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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Saturday, August 21, 2004

12:45:36 pm , 357 words, 4017 views     Categories: Animation

Turn A Gundam #1

It was interesting to watch this episode while referring to Tomino's storyboard. I almost got the feeling like I understood better what Tomino was trying to do while looking at the storyboard, unhindered by distractions such as the animation in the finished product. That's not as strange as it may sound. Tomino is a famed storyboarder in Japan, probably holding the all-time record for number of episodes storyboarded. At the time this series started airing the count was 586 episodes storyboarded (992 if you count all episodes in all series on which he was the chief director).

After a long period of inactivity and depression, Tomino apparently got a second wind around five or six years back, deciding to get back into productivity full-time. First he took a warm-up dive with Brain Powered, then he went all-out with Turn A, and he finally hit his stride with the recent Gainer. It was good to see that he hadn't lost his touch after all that time. I can't say there's anything new there, either, but it's just as good as his old stuff, if you like that, and you've got to respect his ability to churn it out like that. It was a Tomino episode through and through, with the nonstop flow and camera-style shot framing that has always distinguished his work. If no mecha appear in the episode (aside from the opening sequence), it should be taken as a demonstration of his long-standing averment that you could take the robot out his work and it wouldn't make any difference: to him the essence of the work has always been the human drama. This episode shows the extent to which his time working with Takahata must have influenced his approach. It feels more like World Masterpieces Theater than robot anime. He used to chafe against the label of Yoshiyuki "robot anime" Tomino, but he seems to have come to accept it as his fate, and continues to stride on ahead with his own very particular brand of filmmaking within the confines of the genre. Honestly, by now, I wonder if he could do anything else even if he wanted to.

Friday, August 20, 2004

11:08:43 am , 388 words, 1539 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Live-action, Director

Walerian Borowczyk

Correction to an old post: Maromi coming alive was done by Masahiko Kubo (久保正彦), the person who did the much talked-about car chase in Mind Game. Another new talented animator on the scene. (Millennium Actress, X, Puchi Puri Yuushi 1, 7, 11, etc.)

Just to contradict myself, I'll go out of my way to say I'm a big fan of anime directors who consider themselves filmmakers first and foremost, who just happen to be making anime at the moment, who consider the animation subordinate, and therefore are as far as possible as you can be from the idea that anime is just about the animation. If the work is good, then I agree 100%. It goes without saying that I fully realize it's not enough to have great animation for 90 minutes if the other elements aren't there to make the experience work as a film. That said, good animation is good animation, even if it's in a bad film. There can be many approaches. If I focus on animation here, it's because nobody else does. I'm not a fan of beating dead horses.

You know what I'd like to see more than anything? A DVD of Walerian Borowczyk's animation (see also). He supposedly influenced Svankmayer and the Brothers Quay, so isn't that enough to suggest it might merit a release? A lot of it is pretty racy, which I suppose may be holding things back. Three of his shorts were released on a Japanese DVD of Goto, l'île d'amour (1968) that came out a year ago, and two of the three are indeed quite risqé, to put it mildly. It would still be worth it to be able to see his early pioneering works like Renaissance (1963) and Théâtre de M. et Mme. Kabal (1967), which lead directly up to his two great masterpieces, Goto and Blanche (1971), live-action films shot through the penetrating gaze of an animator's eye. While we're at it, it's unpardonable that Blanche is not out on DVD anywhere in the world. It's surely one of the best European films of the decade. Whatever you think about his later films (which can be pretty disturbing, though sometimes in a good way), his first two films are masterpieces. I'd personally take Borowczyk over Tarkovsky or Godard any day. Even including his later works, Boro is one of the treasures of the cinema.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

09:40:34 am , 315 words, 1117 views     Categories: Animation

Solo animators

Issue three of the Madhouse Mind Game Glee Club Gazetteer features a fan illustration by none other than Takeshi Koike! Chekkuirauto! (Translation: Check it out!)

