -- comes from Otsuka, if you go to the fountainhead. Yes, I've heard of Disney, but, as this documentary reveals, Otsuka was an assiduous student of animation techniques who, while learning the ropes at Toei Doga, slowly and carefully studied and digested everything that came before him (he copied out by Preston Blair's Animation by hand as a mnemonic aid!), thereby gradually discovering his own very distinctive and personal approach to animation -- sparer yet more realistic, rougher yet more thrilling -- that was to go on to exert a major influence on all Japanese animation that followed. So, if you go out on a limb with me here, it's not too difficult to see in Mind Game merely another stage in the evolution of the style pioneered by Otsuka. But I'll leave that thought in the interrogative.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

04:38:11 pm , 801 words, 618 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Only two more days till Mind Game!

Mind Game Official SiteI'll be keeping an eye on things to follow people's reaction over there as Mind Game finally hits the cineplexes -- er, I mean the cinematheques. All the difference in the world, unfortunately. Let's hope word of mouth will get those seats filled. The film will almost certainly reach at least discerning moviegoers looking for the most original film of the year, but I hope it reaches much, much more people than that, because it's a movie with the scope to speak to just about anyone, not just cinephiles. Whenever the movie hits our theaters -- which it should, due to the Joel Silver thing (sometime next year hopefully?) -- I'm hoping word of mouth (well, the internet) will have done at least a bit to help towards getting people out to see the film. This is one of those rare cases when the underdog has shown that he can make a film 10 times better than the big guns, so it absolutely deserves the whole-hearted support of fans.

To help build up the excitement, I thought I'd pass along an amazing anecdote that comes to me via Anime Style; more specifically, from Dezore-san, el capitán of the Mind Game Cheerleader Squad (応援団), of which I happen to be enlistee #00001!

There he was, strolling along in the broiling heat one summer's day around Asagaya, when suddenly he remembered, "Hey, Madhouse is around here!" So he decided to head over to sneak a peek at the famous studio. As he was walking along the main road, he began to notice the festive sound of a taiko being drummed, and caught sight of a group of figures standing by the side of the road wearing matching jogging sweats, apparently rehearsing some kind of cheer routine. On each of their backs was embroidered a set of mysterious golden letters, such as "MM" and "DN" and "DH". Baffled, he continued to watch. When all eight figures finally turned their backs to him, he was finally able to see all the letters lined up properly, and he was stunned to realize what the letters said: "MADHOUSE MINDGAME".

He later learned that these madmen were Madhouse employees out on the street advertising Mind Game. Apparently a certain famous Madhouse producer had seen the test screening and been so overwhelmed and moved by the experience that he decided to start a Mind Game Cheerleader Squad!

Don't beleive me? Look at Madhouse's home page: They've put up a "SPECIAL!!" page to support Mind Game!

Do you realize? Madhouse had nothing to do with Mind Game. They were just so friggin' amazed by the film that they decided they were going to start doing tons of activities to support the film and get people to see it!! Like standing out on the road during the Tokyo summer wearing sweats with "MADHOUSE MINDGAME" written on the back!!! I'm pretty sure this is a first, folks. A studio going all out to publicize a film they had nothing to do with. Maybe now you realize the magnitude of the event at hand. I've never heard of a film that has the power to energize people this way.

Way to go, Madhouse!! Rah rah rah!

I was so moved by this that I'm going to translate the text on their page for you (I know it sounds wooden, but I'm trying to keep it literal):

Mind Game, the new movie by genius animator Masaaki Yuasa, opens shortly on August 7. What Masaaki Yuasa has created here in this film, which is staffed by the cream of the crop of today's animators and features the offbeat voice talents of the Yoshimoto Kogyo, is nothing short of a colossal masterpiece. After dying a humiliating and pointless death, the hero of our story, Nishi, ignoring God's pleas, hurtles himself back to life in a mad dash of sheer will power, vowing this time to live life to its fullest, "straight ahead, with everything I've got!" How will Nishi deal with all the hurdles thrown in his path?! Uninhibited imagination and astonishing storytelling combine with a massive impact that will invite tears of gratitude! A visual experience of super-colossal proportions awaits you!!

