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, September 9, 2004

09:26:02 pm , 323 words, 1469 views     Categories: Animation

Anime Yawa

Samurai Champloo 15 was a Kazuto Nakazawa episode and was quite well done, with just the sort of minutely detailed animation I'd expect of him, and some welcome silliness to relieve the dreariness of recent episodes. Suzuki bros were in the house.

Over the last week the Japanese satellite station NHK BS2 has been broadcasting an intriguing program called Anime Yawa (Anime Night Talks). In each episode a number of people spend an hour talking about a certain famous anime, specifically Galaxy Express 999 (the movie) on Monday, Cagliostro on Tuesday, Tomorrow Joe on Wednesday, and Card Captor Sakura on Thursday. It's obviously a rather unusual program and features some impressive guests like Akitaro Daichi, Hiroyuki Kitakubo and Ryu Murakami. Actress Kokusho Sayuri (Eureka) was there for Cagliostro as the non-otaku representative. It was hosted by an expert in the field, Toshiyasu "Otaking" Okada, and reportedly was a gratifying watch for animation fans like myself because it went into specifics about the contributions of animators like Tomonaga and Kanada and Otsuka in the films. Murakami in particular is a huge Kanada fan, and he talked a lot about Kanada, which must have been a thrill for Kanada fans. It's not often you hear the sort of mania talk I'm into, much less on TV, so needless to say, this is rather nice news. The show is an offshoot of the successful series Manga Yawa.

Madhouse has a series called Beck starting in October. I'm curious about it because it's written/directed by Osamu Kobayashi. Now, I'm pretty sure this is not the same Osamu Kobayashi who did Dokonjo Gaeru in 1972. It's confusing because they're written with exactly the same kanji! But the new Kobayashi is just as interesting. I think he did a really weird short for Studio 4°C a few years back. More recently he did the great ending for Gad Guard. I'm curious to see what he'll do with the material here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

10:36:39 pm , 457 words, 1448 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Mind Game tidbits

This Friday's final showing of Mind Game at Cine Quinto in Shibuya will be preceded by a talk with Masaaki Yuasa, Eiko Tanaka and -- the big surprise -- Gisaburo Sugii! Yes, the visionary genius of the early anime period responsible for such anime masterpieces as Belladonna and Goku's Big Adventure, is coming to bat for Mind Game.

Tatsuo Sato has provided an essay for the latest issue of Madhouse's Association for the Promotion of Mind Game, in which he memoraby compares the experience of seeing this film to witnessing an olympic runner going all out in a final spurt to the finish line in his best form and best time.

Finally, the small Baus Theater in Kichijoji is apparently planning to show Mind Game as a late-night feature once the theatrical run is over.

A recent anime I'm curious to see is Wonder Bevil, a "mini-series" (7 mins/ep) produced by Radix for NHK's Tensai Bit-kun TV show. It's directed by Akihiro Omori 大森貴弘, co-director/layout person in Haibane Renmei, with character design by Takahiro Kishida 岸田隆宏, character designer of Lain and Arjuna and character designer/animation director of Spring and Chaos. Looks like fun. I like Kishida's simple design style. He stands out as one of the few people doing interesting CD in anime today. Prior to focusing on CD he was an animator in a lot of major anime like the Patlabor films, Gunbuster, Macross Plus.

A note of the Kill Bill animators:

Yasunori Miyazawa 宮沢康紀
Mitsuo Iso 磯光雄
Takahashi Hideki 高橋英樹
Eiji Ishimoto 石本英治
Takaaki Yamashita 山下高明
Sushio すしお
Mahiro Maeda 前田真宏
Keiichi Sasajima 笹島啓一
Naoyuki Onda 恩田尚之
Shinya Ohira 大平晋也

While I'm at it, a note of the animators in the climax of Innocence, which is the primary attraction of the film for folks such as myself. Hiroyuki Okiura was the AD of the climax on the plant boat and the early scene in the boat house. Besides the amazing lineup, interesting is that the climax brings together Okiura and Ohira, two animators whom one would normally never associate with one another; Okiura with his meticulously drawn, rigorously realistic drawings and Ohira with his rough, expressionistic realism. Okiura's challenge was preserving Ohira's special flowing style and line. Okiura's part apparently goes even further in the realism than Jin-Roh, which seems almost unimaginable. If you want to know who the top animators are today in Japan, just look at this scene. They're pretty much all there.

Shinya Ohira 大平晋也 ⇒ Bateau breaking into the ship
Ei Inoue 井上鋭 & Masashi Ando 安藤雅司 ⇒ on the leisure boat
Toshiyuki Inoue 井上俊之 ⇒ gainoids being born
Takeshi Honda 本田雄 ⇒ guards being killed by gainoids
Nobutake Ito 伊東伸高 ⇒ next
Shinji Hashimoto 橋本晋治 ⇒ gainoids falling from sky
Koichi Arai 新井浩一 ⇒ next
Satoru Utsunomiya うつのみや理 ⇒ gainoids on catwalk
Tetsuya Nishio 西尾鉄也 ⇒ computer terminal coming out
Kyoji Asano 浅野恭司 ⇒ next
Hiroyuki Okiura 沖浦啓之 ⇒ final scene in lab

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

06:43:06 pm , 145 words, 1323 views     Categories: Misc

Freeters of the world, unite!

Today I discovered that I'm a freeter.

What's a freeter? That was my first question, too.

According to this page:

"Freeter", a term coined by the Japanese by combining the English word "free" and the German word Arbeiter, is defined as "people with college diplomas who engage in menial employment". They seek a free lifestyle and consider leading a carefree life to be more important than their careers - yet they are not necessarily happy about their financial future.