That episode of Samurai Seven was good illustration of my idea that much of what is best about anime is coming from the animators working within a system that continues to produce mostly nothing but endless variations on a theme. The milestones in outstanding animator films leading up to this episode are Utsunomiya's Gosenzosama Banbanzai, Ohira's Hakkenden episode, and undoubtedly now Mind Game. Like Miyazaki before them, Yuasa, prior to launching himself as a director, was an animator who during the first decade of his career produced animation that was among the most interesting and original of his generation. Many bemoaned the fact that Miyazaki didn't have a chance to launch his directing career earlier. Some are now starting to say the same thing about Yuasa.

Seeing this episode also serves to remind us of one of the things that makes Japanese animation unique: the long history of having one animator handle entire episodes. This phenomenon dates back to the very beginnings of TV anime, with Sadao Tsukioka's superhuman show of strength on Ken the Wolf Boy, for which he directed and drew entire episodes singlehandedly. Numerous later examples can be cited of animators animating entire episodes singlehandedly, or nearly so. Most famously there was Toshiyasu Okada with Jacky the Bearcub, then Yoshinori Kanada with Don De La Mancha and various other shows, then Takashi Nakamura with Gold Lightan, then Norio Matsumoto with Eat Man, Popolo Crois and You're Under Arrest, and then the Naruto episodes drawn entirely by Norio Matsumoto + Atsushi Wakabayashi. Nakayama only did the first half of this Samurai Seven episode, but it's still a good example of this phenomenon, which is not something seen very often in anime, particularly done in such an unabashedly personal style.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

11:30:17 am , 320 words, 2137 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

The answer

Scratch what I said about Ohira in the last post. The answer has come, and it's one of those "Of course!" answers that I should have seen by myself.

森久司 Hisashi Mori = 中山久司 Hisashi Nakayama

And it makes perfect sense. In an old post I made a comment about Nakayama's work on Digimon: Children's War Game as seeming incredibly Ohira school, and that supposition seems fairly vindicated here. Nakayama is definitely a worthy successor to Ohira.

Hisashi Nakayama
1994 - Sailor Moon S #37 (KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno KA)
1995 - Jusenshi Galkiba #18 (KA)
1995 - Ogon Yusha Goldran #28 (KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno AD)
1996 - Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars #17, 21, 28, 32 (KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno KA 126)
1997 - Cutey Honey Flash #5, 23 (KA)
1997 - Voogie's Angel #2 (mecha AD)
1998 - Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy (KA) (Mamoru Hosoda, Hideki Hamasu KA)
1998 - Giant Robo #7 (KA)
1999 - Tenamonya Voyagers #2 (KA) (Masashi Ishihama CD/AD, H. Okuno, T. Yamashita KA)
1999 - Power Stone #20 (KA)
1999 - Digimon Adventure (KA) (Takaaki Yamashita AD, Hiroyuki Okuno, Masashi Ishihama KA)
2000 - Mushrambo #2, 9, 20 (Hiroyuki Okuno AD)
2000 - Digimon Adventure: Children's War Game (AD/CD) (Takaaki Yamashita AD)
2001 - Virgin Night (Scene Design, Layout, KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno D/KA)
2001 - Spirited Away (KA)
2002 - Digimon Adventure 02: Hurricane Touchdown (KA) (Takaaki Yamashita AD)
2002 - Palme no Ki (KA)
2002 - Square of the Moon #2 (KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno director)
2003 - Crash Gear Turbo #68 (final) (KA)
2003 - The Big O #15 (KA) #21 (mecha AD) (Hiroyuki Okuno KA 26)

Hisashi Mori
2003 - ROD TV #13 (KA)
2003 - Tokyo Godfathers (KA)
2004 - Samurai 7 #7 (All Part A KA) (Hiroyuki Okuno D/S/Part B KA), 17, 18, 23 (KA)
2005 - Omatsuri Danshaku to Himitsu no Shima (KA) (Takaaki Yamashita AD)
2005 - Speed Grapher (design works) (w/Hiroyuki Okuno, Masashi Ishihama CD)
2006 - Doraemon: Nobita no Kyoryu 2006 (KA)

Interesting is that he used a pen name here but neither he nor Okuno used a pen name in Virgin Night, which is what people generally do in adult anime; which belies their seriousness of intent with the film.