[image]

With that out of the way, well, there you have it: We've decided to start a Madhouse Mind Game Cheerleader Club. Nobody asked us, we just wanted to. Isn't it normal to want to support something that's good? How can I convey these feelings? We just had to express our support somehow. Even on the sidelines is fine, just please let us!! Anyway, that's all for our first column. Today was just an introduction to the film, but next time we'll start telling you about the many activities we have in store to cheer the hell out of this film, so check back in a while.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

12:03:33 pm , 455 words, 923 views     Categories: Animation

Goku no Daiboken DVD box

Scenes from episode 4I made a statement in a previous post about how the Japanese aren't very good with extras on their DVDs. Well, one exception is the recent DVD box release of the classic Goku's Big Adventure (悟空の大冒険 / Goku no Daiboken), my favorite PTA-boycotted anime series (which I talked a bit about in the context of my Masami Hata filmography). This release is actually pretty emblematic of a new trend of releasing impressively produced DVD box sets of classic old anime series. Presumably fans over there have played a large part in bringing this about.

The Goku set is surely one of the most impressive releases so far. Usually in a good case you may get some extra archive material, maybe some bonus footage, maybe an interview. Well here they dug up an entire episode that got produced but never aired, and hence was not released on previous occasions, like for the LD box.

I've talked about episode 4 in my review of the series, the way it's one of the single most striking and unforgettable anime episodes I've ever seen, considering the date at which it was made. Well, the bonus episode in question was also done by Osamu Dezaki, the person who did episode 4, and reportedly it goes infinitely further in terms of exactly the things that made episode 4 so great: the elliptical storytelling, the surreal humor, the joyously cynical satire, the political subtext. So far, in fact, that the TV station flat out refused to air it.

That's the main attraction of this release, but as an added bonus the DVD set even includes the comic version of episode 4 drawn by Dezaki and published at the time. Needless to say, until now it has been merely an obscure footnote that nobody had the chance to see anymore. Nobody even knew there was a missing episode until now. All in all, this DVD set is great news for one of the greatest anime series ever.

This is just the sort of value-added purchasing incentive that you'd excpect from a box set, and you could never have expected something like this from a US production due to the rarity of the source material. So it's a really welcome release. The only problem being the exorbitant cost of DVDs in Japan. Japanese LDs were outrageously priced, and I hoped, moving into the DVD era, that Japanese DVDs would be more moderately priced, but by and large, especially compared with prices over here, such has not turned out to be the case. Owning the LD box already as I do, $500+ is simply too much to pay for 23 minutes of anime and a comic. And it seems highly unlikely that a series like this will ever be released here. Oh well.

Monday, August 2, 2004

06:43:54 pm , 288 words, 881 views     Categories: Animation

Animatrix key animator memo

I'm always trying to remember who was in what in Animatrix, so here's a simple memo of the ones that interest me.

Kid's Story
CD/AD: Shinji Hashimoto
KA: Hidetsugu Ito, Shinya Ohira, Kazuto Nakazawa, Hideki Hamasu, Miwa Sasaki, Norio Matsumoto, Shin'ichiro Yamada, Masashi Ando, Yasuhiro Irie, Osamu Tanabe, Norimoto Tokura, Kyuma Oshita, Shinji Hashimoto, Chie uratani

This lineup never fails to amaze me. Ohira's chase. Matsumoto running into the bathroom. Hashimoto landing on his feet. I wonder who did breakfast? Nakazawa?

In an interview about the piece Hashimoto made the statement, "If you've got good key animators, you don't need an animation director." Which sums up what I like about the piece. You really get to see everything in the raw.

Beyond
AD: Takeshi Honda
CD: Koji Morimoto/Takeshi Honda
KA: Makoto Yamada, Satoru Utsunomiya, Ken'ichi Yamaguchi, Jiro Kanai, Ushio Tazawa, Hideki Futamura, Hideki Sekiguchi, Yasuhiro Aoki, Isao Oishi, Chie Uratani, Atsuko Fukushima, Yumi Chiba, Takeshi Honda, Daisuke Nakayama, Koji Morimoto

Honda's AD is so good it's hard to figure out who did what. (where's my smirk smiley?) The only one I can guess at is Utsunomiya - talking on the phone?

Second Renaissance
AD/CD: Mahiro Maeda/Hideki Futamura
KA: Yuichi Tanaka, Mahiro Maeda, Yuichi Takayama, Chie Uratani, Taro Takagi, Hideki Futamura, Hiroshi Nakanishi, Takeshi Honda, Naoto Takemoto, Daisuke Nakayama, Hideki Sekiguchi, Masae Nakayama, Kazuya Nomura, Jiro Kanai, Yasuhiro Aoki, Masaji Tada, Minoru Murao, Toyohiro Okada, Kazuto Nakazawa, Hiroyuki Okuno, Yasushi Muraki, Takehiro Noda

Interesting to notice Yasuhiro Aoki in both Second Renaissance and Beyond now that I've seen Tweeny Witches. I wonder how long he's been active? I've always wondered who did the part where the robot lady gets attacked on the street. Honda? Maeda?