In my case there is a contradiction between the basic idea of having gone freelance as a means of motivating myself to pursue other, more fulfilling activities, and the reality that I've wound up not pursuing either work or other activities due to the ease with which one can simply fall back on being satisfied with "just getting by". Of course, everyone has their particular issues...

Monday, September 6, 2004

08:04:20 pm , 3461 words, 16684 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

The first wave of independent animators in Japan

Having provided an overview of the development of independent animation, this time I though I would focus on the individual figures who emerged during the first decade of independent animation.

NIHIKI NO SANMA (Yoji Kuri)SENSUIKAN KASHIOPEA (Hiroshi Manabe)FUTARIZAMURAI HOMARE NO KAWAKIRI (Ryohei Yanagihara)

It was in the midst of the artistic ferment of the early 1960s that Japan's first independent animators got their start. At a time when nobody even knew the word "animation" in Japan -- they still used the slightly derogatory term "manga eiga" -- and animation was synonymous with Disney (there was no TV anime yet), three young men began making their own small, handmade animated films, revolutionizing the idea of what was possible in animation with a completely new paradigm for distribution and production, and adult themes and visual ideas far removed from everything that had come before. Inspiration came from various corners including contemporary graphic design and the animated film titles of Saul Bass, but the spark to this sudden blaze was their encounter with the films of Norman McLaren.

The trio first came together to provide animation for a special weekly TV broadcast that had been demanded by young radical intellectuals and artists like Kenzaburo Oe and Takemitsu Toru to provide a platform for voices against the US-Japan security treaty, and thereafter the three decided to continue working together. The newly refurbished Asakusa theater, known for its modern classical, jazz and foreign film festivals, provided the venue where these three figures would go on to unleash their films on astonished and delighted audiences over the next four years in three groundbreaking screenings held annually starting in 1960.

The first of these festivals, christened the Animation Sannin no Kai (Animation Group of Three), occurred on November 26, 1960; the second roughly one year later on January 19, 1962; and the third on April 3, 1963. The explosive success of their innovative idea to create independent, individual, artistic animation had the effect of pushing many of the budding artists and animators of the day into independent animation, which seemed to offer hitherto unseen artistic possibilities. Many of these young people -- including Taku Furukawa -- knocked on the door of the acknowledged leader, Yoji Kuri, to learn under his tutelage, thus establishing a direct link between many of the figures of the period.

As a result of this burst of interest, from the fourth year on (1964) the event took on the guise of what could rightfully be called an Animation Festival, which is what it was renamed. It now showcased the latest animated works not only by the original three but also by an assortment of graphic artists and mangakas-cum-animators. The number of new faces increased each year until, by the time of the last event in 1971, the more than 50 films programmed that year could not be contained within one screening, and the event had to be spread out over several days.

And so: We now have the basic format of the animation festival. Although this particular event finished in 1971, from this point on imitators began to pop up around the country, with new features and events being added each year, right down to the present day. Intriguingly, though, due to various factors including the rise in popularity of commercial TV animation, the number of independent animators creating the sort of experimental, artistic films that were seen in the heydey of the Asakusa event saw a steep drop immediately afterwards, with only a handful of major new figures like Keita Kurosaka and Koji Yamamura appearing on the scene over the last three decades.

Here is an overview of the main figures in the order in which they appeared, beginning with the original three.

Animation Sannin No Kai (1960-1963)

Yoji Kuri 久里洋二
Born 1928 in Fukui prefecture.

Kind of like Pavarotti and the Three Tenors, Yoji Kuri tends to be the one most easily remembered when it comes to the Animation Sannin no Kai. He was not only the most prolific of the three, producing more than two dozen films over two decades; his films also exhibit the most variety of the three, as in each film he consistently tackled new approaches and methods. His erotic, witty films embody the spirit of experimentation of this early period of independent animation.

Besides his creative work as an animator, Yoji Kuri's diverse artistic endeavours encompass painting, picture books, manga, sculpture, writing, and shell painting. His films have been shown all over the world and won numerous awards including the special prize at Annecy and the bronze medal at Venice; and exhibitions of his art have been held in cities including Ghent and New York. In addition to his films shown at festivals, Kuri also contributed a large number of short animated films to NHK's long running TV series Minna no Uta and Nihon Terebi's 11PM. In 1996 he was awarded a Blue Ribbon and a Purple Ribbon by the Prime Minister, a sort of lifetime achievement award.

A selection of Yoji Kuri's films is currently available on DVD from Geneon: Yoji Kuri Film Works, 154 mins, ¥6090.

Partial filmography:

1960 ◈ Fashion ファッション [16mm, 3 mins, B&W]
1961 ◈ Stamp Fantasy 切手の幻想 [16mm, 7 mins]
1961 ◈ Two Pikes 二匹のサンマ [16mm, 20 mins, B&W]
1962 ◈ Human Zoo 人間動物園 [35mm, 3 mins]
1963 ◈ Love 愛 [16mm, 4 mins]
1963 ◈ A Man and a Woman and a Dog 男と女と犬 [35mm, 3 mins]
1963 ◈ The Discovery of Zero ゼロの発見 [35mm, 20 mins]
1963 ◈ Miracle 軌跡 [35mm, 4 mins]
1964 ◈ AOS アオス [35mm, 10 mins, B&W]
1964 ◈ The Seat 椅子 [35mm, 10 mins, B&W]
1964 ◈ The Button ザ・ボタン [35mm, 3 mins]
1965 ◈ The Guy Next Door 隣の野郎 [35mm, 3 mins]
1966 ◈ A Small Sound 小さな囁き [35mm, 10 mins]
1967 ◈ The Room 部屋 [35mm, 5 mins]
1967 ◈ What Are You Thinking? あなたは何を考えているの? [35mm, 3 mins]
1968 ◈ Au Fou! 殺人狂時代 [35mm, 3 mins]
1969 ◈ Tragedy on the G Line G線上の悲劇 [35mm, 3 mins]
1974 ◈ POP [35mm, 3 mins]
1977 ◈ MANGA 漫画 [35mm, 3 mins]

Ryohei Yanagihara 柳原良平
Born 1931 in Tokyo.

