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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