Sunday, August 1, 2004

05:19:34 pm , 312 words, 1077 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Movie

Honey

Link: http://www.evancagle.com

Honey: A short film by Evan Cagle

Today I have the pleasure of being able to bring your attention to a remarkable new independent animation project. Honey, the debut creation of Austin-based independent animator Evan Cagle, announces itself as one of the most distinguished fruits to come to bear from the cultural cross-pollination that is the west's ongoing love-affair with that nebulous and enigmatic thing we call anime.

Not here the litany of clichés that more often than not defined the stillborn assays of other western fans, but rather a thoroughly original creation informed by a compelling and well-defined vision that immediately convinces. Nor is it a corporate co-opting of a profitable fad, but an individual labor of love borne of inner necessity; a moving personal tribute to the artistic creation of another culture.

I can't help but be reminded of a certain man who planted trees as I contemplate the vast labor embodied by the film in its present state. Simply consider that one person worked for several years in total obscurity to produce the images you see in the trailer (which is only a fraction of the extant material). Every background; every drawing; everything was done by one person. The final product successfully combines 3D animation with designs that look and feel hand-drawn to produce evocative, moody visuals that are quite pleasurable, and leave one looking forward to the full story.

Honey is an independent production; the work of one person. But there is only so much one person can do, in terms of effort and in terms of financial self-sacrifice, no matter how dedicated. Which is why a studio has been formed, and they are now looking for animators to help complete the film. So hop on over to the newly-created web site and have a look at the impressive trailer, and then help spread word about this film by telling your friends about it.

1 commentPermalink

Saturday, July 31, 2004

04:05:57 am , 283 words, 5189 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Mind Game Bibliography

English Reviews

  1. Japan Times (July 28, 2004) Mark Schilling: Something for Your Head
  2. Japan Times (July 28, 2004) Mark Schilling interviews Masaaki Yuasa

Japanese Media Coverage

  1. Animage (June 2004) Masaaki Yuasa interview
  2. Sabra (June 24, 2004) Masaaki Yuasa interview in special section "Shin Sedai Japan Anime No Kishutachi" [Flagbearers of the new generation of anime]
  3. Title (July 2004) Mind Game is discussed in a round table on p 34
  4. Nikkei! Characters (No. 2) Mind Game is introduced on p 162
  5. Relax (July 2004) Masaaki Yuasa interview
  6. Studio Voice (July 2004) Special section titled "Animation: Year Zero". Mind Game screenshots used as background on front page of special section. Masaaki Yuasa listed as one of the "30 Leading Creators". Mind Game listed as one of the "30 New Movies to See".
  7. Cut (July 2004) Mind Game introduced in special section "Eiga wa manga da!"
  8. Newtype (July 10, 2004) Masaaki Yuasa/Shin'ichiro Watanabe/Koji Morimoto interview. Original drawing by Yuichiro Sueyoshi. Enthusiastic comments by various media figures [see this post for my translation of the interview]
  9. TV Bros [August? 2004] Masaaki Yuasa/Seiichi Yamamoto/Tomomitsu Yamaguchi (DonDokoDon) interview
  10. Mac Power (August 2004) Masaaki Yuasa interview at head of magazine
  11. Switch (August 2004) 8 p special feature on Mind Game with Masaaki Yuasa/Robin Nishi/DonDokoDon Yamaguchi/Eiko Tanaka interview
  12. Cut (August 2004) Masaaki Yuasa interview
  13. Saizo (August 2004) Masaaki Yuasa interview in the "Bargain Bin" section
  14. L Magazine (September 2004) Big section on Mind Game with a Masaaki Yuasa/Robin Nishi/Koji Morimoto interview
  15. Nikkei Characters (September 2004) Masaaki Yuasa interview
  16. The TV program "MUSIC-ON! TV" will show a Mind Game special feature on August 5, 2004 at 20:30-21:00, including interviews with Masaaki Yuasa, Robin Nishi, Seiichi Yamamoto, Koji Morimoto and Takeshi Fujii.