After graduating from the Tokyo Bijutsu Daigaku (Tokyo Art School) Yanagihara immediately entered the company Suntory (then called Suya), where he played an important role in the advertising department as the editor of the magazine Yoshu Tengoku (Spirits Heaven), the company's PR magazine, which had a considerable cultural impact at the time, featuring as it did writing by big figures of the day like Takeshi Kaiko (who would take over as editor of the magazine after Yanagihara left). Its sexy, hip tone struck a chord with young hepcats and harried salarymen, who crowded to Suntory's hugely popular Torys Bar to read the magazine, wash down their worries with Torys Whisky and chat about democracy and literature with their buddies. Yanagihara got his audiovisual start around this time, producing a commercial for Suntory that featured a character called Uncle Torys who was quite popular with audiences, and remains an icon of the postwar boom period.

It was soon after he left the editorship of the magazine that he got into animation with the Animation Sannin no Kai. Like his fellows, he was heavily influenced by Saul Bass's film animation work and contemporary graphic designers, and these had a major influence on the look of his animation, which is characterized by its clean lines, striking colors and highly stylized, pop designs. After his involvement in the Animation Sannin no Kai he drifted away from animation, and up until the present day focused on advertising and book cover designing. An avid boat buff, he currently resides in the port city of Yokohama, where he spends most of his time engaged in various activities associated with his passion.

Partial filmography:

1960 ◈ Sea Battle 海戦 [2 mins]
1961 ◈ Commotion at Ikedaya 池田屋騒動 [? mins]
1963 ◈ Two Samurai 両人侍誉皮切 [7 mins]
1963 ◈ Viking ヴァイキング [7 mins]
1963 ◈ Jubei the Braggart ほらふき十兵衛 [1 reel]
1963 ◈ Bug Story 虫のはなし [6 mins]
1963 ◈ The non-flying carpet 飛ばないジュータン [6 mins]
1964 ◈ The Strange Tale of Ichijonosuke 女一余の助異聞 [7 mins]
1964 ◈ Moon Story 月のはなし [3 mins]
1964 ◈ The Chanda チャンダ号 [8 mins]
1964 ◈ The Hole 穴 [5 mins]
1966 ◈ The Baikaru ばいかる丸 [15 mins]

Hiroshi Manabe 真鍋博
1932-2000. Born in Ehime prefecture.

Manabe is one of the most famous illustrators of the postwar period, having been the person who brought a certain degree of respectability to the art of the book illustration. He pioneered his own personal style characterized by highly colorful scenes full of clean, flowing lines, where both man and nature are uniformly stylized in a way that seems to speak of his very personal idealistic, hopeful stance towards the future. (This blazing 1960s vision of the future is lovingly recaptured in Mind Game.) He was extremely prolific as a book cover designer, designing the covers for many novels by famous alternative sci-fi writers Shin'ichi Hoshi and Yasutaka Tsutsui, and was outspoken on various issues, authoring numerous of his own nonfiction tomes. Born and raised in the rural city of Niihama on the north side of Shikoku, Manabe's art has become a part of the landscape of his hometown, both figuratively and literally, as his illustrations decorate various installations around the city, including the Niihama Women's Plaza and an anti-nuclear arms monument in the central park.

Partial filmography:

1960 ◈ Marine Snow マリン・スノー [16mm, 1 reel, B&W]
1962 ◈ Cinepoem No. 1 シネポエム作品No.1 [16mm, 7 mins]
1963 ◈ MARCH [16mm, 2 mins]
1963 ◈ Time 時間 [16mm, 7 mins]
1964 ◈ Submarine Cassiopeia 潜水艦カシオペア [16mm, 3 mins]
1965 ◈ Space Bird 宇宙鳥 [5 mins]
1966 ◈ Chase 追跡 [2 mins]

Animation Festival (1964-1971)

1964

Mermaid (1964)Osamu Tezuka 手塚治虫
1928-1989.

Among the first to present works at the newly rechristened Asakusa festival was Osamu Tezuka, who had of course had aspirations towards animation since his viewings of films like Momotaro Umi no Shimpei during the war. Even while drawing his early manga he eventually indended to get into animation, and had taken steps towards that end by his involvement in various of the Toei Doga films (Saiyuki, Sinbad's Adventures, Wan Wan Chushingura), finally founding his own studio, Mushi Pro, in 1961. Right from the start he intended to produce popular animation merely as a way of funding his creation of artistically innovative experimental films. Although market forces and staff opinion differences eventually crushed this idea and Mushi Pro with it, Tezuka continued to make his own animated films until his death, revealing the depth of his love of animation. Mushi Pro's first (and in my opinion best) film, Aru Machikado no Monogatari (Tale of a Streetcorner), directed by Eiichi Yamamoto, was in fact shown in 1966 at the third edition of the Animation Festival.