Monday, August 16, 2004

09:11:11 pm , 493 words, 2678 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Samurai Seven #7

A rather interesting episode has appeared in this series. Hiroyuki Okuno (奥野浩行) directed, storyboarded and was animation director of the episode, making it one of those rather rare one-man-orchestra episodes. Furthemore, there are only two key animators listed (the rest was 2nd key animation): Hisashi Mori and Hiroyuki Okuno himself. The fact that Mori is listed first suggests that he handled the first half key animation and Hiroyuki Okuno handled the second half key animation.

If I didn't have the credits to go by, and were to judge purely based on style, I would have guessed that the first half was done by Shinya Ohira. A search on the internet in Japanese turns up virtualy no hits for the name Hisashi Mori, suggesting that it may in fact be a pen name for Shinya Ohira. I've never heard of Ohira using a pen name before, which is why at first I thought Okuno had done the first half, and had become a disciple of Ohira. Not having seen much of his work, I'm unable to judge for certain what the case is, and so I'll leave it up in the air until I can find confirmation from somewhere.

If it's Ohira, as seems likely, then this is one of the longest sequences Ohira has animated in the last few years, and furthermore it is big news because it is the first TV animation he's done in fifteen years. Stylistically it falls in line perfectly with what we've seen in the past in terms of the deliberately wobbly quality of the line and the very, very unique realistic movement. Think Ghiblies 2 dance, skateboard chase in Animatrix, cat moving around in FLCL 2, father fighting the thugs in Kill Bill. Ohira is without any doubt the most daring and original animator active today in anime, and it's good to see that he continues to be prolific.

If it's not Ohira, I would be very surprised. Ohira is the only person in Japan who draws drawings like this and comes up with this kind of movement. But it's possible. I haven't seen enough of Okuno's style to be able to say for sure. Maybe this Hisashi Mori person is in fact real. I'm really not on firm ground here. So for now I'll leave it at that. While we're at it, here's a partial filmography for Hiroyuki Okuno.

1983 - Votoms #15, 19, 24, 30, 34, 38, 44, 48 (key animation)
1987 - Mister Ajikko #10, 19, 24, 26, 28, 33, 37, 38, 43, 48, 53, 59, 64, 69, 74, 99 (KA)
1989 - Madoo Granzort #22, 30, 36 (KA with Tadashi Hiramatsu)
1990 - Nadia of the Blue Seas #11, 15 (KA)
1992 - Super Zugan #4 (animation director)
1995 - Sailor Moon SS #10, 16, 21 (KA)
1995 - Jusenshi Galkiba #18 (AD) #3, 7, 11 (KA)
1991 - Genji Tsushin Agedama #1, 6, 14, 20 (KA)
1992 - Oishinbo #127, 132
1994 - Metal Fighter Miku #13 (KA)
1995 - Zenki #33 (animation director)
1995 - Jura Troopers #14 (KA)
1996 - Yusha Shirei Daguon #17 (KA)
2000 - Mashranbo #2, 9, 20 (animation director)
2001 - Mutekio Trixenon #5 (director) #11 (storyboard)
2001 - Virgin Night OVA (director, storyboard, KA)
2001 - Yoru ga kuru! OVA (director)
2001 - Digimon Adventure 02: Diabolomon no Gyakushu (KA)
2002 - Rizelmein #5 (director, storyboard)
2003 - Last Exile #21, 23 (animation director)