Japanese Web Pages

  1. 2004.03.10 森直人・脱力日記
  2. 2004.03.10 Oguro's 雑記帳 - 試写二本立て
  3. 2004.04.22 『マインド・ゲーム』完成披露試写会舞台挨拶 
  4. 2004.04.22 店長日記
  5. 2004.04.22  『MIND GAME』をひとあし先に
  6. 2004.04.27  『アメリ』が1位の座を明け渡したデー
  7. 2004.05.11 すばらしき「MIND GAME」
  8. 2004.05.21 atsushi sasaki at faderbyheadz dot com
  9. 2004.05.21 PS World - Hyper Column Station - 美しくない青春
  10. 2004.05.27 カツピロ映画日記
  11. 2004.05.28 べた褒め、大傑作「マインド・ゲーム」
  12. 2004.06.10 永田の部屋(虚構映画系)
  13. 2004.06.18 抜粋日記
  14. 2004.06.18 わんこめ映画評
  15. 2004.07.01 全力でやってやる!熱血超絶技巧アニメ
  16. 2004.07.12 全面的前向き姿勢の人生全肯定及び多様性の美しさ
  17. 2004.07.16 Secret base
  18. 2004.07.16 Mind Game 3ds max conference report
  19. 2004.07.16 Comin' Soon TV interview with Masaaki Yuasa
  20. Yahoo Japan reviews
1 commentPermalink

Friday, July 30, 2004

05:33:17 pm , 3038 words, 2385 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Masaaki Yuasa interview

Mind Game Official SiteCatsuka brought to my attention two new Mind Game articles. One is the first review of the film in a language other than Japanese. It comes to us courtesy of the Japan Times, and was written by Mark Schilling, a prolific author and authority on contemporary Japanese pop culture. One warning: I suggest that you skip over his synopsis and try to remain as ignorant of the story details as you possibly can until seeing the movie to keep it all as much of a surprise as possible. Trust me, you'll enjoy it more that way. I wish reviewers didn't have this annoying habit of writing synopses!

The other is a Japanese "event report" on the 3ds max Animation Seminar: The Making of Mind Game event held at the Ochanomizu, Tokyo campus of the Digital Hollywood film school. The event was divided into three sections: (1) A discussion of how to produce 3DCG animation using 3d max; (2) an introduction to Studio 4C; and (3) a demonstration of how 3ds max was used to produce the 3DCG animation in Mind Game. Studio 4C Producer Eiko Tanaka was present, and the most interesting tidbit in the article comes from her. She relates an anecdote about how one day she had brought the film to Eirin, the Japanese censors, fully expecting it to come away with an NC-18 rating due to the graphic violence and explicit sexual content. But after seeing the film the people at Eirin were so excited by it that they decided to give it a "general audiences" rating anyway. Can you imagine?! Yes, folks, we are dealing with a phenomenon here, not a film.

And finally, one other small news item from the official site: On opening day, August 7, Masaaki Yuasa and several of the voice actors will be on location at Cine Quinto in Shibuya, and later at Paradise Square in Shinsaibashi, to say a few words for the occasion.

Oh, and Scheem Booi has opened. As I thought, it looks to be a ten ton goose. So much detail, 9 years, all that money, for what? Seems like a classic example of wrong priorities. Yippee, a sequel is in planning already. Too bad it's going to take 16 years to make.

Oh, and I just saw this: Yuichiro Sueyoshi has added his "comment" to the Staff Comment section of the Mind Game site. Here's a literal translation:

Best ever!! The first and the last!
The first Yuasa ever!
And the last Yuasa ever!
At the time, I thought it would never end...
Favorite Motto: No skill (work) without strength (health)!

I was hoping that some other people would respond to my offer, but since nobody has, I thought I'd go ahead and translate that Masaaki Yuasa interview on the official Mind Game site, as suggested by TenAJs, because it's a good, solid interview without the 3 Stooges antics of the previous one I translated, which I thought focused too much on the schtick and too little on the substance. But it's Newtype, what do you expect. Doesn't anyone have the June Animage?

=> HASSHIN!

Can you start by explaining how you came to direct Mind Game?

Producer Eiko Tanaka approached me in an official capacity with the original manga and asked if I would like to direct the film.

Was that the first time you'd read the original manga?

No. While I was working at Studio 4C on Sound Insect Noiseman, Koji Morimoto had recommended it to me, saying, "Check out this amazing manga". That was the first time I read it. It really is a very impressive manga; very out of the ordinary. His drawing style seems kind of crude and unrefined at first, but once you get used to it, it's extremely compelling and stylish, and really succeeds in getting across all his ideas. It's the kind of manga that's so good that it makes you wonder why it isn't more well known.

What made you decide to direct?