Mushi Pro had actually held its own screening in November 1962, a few months before the third edition of the Animation Sannin no Kai, to première the recently completed Aru Machikado no Monogatari in addition to the pilot episode of Tetsuwan Atomu and the studio's very first experimental short, Osu (Male). Interestingly, key animation for the second and third films, Memory and Mermaid, which were premièred in 1964 at the first Animation Festival, was by Shigeru Yamamoto 山本繁, latter-day animation director of films like Sanrio's Sea Prince and the Fire Child, who went on to make a few of his own shorts (like 1971's Work L 作品L), which were featured at subsequent Animation Festivals.

Makoto Wada 和田誠
Born 1936.

Another multitalented artist, Makoto has in fact only made two animated films: Murder 殺人, premièred at the first Animation Festival, which won the coveted Ofuji-sho, and Jigoma, Master Thief: The Musical 怪盗ジゴマ 音楽篇 (1988), directed by and featuring music composed by Wada. His main area of activity is illustration (he has illustrated the cover of the famous literary publication Bungei Shunju). He is also a designer, translator and writer. He has written numerous books since his award-winning debut in 1982 with Begin the Begin, and is also a renowned movie critic. Most recently, in 1984 he began his live-action directing career with the film Mahjongg Horoki. Jigoma was produced to accompany his second directing feature, Kaito Rubi.

1965

Cigarettes and Ashes (1965)Sadao Tsukioka 月岡貞夫
Born 1939 in Niigata prefecture.

Tsukioka is one of the most important independents of the last forty years, but he is not generally well known because most of his work has been ads and shorts included in various TV programs. He was one of the more important animators at Toei Doga before changing course completely and becoming one of the more famous indie success stories.

After entering Toei in 1959, he first worked as an inbetweener for three years on Alakazam (1960), Sinbad (1962) and Doggie March. But his skill was obvious from the beginning, as in 1961 Toei Doga set the more promising of the freshly hired young animators to the task of creating two short films as a way of quickly improving their skills, with Tsukioka heading The Mouse Marries ねずみのよめいり (written/directed by Daisaku Shirakawa/Sadao Tsukioka, animation by Tsukioka, Rin Taro, etc) and Makoto Nagasawa heading Motoro the Mole もぐらのモトロ (directed by Hiroshi Ikeda, key animation by Makoto Nagasawa).

For 1963's Little Prince, he helped Yasuo Otsuka animate the fight with the dragon that occupies the last ten minutes of the film. After the sudden arrival of TV anime the next year, 1963, he volunteered for the task of doing Wolf Boy Ken, since nobody else wanted to do it, and consequently went down in legend for the incredible feat of single-handedly writing, directing and animating many of the episodes. Although he was a blessing for Toei Doga due to his heroic efforts on Ken, his experiences creating entire films singlehandedly on this series was obviously a turning point for him, because after providing key animation for Gulliver the next year, in 1964, he left Toei Doga and officially embarked on his freelance career.

The very first film he made as an independent was 1965's Cigarettes and Ashes タバコと灰, premièred at the second Animation Festival. Although technically produced by Mushi Pro, it was written, directed and animated entirely by Tsukioka, like all of his self-produced subsequent films including The Story of A Man ある男の場合 (1966) and the minute-long The Creation 新・天地創造 (1970), each of which were also premièred at the Animation Festival. Although he had one relapse into commercial animation -- he provided the animation of the genies in 1001 Nights for Mushi Pro in 1969 -- his experiences in the Animation Festival fairly set the course for the rest of his career, and afterwards he has been completely independent.

Most famously, starting in 1970, for the next twenty years he provided numerous animated shorts set to songs for Minna no Uta, a show that has been a mainstay for many of the independents who debuted at the Animation Festival, including Taku Furukawa. Of particular note is Kantaro the North Wind Imp 北風小僧の寒太郎, which has become something of a classic, being rebroadcast every year in autumn.

Since the 70s Tsukioka has been active as an animation instructor and lecturer, and in recent years Tsukioka has published a series of books on basic animation techniques.

In TrainingShinji Fukushima 福島治次 (now 福島治)
Born 1941 in Shizuoka prefecture.

One of the other animators who debuted at the second annual Animation Festival was Shinji Fukushima, who has also since been a regular on Minna no Uta, having provided 11 shorts for the show between 1970 and 1999. For him everything started when he saw the second edition of the Animation Sannin no Kai in 1962, which showed him a whole new world he had never known and immediately determined the course of the rest of his life, he relates. He got his start with the animation for Hiroshi Manabe's Space Bird at the 1966 festival, and made his solo debut the next year with A Story of Planet Moston モストン星の話. Other films debuted at the Animation Festival include Cosmos コスモス (1969) and Door とびら (1971). Most recently Fukushima contributed a short to the Winter Days anthology, and finally completed a film called In Training 修行中でござる after several years of work. He is the founder of the studio Anime-ya.

1966

from Winter Days (2003)Tatsuo Shimamura 島村達雄
Born 1934 in Tokyo.

The same year he graduated from the Tokyo Nation University of Fine arts and Music, Shimamura started his career as an inbetweener in 1958 on Japan's first full-length color animated feature, Hakujaden. For the next few years he worked on commercials, and in 1966 he took part in his first Animation Festival with Moonlight and the Glasses 月夜とめがね, made at Gakken, continuing to take part in the festival for the next few years. His 1967 film Illusion City 幻影都市 is considered one of the classics of this period. In 1970 he took part in Mushi Pro's Cleopatra, but the scene he animated in the film, the parade of famous paintings, makes it clear that his imagination could no longer be constrained by the confines of feature animation. In 1974 he founded his own studio, Shirogumi, which has gone on to create visuals for large displays and expos, digital effects work in movies, and more than 1000 TV commercials that have won awards at just about every festival in the world.

