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If anyone can send me any of the articles covering Mind Game, I might see my way clear to translating them (in part or in whole) in return. ~`
Motion Image Psychedelia, a rotating Mind Game exhibition
An exhibit of key animation, inbetweens and sketches together with a making-of video are going to be viewable at Logos Gallery in Shibuya from August 8-16. The exhibit will then be travelling to "digmeout CAFE" in Osaka from August 19-29.
Seiichi Yamamoto & Fushigi Robot Concert
The band responsible for the music in Mind Game will be playing live in concert on August 13 in Shibuya to memorialize the release of the soundtrack CD.
More Mind Game Media Coverage
Yuasa interview in August MAC POWER; 8p special feature in August SWITCH; Yuasa interview in August CUT; Yuasa/Watanabe/Morimoto interview in July NEWTYPE.
Official Site Update
Staff comment section added to Special Contents area.
Today I thought I'd throw together a little Mind Game primer for those of you who might have read past entries of this journal wondering what the heck this Mind Game thing is that I'm always going on about.
Mind Game is the first great anime film of the 21st century.
Mind Game explodes the boundaries of "Japanimation".
Mind Game is a revolution unto itself.
Mind Game is the latest full-length feature film from independent Japanese animation studio (official home page), a studio founded in 1986 by Eiko Tanaka, Koji Morimoto and Yoshiharu Sato that has gone on to produce several of the most significant anime films of the last decade, including Memories (1995) and Animatrix (2003).
Studio 4°C has distinguished itself among its peers for its willingness to push the boundaries of anime in new, unforseen directions, without being constrained by passing fads or profit margins. Their creations are consistently on the cutting edge of Japanese commercial animation, stylistically as well as technically; they were among the first studios in Japan to create films successfully integrating 3DCG with conventional animation. They are the dogged independent of the anime industry.
A large proportion of their output has been dedicated to quasi-experimental short films, the preferred medium of the studio's star director, , who has been responsible for most of these wonderfully esoteric, extremely refreshing, beguilingly odd gems, many of them music videos, like Ken Ishii's Extra (1995) and the Bluetones' Four Day Weekend (1998).
One of the exceptions was Morimoto's 1997 15-minute featurette . Building on a history of fruitful collaboration, Morimoto made the bold decision of inviting rising star to design and animate a large portion of the film. The collaboration was extremely successful, and the film remains one of Studio 4°C's strongest.
The choice was not without reason. Yuasa had proven himself to be a creator to watch right from the beginning of his career as a key animator in the 1992 film , for which he provided two remarkable short musical pieces that are still every bit as thrilling and exceptional as when they were first created. For the next ten years his energies were primarily expended on the popular and prolific series, which unfortunately had the adverse effect of hiding his talent from the view of many, particularly in the west, to whom these films and TV episodes were (and remain) unavailable or simply of no interest.
This is unfortunate because his work on this series is one of the great individual achievements of the 1990s in anime, and deserves greater recognition. The films are probably the high point of traditional, family-oriented anime filmmaking of that decade, and Yuasa played a major role in making them the instant classics they are. In a role analagous to that played by Hayao Miyazaki in Toei's 1971 film Animal Treasure Island (where Miyazaki was credited as "Idea Man"), as the "Set Designer" Yuasa furnished each film with a vast array of crazy designs and freespirited ideas that contributed tremendously to their unique and compelling atmosphere. As well, he provided an animated sequence in almost every film. Entirely on their own merits, these brilliantly animated sequences are required viewing for anyone who considers him or herself a fan of just-plain-great animation.
When in 2001 Studio 4°C producer Eiko Tanaka was tossing around the idea of turning into a film, it was this record, combined with the success of their previous collaboration and Yuasa's unprecedentedly rough and free approach to animation, that brought Yuasa to mind as the only person in the world who could possibly find a way of translating the mad imagery and story of this cult comic into equally mad and compelling animation.
Yuasa himself had already read the comic at the urging of Koji Morimoto during the production of Noiseman, and he gladly accepted the offer. In the intervening years Yuasa had begun to test his wings as a director, having just finished his artistic 'coming-out' statement Cat Soup, and, encouraged by the enthusiastic reception his work had received from colleagues and audiences alike into thinking he wasn't entirely worthless, he leaped at the offer as an opportunity to put into concrete form many of the deep-down urges that had been begging for release all these years.