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Monday, August 16, 2004

07:15:49 pm , 430 words, 1433 views     Categories: Animation

Sherlock Hound

I just wanted to take a memo of the staff on the early Miyazaki episodes of Sherlock Hound. Apologies if this is already listed somewhere in English, because I haven't checked. This is one of those tapes I pull off the shelf and rewatch every once in a while when I'm feeling in need of a booster shot of exhiliration. This may very well be my favorite Miyazaki anime (well, after Conan) because of the dream team that made the episodes. (list is in production order)

3: A Small Client

Script, Storyboard, Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Key Animators: Kazuhide Tomonaga, Tsukasa Tannai, Nobuo Tomizawa, Masako Shinohara, Koichi Maruyama, Atsuko Tanaka
友永和秀,丹内 司,富沢信雄,篠原征子,丸山晃一,田中敦子

5: The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

Script: Sunao Katabuchi
Storyboard, Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Key Animators: Kazuhide Tomonaga, Toshio Yamauchi, Yoshinobu Michihata, Yoko Sakurai, Masaaki Endo, Makiko Futaki
友永和秀,山内昇寿郎,道籏義宣,桜井陽子,遠藤正明,二木真希子

9: Treasure Under the Sea

Script: Sunao Katabuchi
Storyboard, Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation Director: Tsukasa Tannai
Key Animators: Kazuhide Tomonaga, Masako Shinohara, Yoshinobu Michihata, Junko Tsutsumi, Chie Uratani, Yoko Tsukada
友永和秀,篠原征子,道籏義宣,堤 純子,浦谷千恵,塚田洋子

11: The Sovereign Gold Coins

Script: Toshiya Ito
Storyboard, Director: Nobuo Tomizawa
Animation Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Key Animators: Kazuhide Tomonaga, Masako Shinohara, Atsuko Tanaka, Koichi Maruyama, Yoko Sakurai, Makiko Futaki
友永和秀,篠原征子,田中敦子,丸山晃一,桜井陽子,二木真希子

4: Ms. Hudson is Taken Hostage

Script: Sunao Katabuchi
Storyboard, Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Key Animators: Tsukasa Tannai, Masako Shinohara, Yoshinobu Michihata, Chie Uratani, Masanori Ono, Yoko Sakurai
丹内 司,篠原征子,道籏義宣,浦谷千恵,小野昌則,桜井陽子

10: White Cliffs of Dover

Script: Sunao Katabuchi
Storyboard, Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Key Animators: Atsuko Tanaka, Koichi Maruyama, Yoko Sakurai, Masaaki Endo, Masako Shinohara, Makiko Futaki
田中敦子,丸山晃一,桜井陽子,遠藤正明,篠原征子,二木真希子

Never realized until now that Katabuchi was the screenwriter for all the Miyazaki episodes (but one), nor that one was in fact a Tomizawa episode. (Or have I even seen that one?) For those who don't know who Tomizawa is, he's one of the major Telecom animators of the period alongside Kazuhide Tomonaga (he is still an important figure there), and the team of Kondo/Tomonaga/Tomizawa are responsible for what I personally think is the best Telecom anime ever, the first Nemo pilot. We really see how, from top to bottom, this is the same team that made the late Lupin III Part 2 episodes and then Cagliostro. We also see many of the female animators who went on to continue working at Ghibli. Interesting to find Masaaki Endo here, an animator with whose work I'm familiar from the building destruction animation he drew in Akira. Another Akira animator is there, I just noticed: Hitoshi Ueda, in episode 21. (he did the part where Kaneda and the clown boss play chicken)

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

11:35:05 pm , 1963 words, 6161 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Spotlight on Satoru Utsunomiya

The more I think about Mind Game, the more it reminds me, in spirit, in theme, of Nokto de la Galaksia Fervojo (I like the Esperanto title). Two more different films I could not have chosen in terms of every other aspect - animation, directing, mood. Yet I like that complementary yin-yang pairing.