Phenakistiscope (1975)Taku Furukawa 古川タク
Born 1941 in Mie prefecture.

Originally pulled towards manga after graduating from college with a major in Spanish due to his fondness for Steinberg and Tezuka, Furukawa's future was at first tentatively redirected upon seeing the stylish animated TV ads by Ryohei Yanagihara and Makoto Wada, and then firmly determined by his encounter with the mature experimental films shown at the Animation Sannin no Kai. Furukawa had done some part time work for TCJ on TV anime like Tetsujin 28 while studying at college (he says he had fun with the show, even drawing himself into a scene where a crowd is running from Tetsujin), but it was helping out with various independent animators including Kuri Yoji upon graduation that laid the foundation of his own independent approach.

After a few years of apprenticeship, it was while still working at Yoji Kuri's Jikken Kobo studio that Furukawa had the chance to write, direct and animate his very first film, Akatombo (Red dragonfly), which was premièred in 1966 at the third annual Animation Festival. Furukawa has since produced more than 20 short films, animated entirely by himself at his private studio founded in 1970, Takun Manga Box, funded largely by his work as an illustrator. His films have won numerous prizes around the world including the special jury's prize at Annecy. He has also left behind a large body of animated TV ads and shorts for Minna no Uta. This year he was awarded the Purple Ribbon for lifetime achievement by the Prime Minister. A DVD of his complete works entitled Takun-Films was issued by Anido in 1998.

By 1971 ...

... most of the major independents of the next thirty years had made their appearance in the Animation Festival:

Fumio Ooi 大井文雄 directed his first short while still studying at Tama Art University: F (shown at the 1968 Animation Festival). Since 1970 he has contributed about 20 films to Minna no Uta, and he has been one of the major advocates of CG animation, working at computer animation studio Studio 3D since its founding in 1971. His short in Winter Days is an atmospheric 3DCG film.

Goro Sugimoto 杉本五郎 provided a film to the last Animation Festival in 1971 enigmatically entitled 100 Years 1/20,000,000 100年2000万分の1 before going on to become a legendary film collector who would be one of the major forces supporting the growing fan circle movement.

Shin'ichi Suzuki 鈴木伸一, who just recently provided a warm and memorable short to Winter Days, lived with the manga artists of the legendary Tokiwa-So before starting his career as an animator at Otogi Pro. He was one of the founders of Studio Zero along with Fujio Akatsuka and Shotaro Ishinomori, a short-lived studio that nonetheless created shows like Rainbow Sentai Robin and nurtured animators like Keiichiro Kimura 木村圭市郎. He took part in at least the last Animation Festival with the short Dot 点, and went on to take part in films like Space Firebird 2772 and Legend of the Forest and Yuki before focusing on educational films.

Renzo Kinoshita 木下連像, one of the few independents beside Yoji Kuri to have gained a degree of recognition outside of Japan -- primarily for his satirical film Made in Japan and his film about the atomic bomb Pika-Don -- also contributed shorts to the last few Festivals. Over the years he produced many award-winning TV commercials, and in 1985 he conceived and planned the first Hiroshima International Animation Festival. He died in 1997.

Ryuichi Yokoyama 横山隆一, the founder of Otogi Pro, even contributed a few shorts to the festival including Flag 国旗 (1966) and 50,000 5万匹 (1966), both as an individual and under the banner of Otogi Pro.

Numerous people who would otherwise be mainly involved in traditional commercial TV or feature animation also provided shorts to the Festival, including Shin'ichi Tsuji 辻伸一, who subsequently did work on various Sanrio films and Nippon Animation series; and Taku Sugiyama 杉山卓, yet another animator who began his career as an inbetweener on Hakujaden, going on to do work for Mushi Pro and Nippon Animation. Ryosuke Takahashi 高橋良輔, known primarily as the director of the 80s hard sci-fi anime TV show Votoms, also contributed a short he made in 1969, after which he was involved primarily in anime at Mushi Pro and then Sunrise.

Seiichi Hayashi 林静一, on the other hand, after being involved in various Mushi Pro films (notably, he animated a memorable scene in Belladonna), and contributing a short to the last Animation Festival, left animation altogether to focus on a range of other activities including manga (his Red Elegy is a classic), illustration, and film directing, although he recently returned with a nice short for Winter Days. (He also did CD for fellow Mushi Pro expat Gisaburo Sugii's 1987 film The Tale of Genji.) Most recently he illustrated the poster for the 2004 Hiroshima International Animation Festival.

Sunday, September 5, 2004

07:52:17 pm , 183 words, 1258 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

Random anime notes

Windy Tales starts next week. I hear there have been a number of "solo animator" episodes in the series Ninin ga Shinobu Den. Or rather, half-episodes. Namely:

1B - Jun Shibata 柴田淳
3A - Kei Sakai 酒井KEI
8A - Yumi Sudo 須藤祐実
9? - Atsushi Itagaki 板垣敦

But who cares? It's moe anime.

Koji Yamamura's Mt Head won the Grand Prix at Hiroshima a week ago. Crossing my fingers they show it at the VIFF.

I also noticed Nobuyoshi Sasakado 佐々門信芳 did a lot of solo flying in some 90s anime, though I wasn't impressed with what I saw.

Nobutake Ito 伊東伸高 in Champloo 14 (AD+KA). Very Nabeshin episode. Surprised to hear the Amami folk music. Could listen to that stuff for hours. A few nice spots of animation, like Jin killing Mukuro - probably Ito.