When I received the offer, I had been wanting to try my hand at directing something. But at Studio 4C first of all there was Morimoto who was a big fan, and so was Tatsuyuki Tanaka, so it didn't feel right for someone like me to horn in on their baby. But I went ahead and accepted the offer because I beleived I might be able to do a good job with the material.

Was this project planned for the theaters right from the start?

Yes, right from the start. They've got guts, right? That was my own first impression. Nobody's heard of the manga; I'd never directed a feature film before. You'd never expect a project like this to get off the ground. What's amazing about Studio 4C is that they not only got it off the ground but made it and got it distributed.

What was your approach to adapting the manga?

The manga has this incredible forward momentum to it. My question was, how can I translate that momentum onto film? The manga acheives that effect by means of rough, sketchy drawings. But the various processes involved in animation means that the drawings wind up coming out looking clean and polished, no matter what you do. The crucial thing for the film version in my opinion was that the drawings not look too polished. That they look kind of sloppy to the casual eye. Only on closer inspection do you realize that the drawings are in fact properly drawn. Hence the images reflect the content. That was my concept for the film.

There are a lot of experimental touches in the film, like having the characters turn into live actors occasionally.

A long time ago people would have freaked if you put in an image done in a totally different style from the rest of the film at some point. Well, nowadays people are pretty used to that sort of thing, and they wouldn't be that shocked anymore. So that's why I inserted some live action in here, some photos there. My hope is that these scenes come across to the viewer as being kind of unplanned and impromptu.

They're just there for fun.

Exactly. Personally, at this point, I don't want to see ordinary anime anymore. What I want to see is something like those music videos where you've got little bits of animation spliced into the live action footage, something comical like that. In my thinking, Mind Game is kind of the inverse. Not like a live action film where you've got little bits of animation spliced in, but like somehow little bits of live action snuck into an animated film. At first I just wanted to use photographs because that would have been easiest to shoot, but the producer, Eiko Tanaka, suggested that we hire a live action director and have him shoot half the film in live action.

But then you wouldn't have been director, you'd be just the co-director!

Exactly. So we talked it over, and she finally suggested, "Maybe you'd better do the shooting yourself," leaving it up to me to decide on the details of how much and where to put it. It wound up being just a kind of added spice to the animation.

So you also handled the filming of the live-action parts.

We hired proffessional live-action staff, and I was there during filming to give instructions and so on. But I didn't know anything about filming live-action, so it was a real learning process for me. Doing a full-fledged proffessional live-action shoot also made it easier to hire showbiz people like Koji Imada.

In the shots where there's a live-action face talking... say, Koji Imada... that's actually Koji Imada talking, and not a different voice-actor, right?

It's the same person. I considered using a different voice-actor at first, but for various reasons, in the end I opted to stick with the same person. My choice of voice-actors was in fact influenced by the knowledge that they themselves would also have to appear in the film. I think the results turned out better than using a separate person to do the faces and the rest of the voice-acting.

Prior to this you've been known for creative anime like Crayon Shin-chan and Cat Soup. Would you say that the same creativity that made these so appealing has found its way into this new film?

And then some. (laughs)

How do you feel about the quality of the animation?

I think the animation is really interesting. It goes totally against the grain of anime these days. It's not concerned with detail, just with momentum. That's the goal of the film, not being "well crafted", but being interesting. And I think it worked out pretty well. The visuals are particularly interesting, I think. There's lots of variety, there are bouts of fantasy, and the story is very unpredictable. I honestly think the visuals are unlike anything anyone has seen before.

About the story - is it basically faithful to the original?

Yes, it's basically exactly the same as the original. The plot is quite simple, it's just the details that are a bit out there. I finessed the ending a bit, but otherwise the details are unchanged. I didn't set out to keep it so close to the original; it just turned out that way. The original manga is that well done. Especially early on in the film, the framing of the shots is pretty much exactly the same as in the manga. Without looking at the manga I drew out how I wanted the framing, and afterwards when I looked at the manga to compare, they were practically exactly the same. I was kind of disappointed by how similar they turned out.

Perhaps that suggests your style was a good match to the manga.

I suppose so. Looking at the finished product, there are some minor differences, but I think overall the film is how Robin would have wanted it to be. Robin himself, after watching the film, told me he thought the film was pretty much saying the same thing as his manga.

Going back, what do you mean when you say you "finessed" the ending?

Well, in the original, in the second half, the story just keeps on going with the same feeling of "You can do anything if you try!"

That's also one of the main themes of the film.