NUN COMENCIGAS

I was just rewatching one of my favorite anime, Popolo Crois. No, neither of the TV series. The anime part of the first game. I haven't played an RPG game since I was like fifteen years old, but I played through this one not long ago just to see the anime parts, and it was worth the effort. (It was kind of fun, I admit. It sent me back to my youth spent playing games just like this one.) It's a shame this piece isn't more well known. Although it lasts under ten minutes in total, and consists of disconnected sequences, it's probably my favorite "film" featuring animation by Satoru Utsunomiya (宇都宮理・うつのみやさとる・うつのみや理), because it's the one where he first had the chance to go all the way with the unique style of animation he had perfected by that point.

Who is Satoru Utsunomiya? To certain animators like Toshiyuki Inoue, Tetsuya Nishio and Shinya Ohira, three of the figures responsible for some of the best Japanese animation work of the 90s, he was a major influence and inspiration. To anime fans like me, he is one of the most interesting animators of the last twenty years, whose inimitable work is a constant source of delight. Personally, he is one of the animators who embodies what it is that I love about Japanese animation. He ripened within the system of the commercial animation industry to eventually discover and elaborate his own completely original and individual style. There are a lot of animators I admire, but Utsunomiya is one I can say is truly a passion.

Many people over here will have discovered Utsunomiya with Paranoia Agent episode 8, which seems to be getting the appreciation it deserves from fans, even if they don't know he did it. He was the director, animation director and storyboarder of this episode. He even drew key animation. Simply put, what you see in this episode is Utsunomiya from tip to toe. It's a Satoru Utsunomiya film buried in a Satoshi Kon TV series. The appearance of this major new piece by Utsunomiya offers a good opportunity to turn back and examine his past work.

One of the main things that prompted Utsunomiya to decide to try to become an animator was having seen bits of Toei Doga films broadcast on TV. Later on a friend showed him flip-book of animation by Sadao Tsukioka for the scene where Susanoo is fighting an animal in Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon, which, he said, combined realism and stretch-and-squash in a way that stunned him like nothing he'd ever seen and seemed to speak to him of the wonderful possibilites of animation. He was so bewitched by the beauty of what he saw that he decided he would try to learn the ropes from the people who created those movements.

Initially he went to Telecom just for a visit, to meet one of his idols, Yasuo Otsuka, and maybe get an autograph. Instead he wound up getting hired and staying for a year and a half learning the basics of animation. After this apprenticeship, already endowed with a firm sense of the direction he wanted to go -- dynamic visuals based strongly on reality -- he was disappointed to learn of the tremendous technical limits of the medium, and considered giving up animation altogether. But after then tasting the pleasures of animation in his first key animation for The Yearling in 1983, he changed his mind and decided to stay, continuing on at Madhouse for a few years before going freelance. Rin Taro recalls that Utsunomiya's animation even at this early stage was already extremely good.

It was during this period that he had the stimulating opportunity to work alongside people like Takashi Nakamura, Koji Morimoto and Yasuomi Umetsu, each a skilled animator with his own unique aesthetic and approach to animation. This experience greatly influenced his development, and leads to the first sequence that stands out as a truly unique personal creation, the opening fight of Battle Royale High School (1987), with its dynamic camera movements and extremely fast kung-fu style action unlike anything anyone else was doing at the time. His experience working on The Yearling had taught him that he wanted to do action, and his first opportunity to animate an action scene totally as he wanted came in 1985 with episodes 8 and 13 of the foreign co-production Around the World in 80 Days.

After this he participated in Akira in 1988, the major turning point of the era, which joined together many of the realistic-school animators who would go on to lead the next generation, most notably Shinya Ohira and Shinji Hashimoto. The one extremely important realist-school animator who was not there was Mitsuo Iso, who was instead launching his own career in Char's Counterattack at the time, subsequently going on to invent his own highly influential approach to realistic animation that would be one of the other major sources of inspiration for Utsunomiya over the next few years.

