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Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Realist

One of the things that made Production I.G’s 2000 feature film Jin – Roh the most successful realistic anime in the past decade is indeed the unflinching approach to detail combined with the painstakingly methodical direction and production. Add to that Mamoru Oshii’s gritty and hard-hitting script which set the basis for the rest of the staff to work with, and the result is something special which admittedly, not a whole lot of anime directors can pull off. The type of film Jin – Roh was could only have been handled by someone who himself has an eye and a thing for the details within animation, and who also is capable enough of taking that focus and stretching that into an hour-long feature. It turns out that the man for the job was Hiroyuki Okiura, who as an animator was well-known for his insanely detailed and finely worked pieces of animation (an example of which would be the crowd scene in Akira). His directorial work for Jin – Roh saw his signature style in animation ported off into direction. Jin – Roh wouldn’t have been Jin – Roh without Okiura.

So you could just imagine the approach he must have taken during the seven years of production for his latest film, Momo e no Tegami, which is slated to open for next year. This time, Okiura took control of the important parts of production (direction, script/screenplay, storyboarding) of the film which appears to be a departure from the brooding, gritty, and heavy atmospheric presence of his 2000 anime. The staff of his latest feature are a few of the foremost feature animators still active in Japan today. Masashi Ando (character designer for Satoshi Kon’s Paprika and Paranoia Agent) directs the animation for Momo, and he is accompanied by no less than Toshiyuki Inoue (Tree of Palme, Peek the Whale), Takeshi Honda (Dennou Coil, Millennium Actress), IG regular Tetsuya Nishio (Naruto character designer, Innocence), and Hiroyuki Aoyama (Summer Wars, Kemonozume). What’s also interesting is that this is going to be Okiura’s first true solo job. Momo promises to be one of the highlight movies of 2012, and thus is worth looking forward to.

PS: The fabulously fabulous director of Utena, Kunihiko Ikuhara, returns to TV anime this year. Yet another return we all should prepare ourselves for.

 

Summer Days with Coo (Shin – Ei Animation, Keiichi Hara)

As far as realism in animation goes, there have been a few such films to be released in the past decade. Surely, they were hardly the technically sound and detail-oriented films that was Jin – Roh (which is kind of expected, anyway), but they still followed the realistic mold as far as characterization and direction goes. Their character acting was not as methodical as Jin – Roh, instead opting for the more natural approach, grounding them in the everyday scenery of life amid the far-reaching premises they worked with. The directing is also hardly flashy. I’d say Mamoru Hosoda is one of the proponents of the said style, which itself was mastered by a certain Isao Takahata (whose work on Grave of the Fireflies remains one of the best instances of realistically rendered and directed anime). There also exists one such director who may not be as well known to the overseas fandom as the former two, but regardless is one of the major movie directors active in Japan today: Keiichi Hara.


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Encounters In Space

Two of the many high-profile anime movies released last year in Japan are due for release on DVD/BD this month (as of this writing, one has just been released), which give this otherwise dull month a reason for excitement. Incidentally, the two films were part of those films that I’ve been looking forward to since first hearing about them, not because they both looked like intricately realized thought-provoking masterpieces of art, but more so due to the way the two looked and felt: fun. It has long been said that anime is great because it is “more mature” and “more intelligent” than ordinary cartoons, but that kind of thinking unfairly categorizes the medium in a narrow-minded way. Sure, anime can be a vehicle of social commentary (some of which succeed at this) and philosophical discourse (while most have failed at this), but if it doesn’t meet a certain degree of fun and entertainment first of all, then it won’t be as effective as a whole. It becomes boring, and at times even unwatchable. Mamoru Oshii’s 1989 OVA series Gosenzosama Banbanzai is an example I can name off the top of my head which capably combines fun and lively directing and animation with socially relevant scripting and content. It’s a bit of a shame now to find what the director has come to these days, come to think of it.

While the first 2010 film has been released just recently, the other film–Takeshi Koike’s Redline–should come in two weeks (if I remember correctly). If anything, that film should be one of the most jaw-dropping spectacles of pure animation in years, and should be a welcome watch to anyone–animation geek you may be or not. Not a lot of anime films have achieved a very high level of supreme catharsis and electrifying entertainment since 2004’s Mind Game, but Redline promises to deliver, at least for the second part.

And sure enough, the anime film released just recently has become one of the highlights of my February.

Welcome to the Space Show (Koji Masunari, A – 1 Pictures)

One of the two films of 2010 I’ve watched which focused on children (the other being Mai Mai Miracle), Space Show flies high, even reaching the far reaches of deep space. It succeeds at achieving a full sense of scale and scope, endowing the film with light-hearted humor and heartfelt emotion through its simple characters. Even though the movie is spotted with pacing issues which take away from the flow of the film in exchange for immersion, but for what it’s worth, the film as a whole is very strongly directed with interesting and full animation work. What’s great about films like this is its ability to reach beyond ages, to be fun for kids and even adults alike. It’s a strong, simple work, something that I would even put alongside Mamoru Hosoda’s films in terms of appeal.

 

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Genius Party

Still haven’t keep up with the latest episodes of anime that came out this week. I’m not sure why, but I just didn’t feel like watching any of them at all. They’re not bad, and I even quite like them, but none of them really struck me as something that really beckons me to go see them at the soonest possible moment. Nothing screams urgent. In effect I’ve put them all on standby, waiting for me to crash into some inspiration. Is this a case of anime burnout? I don’t know. All I know is that before I get myself swamped with an awful lot of backlog, I’m going to have to go complete them all.

In any case, I chose to distract myself from all the TV stuff I put on hold for a while and also decided to blaze through something I’ve put through the injustice of putting off for a very long while. And by “long time” I mean three years–yeah, it’s that long. After a very extensive break I’ve finally put my foot down and ran through it in one go. I got them all way back in 2008, and I swear I almost hit myself in the head for missing out on such an impressive set of animation work that is surely very rare to come by these days. Still it could have been a blessing in disguise, since I haven’t thought of anything to write about lately.

Bear with me here, since I think this one’s going to be long.

 

Genius Party/Beyond (Studio 4C, Various)

Omnibus packages of anime have been around in the past, though the earliest one that comes to mind is Robot Carnival back in 1987. Not much of them have been made since then, what with the TV market still dominating the airwaves when it came to anime, but what few of them were quite memorable. 1995 saw the release of Studio 4C’s own anthology movie Memories, which boasted stories from Katsuhiro Otomo and Tensai Okamura. The film itself was based on Otomo’s own manga short stories. What’s most memorable perhaps about that film is the work of one Satoshi Kon. After coming off working as a manga artist, he dabbled in a few jobs in anime for a while, but I guess he got his big break in Memories. Otomo gave him the role of writing the script in the first part, Magnetic Rose, which then went on to become highly acclaimed, and even considered as the best of the three-part movie. Thus marked the beginning of his illustrious, if not horribly short-lived career. Afterward, 4C then became a sort-of pioneer of the format, releasing a few of those every now and again, receiving generally positive acclaim.

2007-2008’s effort was my second foray into their package deals. I didn’t really think much of the arrogant-sounding title Genius Party, but after watching it I thought some parts deserved to be called works of such “geniuses”.

 

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