Tanaka originally wanted to create a film from the comic, but later decided to do it half-animation/half-live action, with Yuasa directing the animation parts. After starting on the project, Yuasa thankfully managed to convince Tanaka to let him exercise complete control over the project and decide how to integrate the live action bits, relegating the latter to a smaller role, kind of the reverse of music videos where you have live-action interspersed with short bits where the actors turn into animated characters.
Bringing into the fray as his animation director the immensely talented , after two years of animation production Yuasa has produced nothing short of a miracle: an unprecedentedly powerful and revolutionary film fashioned from an explosive mixture of live-action, 3DCG and traditional animation that I guarantee is unlike anything anyone has seen before in any film -- live-action or animated.
The film is literally a revolution for anime: It breaks down previous technical boundaries, artistic boundaries and entertainment boundaries, telling an extraordinary story by means of visuals of unthinkably raw power.
And to all of you worried that there's no possible way anyone could sit through a whole film as crazy as the , or conversely, worried that you've seen all the good bits in the trailer, rest assured: Yuasa has reportedly done the impossible, creating a breathless, hyperkinetic film in which not only is every moment just as eye-popping and heart-thumping as the trailer (it's not a "hypertension" movie for nothing!), but the film also stands soundly on its own two feet as a profoundly stirring drama with a message of universal appeal, boasting a story that is the essence of simplicity and clarity and a host of interesting and well-fleshed-out characters.
Not only this, but Yuasa proved decisively that he has the instincts of a director by making the unusual decision to cast comedian Koji Imada and other young non-voice-actor from the Osaka-based Yoshimoto Kogyo, the biggest entertainment conglomerate in the Kansai region, sensing that the very particular brand of humor native to this region was just what was needed for the characters in the film.
And the simple fact that , an ex-member of the Boredoms, provides the film's score speaks volumes in and of itself about the nature of the film. I think I've been waiting all my life for a film that would by its very nature require music from an ex-member of the Boredoms!
Yes, folks. Look forward to it. No matter how high your expectations, I can guarantee that they will be left coughing and hacking in the dust as this film soars into the history books.
Written and directed by Masaaki Yuasa
Based on the manga by Robin Nishi
Animation Director Yuichiro Sueyoshi
Original Score by Seiichi Yamamoto
Voice acting by Koji Imada, Takashi Fujii, Yamaguchi Tomomitsu
Total Runtime: 104 minutes
Opens in Japan on August 7, 2004
- Robin Nishi's Mind Game Comic (reissued June 23)
- Mind Game Original Soundtrack CD (TB released July 16)
- Mind Game Remix DVD (released June 25)
Helpless and good for nothing,
Life can be so interesting if we just go out and meet it. Today I met many interesting things. First I met a truck full of orange-suited convicts as I was driving by a scenic lake. They were carrying garbage bags and blocking the road. I was very scared. Next I climbed up to a peak and overlooked the land, like the emperor of Japan did way back when in the Kojiki. I named it Akitsushima! No, but seriously; there I met a helicopter. A very small one. Like just a bubble with some wire for a tail. It passed slowly over my head. It may have been concerned that I might need succour. I was moved. I later thought I should have made the one-arm 'OK' signal and regretted that. On my way down from the mountain I met a snake in my path. He was obviously displeased and left in a hurry. I had almost stepped on him. My fourth interesting meeting of the day was some curious deer. I was in a small park by a small lake observing the pitter patter of rain on the surface of the lake and decided I had seen enough and made my way to my car when I saw two deer in my path. Right there browsing next to the caravan of old people eating lunch! I made a wide arc to avoid scaring them. And they ran towards me! They stood there near me. We looked at each other for a while. I was moved again. I suspect they only wanted food, though.
I thought I'd talk a bit about 冬の日 (Fuyu no Hi) AKA Winter Days today. I won't go into much detail. Other sites can do that better than me (notably the official site). I'll just skim over some impressions. My apologies, but I have a strange aversion to writing summaries, which seem ridiculous to repeat more than once, so I'll just point you to one.
Winter Days is a visually rich, accessible, innovative film, but not surprisingly it seems to have pretty much disappeared without a blip, except for a number of festival screenings and awards. Just looking at it in the broadest sense, as a concept, it works. The idea that you have this ancient Japanese poetry form that would seem to be uncannily well suited to the medium of animation, a medium in which one individual typically spends a great deal of effort creating a minute or so of visuals of haiku-like compactness and craftsmanship, seems like a good idea at first, but in fact it turns out to be a very good idea.