To the major animators of the era, and many anime fans in Japan, however, the anime of this period that had the most impact was not Akira but Utsunomiya's Gosenzosama Banbanzai!, a 6-episode OVA series directed by Mamoru Oshii released in 1989. Where Akira's animation seemed to point backwards to Disney and a forced fluidity alien to much of Japanese animation up until then, Gosenzo seemed to point forward to a new realism full of possibility, with its highly realistic movements based on strict joint dynamics, and the radically simplified character designs. If when rewatched today the animation does not seem to have as much of an impact as people relate that it had when they first saw it when it was released, perhaps that's because of the wide-ranging influence it has had on a lot of the anime that followed. Its innovations have in effect been integrated into the fabric of anime in much the same way as Otsuka's have, making them hard to discern.

This series' credit screen basically reads like a roll-call of the most important animators of the period: Mitsuo Iso, Shinya Ohira, Shinji Hashimoto, Matsumoto Norio, Tatsuyuki Tanaka, Masahito Yamashita, Osamu Tanabe, Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, Hidekazu Ohara, Kazuchika Kise... This is the film that made Utsunomiya's name, and it remains the one for which he is most well known (which unforunately speaks more than anything to the regrettable fact that he has not had an opportunity to create a major work of the scale of this OVA series since then).

In the immediate aftermath of this film he made one of his other major efforts, Peek the Whale, directed by Koji Morimoto. Utsunomiya considers this film a failure in terms of his own work on the film due numerous factors that proved inconducive to motivating his enthusiasm for the project, including his inability to exert complete control over the character designs and a style of directing that put major limits on his freedom of movement. Although it's clear, watching the film, that it could have been more, it's still an amazing film like no other then or now, one of those unfairly neglected full-length features that deserves to be seen by more people, and the sheer pleasure of seeing Utsunomiya's characters move about is truly something special. There's a particularly great sequence animated by Toshiyuki Inoue right at the very beginning. What makes Utsunomiya unique is that every moment is a joy to watch when he is the animation director, regardless of who is animating. You sense that his unique theoretical approach is the underpinning structure behind every bit of animation.

After providing animation for Run, Melos the next year, in 1994 he made his debut as a director with episode 9 of the Hakkenden OVA series, which paved the way for Ohira's revolutionary episode 10. Although again Utsunomiya, nothing if not self-critical, considers this episode a failure, it is again a truly masterful film, and the next most interesting episode in the series after 10 and 1. There was something of a disconnect in terms of getting across what he wanted with the episode to animation director Shinji Hashimoto, and although the result is quite amazing to behold, full of wonderful realism and minute attention to detail, it subtly but decisively veers a bit off the trajectory indicated by Gosenzo and Peek. But that isn't really Hashimoto's fault. He did great work, he's just not Utsunomiya. Where we see what Utsunomiya undoubtedly wanted for the film is in his own animation of the woman outside of the house.

After then providing two great action sequences for Yugen Kaisha, Utsunomiya finally provided animation for the Popolo Crois game. I'll list a few credits here, because it's pretty impressive.

Character Design: Atsuko Fukushima
Director, Storyboard: Ryutaro Nakamura
Character Supervisor: Kune Motoki
Key Animation: Satoru Mizuguchi (Satoru Utsunomiya), Mitsuo Iso, Katsumi Matsuda, Yasunori Miyazawa, Masashi Ishihama, Ken'ichi Yamaguchi, Miyahiro Magari, Hitoshi Haga, Yoshio Mizumura, Kenji Mizuhata

Of particular interest besides Utsunomiya's animation for the second section (of a total four) is Iso's (or alternately Yasunori Miyazawa's, according to Masaaki Yuasa) animation of the giant in the fourth section.

Miyazawa also provides animation and draws storyboard for the animation part of the second game, which features IG regulars Tetsuya Nishio as character designer and animation director and Kenji Kamiyama as director/storyboarder. I'm not familiar with Miyazawa's work, but I'm told he animated the psychedelic and very impressive climax sequence with the larva at the end of Dead Leaves.