The original manga says, "Do it! Go for it! Don't let anything stop you! You can do anything if you try!" Well, I personally don't have the confidence to go that far, so I sort of reined in the message a bit. So it's still "You can do anything if you try!" but tempered a bit; I have him slam headlong into a wall afterwards. Even if you fail, the important thing is to try. The result isn't important. The important thing is to enjoy the process of striving.

The music in the film really sticks with you.

Isn't it great? I had this incredible underground musician do it for me, Yamamoto Seiichi. I listen to a lot of CDs, but I don't know very much about who recorded what, so Shin'ichiro Watanabe was appointed the music producer and he looked into it for me, and he suggested Seiichi Yamamoto.

What did you think of the music when you finally heard it?

I was amazed by the variety of the songs that he came up with. Yamamoto-san is quite simply a brilliant composer. He's versatile and he can write an incredible variety of music. It's unpredictable, it's groovy, it's exciting, and it's got just the right tinge of oddness. I had wanted a large variety of music right from the start, so it was handy being able to get one person to do it all. On Watanabe's introduction I also had Yoko Kanno play one song on the piano. I put a tape together with examples of various spots from several classical pieces that I wanted the song to sound like. Originally we were going to get producer Tanaka's son's piano teacher to play it, but in the end Yoko Kanno took over. I was very happy with how it turned out.

How long was the film in production?

Starting from the planning stage, two years and nine months. Two years exactly from when animation was started.

How many films have you directed now?

Um... one? Before now the only things I've directed were a small TV pilot and a short for a publicity event. Mind Game is my first major project, my big-time debut, if you will.

Did that have any influence on you?

I want to make movies that can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. That's been my basic stance in everything I've done up until now, and it still is. Well, okay, right before Mind Game I worked on the directing and animation for a video anime called Cat Soup, which was aimed at a very small segment, but that's the only exception. I have to admit, I had my misgivings about doing something so cultish, but I was pleased with the results and learned a lot from it that I was able to put to use in this film.

So Cat Soup was sort of a springboard for Mind Game.

Yeah. It showed me that it was OK to do certain things. In that sense, it made it a lot easier to make Mind Game.

The characers are a little different in the movie, aren't they? For example, their backgrounds.

This was the first time I'd done anything with a story to speak of, and I found that there was a need for the characters to have a background story. Which is funny, because I've always had a thing against characters with a background story. (laughs)

The old man was supposedly in the whale's belly for 30 years, but I found that I couldn't picture that long expanse of time without some sort of visual aid, so I inserted some scenes showing him as a baby and so on, to give the audience a sense of the weight of those 30 years. Also, at my age, I knew nothing about the experiences of people the age of the main character, so I asked a bunch of the younger staff members to write down their own experiences, and I threw together a timetable of the various characters' lives based on that. What one person might have experienced as a student, another person might have experienced as a child. I got them to write down their impressions on these experiences based on their perspective at that age, to show how there can be different perspectives on the same event. I threw all that together into a little montage to show at the beginning. Only the little montage grew to more than five minutes, which was too long, so I only showed a bit at the beginning and then showed the rest at the end.

People probably won't get it when they first see it at the beginning of the film, but what didn't make sense the first time will start to make sense when you see it again at the end. It kind of mirrors the way Nishi begins to see things as he undergoes various inner changes. I wanted people watching the film to be able to understand the things Nishi is feeling.

That montage gives the film a lot of added depth.

Curiously enough, there were actually people on the staff who asked me why Nishi would want to leave the whale's belly. I thought it would be natural to want to get out. But I was surprised how many people thought it would have been more fun to stay in the whale's belly.

That really got me to wondering, to think people would ask why Nishi would want to leave the whale's belly. I don't mean to preach, but... why do we want to live in the world? Because it's interesting. I have Nishi make this pretty clear in the film. Because it's wonderful to live in a world full of different people mixing and living all sorts of different lives. Through our interactions with these people, we all take part in the act of creating the world around us. It doesn't even matter if we don't play that big a part. I think it's a wonderful thing just to take part in that process. That's one of the messages I hope comes across.

A TV superhero called Time Boy shows up a few times in the flashbacks. He has the power to turn back time. He plays a relatively small role, but I think it's a fairly emblematic one, thematically.

Yes, you're right. In the original manga, only Nishi gets a chance to start over. I thought that wasn't fair. I'm not that young anymore myself, and I thought it wasn't fair for only the young to get a chance to start over. So I wanted to give all of the rest of the characters a chance to start over, too. Just to be fair; it's obviously not the way life works. It's the way you wish it did. If you make a mistake, start over again. It's not too late. That sort of thing.