Regardless of the quality of the individual entries, it's a moving whole, like a microcosm of the animation world in all its variety, showcasing the amazingly diverse possibilities of the medium, and the diverse motives and backgrounds that each animator brings to the table. At the most basic level, it's a pleasure to be carried along on the rich assortment of visuals that ensue with each successive stanza. As Kihachiro Kawamoto (concept, director) undoubtedly anticipated, every animator brings his or her own wildly different interpretation of the material, with no two shorts looking or feeling the same, and the stylistic differences act to mirror the alternation of poets from one stanza to the next. This was obviously a project not conceived for profit and merchandising and franchising and all that, but for no reason other than to create something of beauty, something original, for love of the art of animation. I admire Kawamoto for coming up with this deceptively simple idea and carrying it through to completion, however he did it, with all the incredible logistical challenges getting 35 animators from around the world to contribute a minute of animation must have entailed.
Obviously the idea of an animated omnibus isn't new -- there's Fantasia, for one. But the difference is obvious in terms of the content, the motive, and the production style. In any case, the timing of the appearance of an independent, hand-crafted, artist-centered film like this in Japan -- at a time when the big blockbusters of the anime industry seem to have finally become firmly ensconsed in the world mainstream -- seems laden with meaning. I find particularly poignant the fact that Isao Takahata, evicted from the director's chair at Ghibli after the eminently anti-epic Yamada-kun, is among the bunch.
Takahata received the Excellence Prize for Yamada-kun at the 3rd annual Japan Media Arts Festival in 1999, in the acceptance interview for which he emphasized his skepticism and outright distrust of the escapist tactics of contemporary anime films like Spirited Away. Alexander Petrov, who also contributed a short to Winter Days, took the Grand Prix that year for The Old Man and the Sea. In the event, Winter Days took the grand prize in 2003, and Takahata was on the judging committee. He made a damning case for the poverty of Japanese animation in his procedural summary of the year's entries. There was no film even remotely comparable to Winter Days in terms of conceptual originality and innovation last year in Japan, so it was the right decision to support that originality. Anybody who thinks Tokyo Godfathers was artistically innovative and original... well, that's you, to quote a phrase. Well crafted entertainment, yes.
On a side note, Yoshiyuki Tomino heads the committee this year, so it's intriguing to speculate how the awards will pan out. Somehow I just can't picture Tomino giving Winter Days the grand prix. Maybe I'm wrong, but he strikes me as a definite entertainment partisan. (I confess that I've always derived a sort of perverse pleasure from the bewildering, opaque comments he never fails to make whenever he talks about animation.) If there's any justice, Mind Game will win the grand prix, along with many other prizes.
As for the individual pieces, there are certainly some that stand above the rest, and some that I didn't care for, but I think they all fit perfectly within the whole. In other words, it's a healthy anarchy.
Without any hesitation the best piece comes from , the 'honored guest' in charge of the hokku, the first stanza of the poem, written by the invited guest of the original Winter Days poetry collection, Basho. Jaw-dropping is a good term to describe the amount of life Norstein is able to breathe into the landscape and the characters on the screen. It's really in another league from pretty much all of the rest of the pieces.
It was surprising to find out, in the interview section that follows the animation, that Norstein is the one who actually inspired the idea for the film many years ago when he made a passing comment to Kawamoto about how interesting it would be to animate Basho's poems, having long loved them and read them for inspiration.
Sadly, 's own piece, which follows (he also did the final piece), is a pale shadow of his efforts of years past such as 火宅 (Kataku, The House of Flames). The animation is wooden and the dolls are sloppy-looking. But he's such a good guy that we'll forgive him. Similarly, the contribution of one of the various notable foreign guests, , creator of the classic, hilarious Czech puppet series Pojdte pane, budeme si hrat, struck me as somewhat... lacking from a man who was an erstwhile master of his art. He comes across as a kind, weary, wizened old man in his interview. All of which meshes touchingly with the theme of his piece: life is transient, and old age catches up with all.