There's also the Popolo Crois pilot, the first animated Popolo Crois film, which is a very impressive film in its own right, done in a completely different but compelling style, with very high production values.

And then in the first TV series Norio Matsumoto did some great work in two episodes, and in the second series Yoshinori Kanada made that famous comeback episode. Overall, this curious history of various small Popolo Crois ventures produced a lot of good animation over the course of the 90s that people over here pretty much never saw. And all of it was designed by Atsuko Fukushima, probably the female animator with the most individual style of the last twenty years in Japan, who has left behind all too little work since her still unsurpassed masterwork Labyrinth Labyrinthos (which also featured work by Ohashi Manabu, who was deeply involved in several of the Popolo Crois games).

But to get back on topic, Utsunomiya then provided animation for two of Koji Morimoto's music videos before going on to do what was probably his most characteristic piece since Gosenzosama: the subway section of Ghiblies 2, which came two years before episode 8 of Paranoia Agent. The latter is in my opinion quite possibly his best overall piece because it showcases his immense directing talents in addition to his uncommon animation style. It is the culmination of all these various past assays, the one that works best as a unit, and therefore the one that will remain in people's memory the most. Brilliantly directed, with exactly the animation style Utsunomiya has been aiming for since he began with Gosenzosama, I'm guessing it is probably the first film he is satisfied with. If there's any justice in the world this will lead to him directing a film, though I wonder if Japan is capable of coming up with a project up to his level -- what we need to is a project that would be something like a Japanese Waking Life, and then we would see Utsunomiya really shine.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

09:57:17 am , 369 words, 1471 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Mind Game update

Mind Game Official SiteI had a look at the Yahoo Japan reviews for Mind Game. Out of 18 who saw it in the theaters, all but two gave it 5 stars. And one of those looks like a prank (one star, "Worse than Pokemon!"). The viewer reviews (on the Beyond C BBS, the Anime Style BBS, Hatena Diary, on the web) leave no doubt that this is a film that breaks new ground for animation even if it won't break any attendance records. I haven't seen any box office statistics yet, but a few reviewers have mentioned that the seats were anything but full when they saw the film. I think the lesson being learned here is that, no matter how good a film, if you don't advertise it at least a little bit, then people won't come.

I'm a bit worried that the film might get ruined before we even get a chance to see it, since there's talk now of replacing the actors in the film with well-known American actors for the US version. Heck, why not just make a different version of the movie for every country, like they used to do in the good old days? Dubbing is one thing, but this sounds like misguided tampering to me.

The latest edition of the Madhouse Mind Game Support Group features an illustration by animator Takahiro Yoshimatsu (Gakuen Senki Muryo, Slayers, Cyber Formula).

The Motion Image Psychedelia concert at UNIT in Shibuya came to a close at 5AM on Saturday morning. Reports have it that the event offered a rare opportunity to witness producer Eiko Tanaka shaking her booty.

As added incentive for people to come out and see the film on the big screen (many reviewers emphasize that this is a film that should absolutely be seen on the big screen), Masaaki Yuasa will be presenting a talk before the last screening every Friday at Cine Quinto throughout the length of the theatrical run. Joining him for the first talk on Friday last was Seiichi Yamato, after which the two headed over to UNIT. The next talk will be with Crayon Shin-chan director Keiichi Hara, the third with Robin Nishi, the fourth with Koji Morimoto, and the fifth with Eiko Tanaka.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

08:44:07 pm , 193 words, 2092 views     Categories: Animation

Otsuka's got a new book!