Right.

I just don't think results are that important. If you do your best, and you don't get good results, then just try again from a different angle, or look for a different path altogether. There's just something beautiful about the process of trying and failing and trying again when you're truly living your life to its maximum potential.

So it's actually a very positive movie.

Absolutely!

Incredibly positive.

Of course.

It's a healthy film.

I'm just sick of all the gloomy movies coming out these days! I decided I'd had enough with dark stuff after Cat Soup. What I want to see is positive movies from now on. Enough turning inwards, people; let's turn outwards! What's important is right here on this earth. Not everybody's dreams come true, but only those who act have a chance of acheiving their dreams. All differences aside, it all boils down to one thing: The world is interesting!

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Friday, July 30, 2004

01:25:46 pm , 136 words, 484 views     Categories: Animation

Champloo note

Just a short memo about the action in Samurai Champloo. Though I haven't read anything to confirm this, I've suspected since the beginning that the Suzuki brothers (鈴木竜也, 鈴木卓也 / Suzuki Tatsuya and Suzuki Takuya) credited in almost every episode in the series are responsible for the action in each episode, which would explain the sense of unity. Interesting is that their genga credit is listed on a separate page with 1st genga and 2nd genga credits in the most recent episode. That's something I've never heard of, having 1st and 2nd genga (genga=key animation) for just the animation by two key animators.


I think watching episode 10 I was most struck by how different an episode can feel depending on the person writing it. Compare the tameness of this episode with all the eps written by Dai Sato.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

08:58:55 pm , 1132 words, 923 views     Categories: Animation

That Imaishi magic

The Japanese have a great expression:

舌を巻く (Shita wo maku)

It means, literally, "To curl your tongue". What it actually signifies is that unexpected feeling when you're so amazed by something that words fail you.

Well, my tongue was curled into a knot watching Re: Cutey Honey episode one.

Yes, I know it's Go Nagai. There were probably more breast shots in this single episode than in most porn movies. But what made it incredibly great despite that? The fact that Hiroyuki Imaishi is utterly and completely insane.

Of course, he's not, and every image here in this episode he directed and storyboarded (he even drew key animation) is calculated with the utmost precision, even though it might not seem that way. Stuff that might seem just to be a cheap trick turns out to be a very subtle gag. Like the way at one point there's this explosion, and to emphasize the devastating hugeness of the explosion he stitches together explosion animation from different parts of the episode -- but leaves the soundtrack intact for each one.

In Imaishi's hands this crud is transformed into gold. Even the nudity is hilariously handled. It's a self-consciously over-the-top and ironic take on the childish prurience of the original. There is something interesting and hilarious going on at every moment with the drawings. Even in the quiet scenes some unseen force is pulling the drawings apart into insane deformations, and in the action scenes the screen seems like it's about to explode from all the unchecked animator energy crashing against the borders of the screen. Everything is all over the place constantly, and it's almost overwhelming.

But it's clear that he KNOWS the unspoken rule of jo-ha-kyu -- opening, middle, climax -- that you have to abide by to keep things from getting tedious. He's just thumbing his nose at it. Pushing it to the breaking point. It's jo-ha-kyu all right, but with a hypertrophied kyu.

Ever since FLCL it was clear that Hiroyuki Imaishi was a name to watch, and the last few years has indeed seen him creating some of the freest and most exhilirating animation seen in anime in many years.

Heightening the impact for me was the fact that I'd recently gotten to see Trava Fist Planet. This was the first piece after FLCL that Imaishi showed that he was on a rocket heading up, up, up. Next he did his first movie, Dead Leaves, and then he did the opening animation for Anno's recent Cutey Honey movie, and now this. There's a great anecdote where Anno, the guy who had supposedly lost faith in animation long ago, says after seeing the opening animation for his movie, "There's still hope for animation".

I could layer the blandishments twice as thick for Trava. That Katsuhito Ishii is a funny guy. His writing and the voice-acting kept me laughing the whole time. I think this was a first in anime, this sort of realistic, barely-cathing-everything hayakuchi mumbling quasi-improv voice-acting. It was extremely enjoyable.

But forget all that. The animation was the star of the show, as it should be. Imaishi storyboarded part two and also drew key animation in part two and three. (There are no clear cuts, but it's not impossible to figure out where one section ends and another begins.)