I know about being important as one of the members of the アニメーション三人の会 (Animation Sannin no kai, Animation Gang of Three), the seminal independent animator association formed in the 60s, but frankly his piece struck me as just plain silly - though I guess that was the point. He was rather pathetic in the interview, too, sitting there next to his "Dutch wife", looking kind of lost. Along with the piece, it gets an enthusiastic "pass" from me. I was decidedly unimpressed by the way Uruma/Derubi pouted childishly in the interview section about having been given a "hard part" just because they had to animate water.
struck me as just the sort of affable fellow I'd imagined judging by the nature of his creative output in various media (manga, illustration, animation, etc) over the last thirty years. His piece was one of my favorites, very stylish and restrained, with excellent use of color, visually one of the most original and appealing of all the pieces. I've been reading his The Guppy Still Lives, a poetic history of Japan since the 60s, which, for lack of adequate words, strikes me as just one of the most original manga I've ever read, with its heady mixture of pornography, high art and pop iconography.
's piece was animated by none other than Osamu Tanabe, and as a whole it's one of the best in the film, with the various meanings of his stanza picked apart with the exacting care to be expected from the razor-sharp mind of Takahata, and reassembled into a seamless 60 seconds wherein the various cleverly juxtaposed incongruous elements culminate in the film's funniest punchline. One of the film's most satisfying interpretations.
Particularly gratifying for animation fans like myself was the invitation of master animator and his wife to the film, both of whom were former colleagues of Takahata at Toei Doga in the 1960s, and at A Pro and then Nippon Animation in the 1970s. Kotabe is one of the truly great animators of the last 40 years, having made a number of historically significant contributions to anime, including a number of classic animated sequences in the Toei Films, and epoch-making work as the animation director/character designer of Takahata's mid-1970s TV series Heidi and Marco. But we all know that, don't we. The film itself is quite unusual for the pair, as they are not art animators like the rest of the folks in the film, and consequently their piece is a bit sedate, but nonetheless atmospheric and visually rich, and an unexpected treat. Kotabe's explanation of the animation process was great; precise and instructive about every step.
One of the greatest discoveries for me was . Yes, I know I'm only a few years behind the rest of the world. For some reason I had avoided seeing The Old Man and the Sea and his other things. Don't ask why! I really don't know. Now I can't wait to see them. He's quite obviously up there near Norstein in terms of artistic talent and vision. His technique is amazing. To think he can get such life out of paint smeared on a glass plate with his fingers...
The other big discovery for me was , who provides the most dynamic piece in the film. Kurosaka has had numerous high-profile commissions in recent years, including Flying Daddy for Japan MTV, and seems to have found the ideal formula to survive as an independent animator. A bunch of his films are even available on VHS. I hope these are released on DVD soon so that the rest of the world can see how good he is.
I'd actually heard of Kurosaka before, as well as , because they're the two biggest independent animators of the current generation (discussed in this informative Animation World article), but only heard, and not seen, and I was equally impressed by Yamamura's piece. Of all the independent animators I've seen in Japan, he strikes me as the best craftsman. Reportedly he spent more than 7 years animating Mt. Head -- and drew every cel himself. (Read more about him on this page.)
I'm afraid I don't have enough steam left to talk about the others. I'll just mention that there's also a 9-DVD edition of the film that contains 8 DVDs worth (!) of footage documenting in minute detail the creation of each piece in the film, but it's apparently rather amateurishly shot and edited, so disappointingly slipshod as a making-of.
I was just rewatching some rips I made a few years back from a long out-of-print LD release of pre-war abstract animator Oskar Fischinger's works that I managed to find in a university library somewhere or other, and I was again struck by how damned incredible they were, and how for the life of me I've never seen anything yet that comes near to topping them - save perhaps for Norman McLaren's work. Why aren't these on DVD yet? In Japan they released a wonderful 3-DVD set of Norman McLaren's work, the first of its kind anywhere (for shame, Canada!), and they've been putting out lots of interesting DVD releases of animation masters from around the world, including a beyond-your-wildest-dreams 8-DVD set of Karel Zeman's works that I'm still hoping to get soon, and over here we've seen any number of obscure items turn up on DVD, such as Ladislaw Starewicz's insect/puppet films, but Fischinger has yet to turn up on the DVD radar on either side of the Pacific.
First of all, I find this quite lamentable. I understand that the size of an audience for a pre-war German mystic synaesthete abstract animator must have its limits, but just the same, people don't know what they're missing. In terms of sheer volume of ideas per second, they're up there near the top in the history of the medium.
That said, since they're not available anywhere right now, I don't feel too bad about putting up one of his films for people to download, his Study No. 7 of 1931, probably the most famous of his Studies series.