Nagai Go's Kotetsu Jeeg is coming out on DVD. Whoopee. So is Pyun Pyun Maru. Curious about that one. Sounds like a Toei version of Goku.

Some of the animators in the upcoming Naruto movie:
Tatsuya Sotomaru 外丸達也
Mamoru Sasaki 佐々木守
Takashi Hashimoto 橋本敬史
Kazuyoshi Yaginuma 柳沼和良
Hirobumi Suzuki 鈴木博文
Tokuyuki Matsutake 松竹徳幸
Takeshi Honda 本田雄
Tetsuya Nishio 西尾鉄也 (of course)

Sunday, September 5, 2004

06:42:25 pm , 69 words, 871 views     Categories: Misc

OOB (out-of-boredom) experience

Last night I dreamt I was strolling along a beach where a team of fishermen were reeling in a gigantic kraken, but they wouldn't let me into the special corridor that led to the observation area. So today I went to the beach to check to see if it was one of them "pre-monetary" dreams, and what do you know, it was! Just in a metaphoric sort of way.

Friday, September 3, 2004

07:50:46 pm , 1008 words, 959 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

Asian features

Probably my two favorite non-Japanese animated films of the last few years were My Life as McDull (2001, Hong Kong) and My Beautiful Girl Mari (2001, South Korea)... not that there are many other candidates.

Mari really blew me away first of all due to the simple fact that I'd never seen almost any other Korean animation, yet the skill of this director was truly something, and the film was really a success. I would have expected something more half-assed like Chinese Ghost Story for a breakthrough film like this for the Korean animation industry, but they got it right the first time, and that impressed me. The influence of certain Japanese animation is certainly there, but this isn't just a knock-off -- the spirit of the film is fundamentally different -- and a film like this couldn't have been made in Japan. I know too little about the film and its director and the history of the Korean animation industry, and would be interested to learn more. The animation is obviously the film's most distinctive feature, certainly like nothing I've ever seen in a major commercial film like this. I hope the Korean animation industry continues in this direction rather than the blatant-anime-knock-off direction of Wonderful Days.

McDull is the second big Hong Kong animated feature that I know of after 1997's A Chinese Ghost Story. To me the animation seemed bottom of the barrel, both the CG and the cel work, but what I liked about the film is that the directing and story are enough to overcome the handicap, and they don't even bother to try to mix the two. The film succeeds in acheiving a genuinely original and convincing atmosphere due to these blatantly clashing visuals. It almost seems like an expression of the theme -- the cutesy piglet during the whole film while the protagonist is an innocent underacheiving kid, and the live action that finally matches the backgrounds once he becomes an adult. The whole concept of the film is really thought-provoking in this way, offering ideas I've never seen in any commercial animated features yet, so I enjoyed it tremendously, though I still hope the Hong Kong animation tries to make some progress beyond the crude animation in this film (or was that on purpose?). Really the film strikes me more as a live-action film in tone and purpose. This is practically independent film-level material, which seems really ambitious to me, so I for one will be very interested to see what sort of animated features come from Hong Kong in the future.

Why was A Chinese Ghost Story half-assed? I probably shouldn't talk, because I know very little about its production, but I'm guessing it's because, unlike the latter two films, which were 100% native productions, this one was a co-production, with all the CG done in Hong Kong and all the animation done in Japan. I gather much animation is done this way today, and that probably dooms most of it to a similar fate. You can't outsource creativity. Animation has to be a team effort. From what I remember there was an anecdote about how they spent tons of time mailing videos back and forth trying to get just one scene right. One of the things that distinguishes this film from McDull, which at first sight seems to share the same basic approach of cel-style 2D animation over CG backgrounds, is that here they obviously wanted the two to work together, while in McDull part of the theme of the film is tied to the the very intentional mismatch of "sordidly" realistic CG backgrounds with Hello Kitty-style characters. At least, that's how I interpret it.

A Chinese Ghost Story should probably get the benefit of the doubt, because it was a pretty ambitious project for its day -- not only an international co-production between the fledgling Hong Kong and the dominant Japanese animation industries -- but also one of the first full-CG films combining 2D and 3DCG. It's actually very watchable if you you're not a seeker of perfection. With a little imagination you can appreciate it as two films in one - an anime film superimposed over a Hong Kong CG film. Okay, maybe that's going too far. But there is a sense of two competing approaches to filmmaking: the anime method that tries to create a delicate balance between buildup and climax with the ideas and animation, juxtaposed with the Hong Kong method that kind of layers it on more evenly throughout. Yet to a degree there is a bit of one in the other, because the Japanese side had a degree of input in the rough movement of the CGI when they felt it was necessary, and of course the Hong Kong side was responsible for all the designs, and suggested that the basic tone of the animation should be very "Asian", in other words not the fluid style of western animation but the choppy, pose-filled melodramatic style of anime; Dragon Ball, of course, being very popular in Hong Kong.

The anime part is actually nice and worth a look. The anime part featured a lot of big figures, hired to make this ambitious project succeed. The 2D director and storyboarder was Tetsuya Endo, who was director's assistant on Totoro; Kazuo Komatsubara was the animation director; and Takashi Nakamura was co-storyboarder and layout artist. The director was Andrew Chen, and the character designer was Frankie Chung. There is even at least one spot of good animation worth seeking out: incredibly flexible veteran animator Ohashi Manabu did the kung fu fight at the beginning, after having just animated something completely different, the impressionistic, flowing cityscape in Junkers. Also, a lot of effort was put into the big scene in the middle of the film where the flying contraption appears in the ghost town, with Komatsubara even getting involved as an animator to get Tsui Hark's very precise requests for the scene just right, and consequently this scene probably represents the ideal combination of the two sides in the film.