In Trava the animation is much more polished, but it's the same stuff as in Cutey, and there's no mistaking it for anybody else. With all the shiny mecha, the wild action lines and the absurd perspective shots, it's clear he was paying homage to and at the same time putting into hyperdrive the style of his great influences, Yoshinori Kanada + Yamashita Masahito. The animation and the overall style of that Re: Cutey Honey episode included all that, too, but overall it was more of a throwback to an earlier, softer era, the era of his other great influence, Dokonjo Gaeru and the other anime associated with the A Pro style. There's even a feeling of early Lupin in there. Imaishi is an incredibly postmodern animator in that sense -- his influences are right there, presented very clearly, and he plays with them like putty.

Takeshi Koike is the main creative force behind Trava, and it's a really great pairing, because Imaishi has more in common with Koike than with any other animator active today. They're probably the two most distinctive Japanese animators of recent years, not just because of their unmistakable drawing styles, but because of their basic stance towards animation -- the way they stick out like sore thumbs on purpose, the way their animation is in constant motion, the way every drawing tries to say something, the way their characters revel in being "off-model", the way they both utilize the entire screen, their very stylized and unrealistic drawings, their extreme use of perspective -- which is fundamentally at odds with the traditional notion of an animator as a cog in a machine who needs to churn out photocopies of a character sheet in different poses.

Though their styles are completely different, I think Imaishi and Koike together represent a new school in animation.

I talked a bit about Yo Yoshinari in the last post, and speak of the devil, he's involved in both Trava and Cutey. And what part of Trava? What else: Imaishi's part, part 2. Besides the obvious connections (FLCL-Gainax-IG) the reason for the involvement is obvious. There are two types of animators in Japan: those who draw pictures, and those who draw movement. Imaishi, Koike and Yoshinari are movers.

Plus in Cutey he's the very first key animator listed. That means of all the key animators, he drew the most animation in the episode. That's the rule of key animation credits, in case you didn't know. There were a number of other 'mover'-school animators in Cutey: Imaishi himself, Hideki Hamasu, Ken'ichi Konishi, Katsuyoshi Nakatsuru. Hideaki Anno even drew animation in the opening. The last time I remember him drawing animation was in one of Imaishi's Abenobashi Maho Shotengai episodes. Then he had Imaishi do the opening for his Cutey Honey movie. He's obviously somewhat partial to Imaishi.

Episode 2 of Cutey will be done by one Naoyuki Ito. His name is new to me because I'm not a frequenter of cute girl fantasies like Kanon, which he did. Episode 3 will be done by Masayuki, one of the pillars of Gainax animation.

As usual with Gainax, there are plenty of anime in-jokes (about which I admit I'm ambivalent), like the way one character is wearing the red Lupin jacket, while another wears the blue Lupin jacket.

There's even a great Hong Kong bullet opera scene, which Imaishi loves to put into his anime. Just a guess, but I'd say this was one of the ones done by Yoshinari.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

05:43:41 pm , 322 words, 815 views     Categories: Animation

F*ll M*tal Alch*mist op

30 seconds of very nice animation in the new opening of Full Metal Alchemist, a series that otherwise holds no interest for me. Drawn by Satoru Utsunomiya, Yoshinari Yo and Yoshihiko Umakoshi (among others) and storyboarded by Yutaka Nakamura. Nakamura is one of the great action animators of the last decade. He gained instant fame as one of the major new animators on the scene after the incredibly thrilling action set pieces he provided for Cowboy Bebop, with their Bruce-Lee-on-fast-forward superfast-but-realistic aesthetic and quirky movements of the sort only possible in animation. Apparently Nakamura also provided animation for the second op and at least episodes 25 and 31 of FMA.

Yoshihiko Umakoshi did a lot of good work in the recent Jubei-chan 2 series. He's a classic example of an animator specialized in TV animation: He prefers the medium because of the freedom it allows him, the way it lets him be down and dirty with the drawings, churning them out, coming up with ideas rather than sitting around filling in details, as in movie animation, where you have to spend so long to do just one scene because the level of detail demanded is so much higher.

Yoshinari Yo is also one of the great action animators of the last decade, involved in a lot of Gainax works. He did a lot of the best sequences in FLCL - like the bunny girl scene. He also did the fight at the beginning of Mahoromatic episode 1. His first work was in Evangelion.

Satoru Utsunomiya needs no introduction. Many of you who watched Paranoia Agent will already be fans, whether you know it or not. He directed, storyboarded, was animation director and drew key animation for the most striking and memorable episode in the series, episode 8, Akarui Kazoku Keikaku. Besides that he did the subway bit in Ghiblies 2 not too long ago. He's one of the big figures of 90s anime. See my filmo to learn more.

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