Forget characters, forget story, forget colors, forget anything that would distract from the fundamentals that form the basis of animation, movement + shape, and this is what you get: pure, unadulterated visual music. Think animated Kandinsky. And every frame here was drawn by one man. Don't give me any crap about a computer program being able to generate something comparable. Maybe we could create a computer program that could reproduce a Bach fugue convincingly (though I have my doubts about this). Does that take away from his genius?
Back in the LD era the biggest name in art animation releases was Pioneer, with their Animation Animation series that put out, well, pioneering two-LD sets of Tadanari Okamoto, Kihachiro Kawamoto, Yuri Norstein and so on. Now that we're in the DVD era they've changed their name to Geneon and wasted no time in moving ahead with DVD releases of all the old names as well as many new (though still no Tadanari as of yet) in the appropriately rechristened New Animation Animation series: Kihachiro Kawamoto, Yuri Norstein, Ishu Patel, Co Hoedeman, Raoul Servais, Shanghai Animation, Alexander Petrov, Yoji Kuri, Koji Yamamura, Jiri Trnka, Tezuka Osamu, Russian shorts, plus the aforementioned McLaren and Zeman sets.
I'll go out of my way to mention that the 5-DVD Trnka set is particularly welcome because it sees the first DVD release anywhere of Trnka's magnum opus, A Midsummer Night's Dream, which in my opinion is the greatest puppet film ever made.
There's also been a spate of Slavic fuzzies of late, with classic children's puppet series like the popular Chebrushka and Bretislav Pojar's brilliant Pojdte pane, budeme si hrat turning up on DVD. To capitalize on the fad, someone even put out a ridiculously skimpy DVD+plush doll set for Mitten, a short done by the Chebrushka team.
Svankmajer is well represented, with almost all of his full-length features out on DVD as well as his shorts. And a number of those weird 80s French sci-fi features are even out on DVD. You know... Planete Sauvage, Les Maitres Du Temps, Gandahar. I must say, I don't know about you, but I found Gandahar to be supremely crappy. Planete Sauvage is still watchable in a quaint sort of way, I guess. Haven't seen the other one.
Not a Japanese release, and not even animation in the conventional sense, but a few years back a selection of the film works of Charles & Ray Eames was released on 5 DVDs. The Powers of Ten, clocking in at a mere 8 minutes, is quite simply one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. It is required viewing for anyone who considers himself an aficionado of cinema or animation. The film is a miracle of perfection. I was so mezmerized and amazed on the first watching that I don't remember how many times I rewatched it immediately afterwards, in addition to ripping it from the LD I'd rented so as to be able to watch it yet more innumerable times. (The DVD wasn't out then.) For the record, I'm a partisan of the early version. I personally think the collective body of the Eames' work is among the greatest left by any American visual artist in the last century. And I don't even know that much about what else they did. (Apparently they were no less important as architects and furniture designers.)
I just noticed Criterion released a DVD of Stan Brakhage's works. Very curious about that.
And, oh yeah, whatever happened to Norstein's Overcoat? It's been like, what, 20 years since he started?? I know he's still alive and kicking, since he made a great new short for Winter Days and had enough free time to do some voice-acting on Jubei-chan, of all things.
And what about Paul Glabicki? I've seen a few of his incredible abstract works, and they clearly deserve much more recognition than they seem to get. It's practically impossible to find them.
Anyway, I think that'll be enough horrendous digression for now.
Someone who writes a really great haiku, only to realize later that it's not 7-5-7 but 5-7-5.
Saw , but I don't think I'm going to bother to see the rest. I'm a big fan of deliberately "artsy" films -- L'Ange is one of my favorite films -- but this one just didn't do it for me, for some reason. 1 was downright tedious, possibly because I'd read a brief synopsis beforehand, and there really was nothing more to the entire 30 minutes than just that brief synopsis. 2 was better, and was interesting, but it just left me cold. I just don't find myself convinced. In the dialogue sections the directing borders on embarrassing in a way that obviously wasn't intentional. What are you thinking, Norman Mailer?
- Yasuhiro Aoki strikes again! Another one-man-orchestra episode, the first in a while. (In other words, he handled the storyboard, directing, and animation directing.) Excellent episode not only in technical terms -- directing, animation -- but also in terms of the story, which is engaging, challenging and dramatically convincing -- and relevant. World Masterpiece Theater as a place for kids to learn about morality? Fuhgeddit. Tweeny Witches offers much better lessons for impressionable minds in this age of pre-emptive wars for oil.
But then, I have yet to be let down by this show. Obara's writing is great. (I think he's the main reason Samurai Champloo is watchable.)
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.