It's all about his experiences on the gigantic but infamously doomed Little Nemo project spearheaded by Tokyo Movie founder Yutaka Fujioka. This project is so fascinating: a modern-day cautionary tale of anime hubris! I wrote a bit about it on the page for the film in my Masami Hata filmography. I really look forward to reading this. Yutaka's past successes and obvious love for animation are undeniable, and his idealistic ambition to create a film that would be a hit in the west and in Japan, although unsuccessful in this case, was in fact fulfilled by Ghibli over the period during which this film was in fitful production, so it's interesting to study why this project failed. I have no doubt that it will be extremely insightful about many things besides the actual details of the project, including the nature of the role of the anime producer. Otsuka himself has played such an important role behind the scenes over the years that some people in the recent documentary went so far as to say he may have been equally important as a producer-type-figure. The book was published on the 22nd of last month.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

05:20:48 pm , 714 words, 4174 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Tomonori Kogawa

Been feeling blah and hot, so I sat around reading a book by Kazushige Abe. The gears have been resting.

Not that this matters, but I've always wondered who did the animation in Yanagawa Horiwari Monogatari. Personally I suspect Kondo, but I've got no proof. Have people seen this movie? Takahata's documentary. It's probably my own favorite documentary, not that I'm a documentary expert. Made on the funds earned from Nausicaa, generously donated by Miyazaki, it's an incredible achievement on Takahata's part that articulates and further develops the ideas in Nausicaa in the context of the real world, and definitely deserves to be seen. It's also available from the "Ghibli ga Ippai" DVD series with English subs.

Today I thought I'd mix things up and translate an interview with Tomonori Kogawa (湖川友謙), the animation director of my favorie robot anime, Ideon. But it's late and it's long and I changed my mind, so just a few thoughts. I was struck by this anime -- well, mostly by the last movie, Be Invoked (発動篇) (1982) -- first of all because of the pitiless story and relentless forward drive of the directing, which is fundamentally unlike anything I've seen elsewhere (I still find it rather enjoyable to submerge myself in now and then), but also in terms of the unusual designs and animation style of the characters. I liked the very original use of colors -- tracing with colors rather than black, basing characters on a white background -- the uncute character designs with a realistic flavor (the original designs were photorealistic, apparently, and subsequently simplified), and especially the novel ideas he brought to animating the characters, such as having their whole jaw move when they're talking rather than just having them "do the goldfish".

I usually have an allergy to Tatsunoko school animators, but I find his stuff surprisingly watchable and full of interesting ideas. There's real passion for his work in there, a desire to try new things. In the interview he makes a comment about Yoshiyuki Tomino (director of Gundam in 1979, whom he worked with for the next five years on this and a few other series) to the effect that while other people complained that they didn't like his storyboards because they challenged the animators, he said he loved his storyboards because they challenged the animators. I loved that attitude.

This guy was originally an art person, a painter, and not an anime person, and I think that shows up in his work. Often in anime the freshest ideas have come from people who bring in new blood from different places like this. Oh, and I remembered correctly. Whenever Kogawa was displeased the key animation an animator sent him, and whenever possible, he would redraw all the key animation himself from scratch because it was faster to do that than to correct the key animator's drawings. (This applies only to the characters. The mecha action was animated by people like Yoshinobu Inano and Ichiro Itano.) You can see clearly that almost all of the close-ups and important dramatic scenes (Sheryl's breakdown, the climax) were drawn entirely by Kogawa. And a famous spot near the end where a small child has her head incinerated was apparently something of an ad-lib on his part. The storyboard was not so ... specific. The film benefits immensely from his devotion to filling out tiny details like this. And this despite the fact that he admits to not completely agreeing with or understanding many of Tomino's decisions as the director, especially his bizarre mystical ideas about karma.

Kogawa's credit on this film is in fact a first in anime, I think. He is credited as "Animation Director" in katakana. This gives his role a broader connotation than that usually associated with the post of "Sakuga Kantoku"; almost the co-director. From this can be extrapolated the degree of influence he had on the final product. The quality of the animation in this film was something of a new watermark for anime films at the time, and it's still an eminently watchable film, albeit deranged and incomprehensible in typical Tomino fashion. But that's kind of what I like about it. This despite the fact that this series is at the root of a lot of what I most dislike about all subsequent anime.

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