Thursday, September 2, 2004

10:48:12 pm , 1305 words, 7149 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

Otogi Pro and the rise of independent animation in Japan

Most of us think the first TV anime was Tetsuwan Atom, right? Well, it was the first in the 30-minute format that would come to be the norm, but Otogi Pro's Instant History (1961-2), clocking in at 5 minutes per episode, was the first TV anime (although it was preceded in 1960 by a cutout animation called Three Stories (三つの話) in NHK's long-running Minna no Uta). Otogi Pro is an interesting studio that I know little about, so I thought I'd jot down some basics here.

Hyotan Suzume (1959)
Hyotan Suzume (1959)

Ryuichi Yokoyama (横山隆一) began drawing the comic Fuku-chan in 1936, and continued drawing the series in various different newspapers until 1971, when the series ended on episode 5534. In January of 1955 he realized the long-held dream of founding his own animation studio, and began production of his first animated film, Piggyback Ghost, with 8 other staff members. Ryuichi handled most of the tasks including photography and animation. The completed film was shown in a small hall that December to an audience including Yukio Mishima and Hideo Kobayashi.

The very next year he founded Otogi Production, and completed a 16mm trial version of Gourd Sparrow, which was never shown anywhere. The following year, in 1957, came his first 32mm film, Fukusuke, which marked the beginning of his distribution contract with Toho. Two years later, in 1959, he completed his next film, a 32mm remake of Gourd Sparrow, and in 1960 he completed his first and last full-length feature, Otogi's World Tour, an omnibus of 7 shorts, which was only to be released theatrically two years later. Otogi Pro never made a film again (with the exception of one isolated three-minute short ten years later).

1955 - Piggyback ghost (おんぶおばけ / Onbu obake) 25 mins

1957 - Fukusuke (ふくすけ) 18 mins

1959 - Gourd Sparrow (ひょうたんすずめ / Hyotan suzume) 55 mins

1961 - Plus 50,000 Years (プラス50000年) 9 mins

1962 (1960) - Otogi's World Tour (おとぎの世界旅行 / Otogi no sekai ryoko) 96 mins

1970 - An incident in Earth village (地球村の出来事 / Chikyu mura no dekigoto) 3 mins

Otogi no Sekai Ryoko (1960)
Otogi no Sekai Ryoko (1960)

Worthy of note is the presence of Eiichi Yamamoto and Hiroshi Saito in these films. Both began their careers here. Saito was an animator in Instant History and Otogi's World Tour before joining Mushi Pro a few years later. Yamamoto visited Osamu Tezuka in 1960 right after participating as an animator in Fukusuke and Otogi's World Tour. Yamamoto wound up taking part in the founding of Mushi Pro that year, going on to direct its first film, Tale of a Streetcorner, which came out in 1962, the same month Otogi's World Tour belatedly hit the theaters.

Tale of a Streetcorner was not shown theatrically but in halls, whereas Yokoyama's film was shown in theaters a month after Toei's Sinbad. Perhaps if Yokoyama had taken that route he might have been able to continue making films. As it happens, the only route he knew was to sell them to big studios for distribution, and consequently his independent, creator-oriented films had to compete with Toei's big Disney-style commercial animated films, with obvious results. Otogi's World Tour was paired with King Kong vs Godzilla, perhaps indicating how much of a hoot Toho gave about his films.

The year of the completion of this film, 1960, marked the first year of the animation festival at Annecy, and also the first year of the epoch-making independent animator film showcase Animation Group of Three (アニメーション三人の会 / Animation sannin no kai), which featured works by Yoji Kuri, Ryohei Yanagihara and Hiroshi Manabe. This event marked the beginning of independent animation in Japan - animation made in various different formats by individual people experimenting with the medium and expanding its borders well beyond the conventions (and mannerisms) of Disney and the other purveyors of commercial animation.

Two of Yoji Kuri's films showcased at these events, Love and Human Zoo, were the first Japanese animated films to win awards and gain recognition outside of the country aside from the films of Ofuji Noburo, a truly exhilirating development that gave the figures of this new movement a major boost of confidence. Over the next few years not only did Osamu Tezuka produce most of his experimental films, but most of the figures who went on to become the mainstays of the circuit appeared on the scene via the "Animation Festival" spawned from the original three Animation Group of Three festivals held from 1961-1963: Taku Furukawa, Seiichi Hayashi, Tatsuo Shimamura, etc. (Each of the latter contributed a short to Winter Days.)


Kataku (1979)

The last of these events, held in 1971, happened to feature a film called Breaking Branches is Forbidden (花折り / Hanori, 1968), the debut film of one Kihachiro Kawamoto (川本喜八郎). The next year, Kawamoto joined forces with another puppet animator, Tadanari Okamoto (岡本忠成), who had been active since 1965, to create an animation forum that would serve to showcase their latest films on a yearly basis over the next 8 years: The Puppet Animashow (from Puppet Show + Animation). While numerous other private amateur animation screenings were held during this period, none had the lasting power and wide-ranging appeal of the Animashow, which tended to attract general audiences even more than typical animation fans.

Okamoto and Kawamoto are probably the two most important figures to have emerged from this early period of independent animation, by reason of the quality and originality of their films no less than their popular success with audiences. And yet, no two filmmakers could be more different. Kawamoto with his classically modeled Japanese puppets and aesthetically refined wabisabi poesy, Okamoto with his relentless pursuit of new challenges and warm sense of humor.

Due to the influence of the Animation Festival, staring around 1967 animation appreciation groups or "circles" like Anido began to appear for the purpose of holding their own small screenings for members, in many cases acquiring the rare films by borrowing them from collectors like the famous Goro Sugimoto. These circles soon began publishing group activity newsletters and then animation research zines, and finally, thanks to the advent of 8mm technology and the widespread availability of animation equipment like cels, they even began producing their own amateur films. The appearance in 1972 of the animation magazine Pia, which published information about animation showings at cinematheques as well as fan screenings nationwide -- the first of its kind in Japan --, helped to solidify this fan movement by making it easy for fans to locate screenings of sought-after titles, thereby increasing interaction and communication between fans in distant locales.

The next step in this evolution was the Private Animation Festival or PAF, started in 1975, where the policy was to show every film that was submitted. With the arrival in 1974 of the "anime boom" due to the epoch-making TV shows Heidi and Yamato, and the promulgation of consumer video technology, which allowed fans to study their favorite TV shows in detail, the overwhelming majority of amateur animation production of this period began to look less by Kuri Yoji and more like commercial TV anime.


Jobu na Taiya (1981)

For the next few years PAF provided a platform for amateur and pro independent animation screenings alike, but the surprise development was the rapid improvement of fan animation, which often wound up eclipsing the pro works, as best exemplified by films of Group SHADO, an obscure fan group that appeared out of nowhere from Yamaguchi prefecture at the end of the decade to surprise the animation world with the incredibly high level of quality of their fan productions. Among the films produced by the group was one called Jobu na Taiya (Solid Tires), animated by a young Hideaki Anno.

In 1977 Pia opened the doors on its own festival, the Animation Summer Festival, which showed not only films by fans and pros but also new foreign animation. Its major acheivement was at the 1980 festival, where Ishu Patel was the invited guest of honor, holding workshops that were extremely well received. A few years after this international success story, in 1985, the most important animation festival yet in Japan opened its doors to the world: the Hiroshima international animation festival.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

08:03:51 pm , 241 words, 2120 views     Categories: Animation

Ninku notes

I had a chance to watch the early Ninku episodes recently, and I was struck how incredibly Utsunomiya they looked. It's impressive the degree to which Tetsuya Nishio was consciously able to model his style after Utsynomiya. His designs are a good example of how to design characters to make them easy to move. And the influence of the late episodes of Hakkenden, which came out the year before, featuring as they did Utsunomiya himself, is just as patently obvious. This series features a lot of Utsunomiya-school action done by a number of animators who would later go on to become among the more promiment animators of today, so it's interesting to look back on their work ten years ago. Besides those I mentioned before - Atsushi Wakabayashi, Tetsuya Nishio - these are the others of note in the series:

Yutaka Nakamura: 12, 19, 21
Kazuto Nakazawa: 14, 51
Ko Yoshinari: 14, 22, 30, 45
Yoshinari brothers: 22
Tatsuya Tomaru: 22, 45, 51
Jiro Kanai: 43
Nobutake Ito: 44, 48, 50, 54, 55
Masahiko Kubo: 45, 51
Michio Mihara: 39

Yutaka Nakamura pioneered his own original style a few years afterwards in Cowboy Bebop. I'm unfamiliar with Tatsuya Tomaru's work, but now curious to sample it, seeing that he was trusted with the daunting task of AD on Steam Boy. Jiro Kanai is a Studio 4°C regular, and Masahiko Kubo (layout, co-AD) and Nobutake Ito (key animator of the finale) are two of the most important figures behind the animation of Mind Game. Interesting to note that even Michio Mihara is there.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

01:35:50 pm , 307 words, 958 views     Categories: Animation

Oh brother

The Bros Yoshinari

A quick correction, it was actually Ko Yoshinari (吉成鋼), Yo Yoshinari's elder brother, who was in the opening of the most recent FMA. He did the part with the person diving into the waterfall. I didn't realize until just recently that Yo Yoshinari's brother was also an animator, so I assumed it was just a typo!

Die Gebrüder Hashimoto

Another pair of brothers I seen a lot of is the Hashimoto brothers, Shinji (橋本晋司) and Koichi (橋本浩一). Shinji I've already talked about, but his elder brother (by three years), who was one of the reasons Shinji got into animation, has also done much good work, in Hakkenden 1, Memories, etc. He was also co-AD in Satoru Utsunomiya's Gosenzosama Banbanzai.

I've always noticed a few other Hashimotos, though apparently they're unrelated to Shinji and Koichi: Takashi Hashimoto (橋本敬史), who was an animator in Memories Episode 2: Stink Bomb, Superflat Monogram and Ghost in the Shell, animation director of Digimon Adventure 2, and FX animation director of Steam Boy; and Seiichi Hashimoto (橋本誠一), who was an animator in Cowboy Bebop, Sentimental Journey, Escaflowne, Planetes, and the Mars Daybreak OP.

Les frères Suzuki

Most recently I've seen a lot of another brother team, the Suzuki brothers Tatsuya and Takuya (鈴木竜也, 鈴木卓也), who are currently providing fight animation for Samurai Champloo. Before that they were animation directors in Gasaraki and animators in numerous other shows, always without fail appearing together, like inseparable twins.

τοι αδελφοι Dezaki

If we go back a bit in history we come across another pair of brothers, the Dezaki brothers. Osamu is the more famous of the two, but his brother Tetsu (出崎哲) is also very prolific as a director, having started out at TMS in 1971 around the time his brother started working there due to the closing of Mushi Pro. He is still active as a director, these days mostly directing children's educational films.

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