Sunday, August 17, 2008

Japan Media Arts Festival 2007: Entertain Me



Every year there's something in the Japan Media Arts Festival's Entertainment Division which also happens to be animated, and worth a mention. (The categories are porous like that.) This year that honour goes to the music video for Ryukyudisko's "Nice Day."

The entire video is a progression of still photographs starting somewhere in the 1970s, with a couple getting busy under the covers and producing a young boy. We watch him get older, get a job, and then he hits the clubs and meets a girl–and the whole starts going into reverse, as we go back into the girl's history. However, we find ourselves going back even farther than her parents, for reasons that eventually become apparent—and the eventual trip forward again carries its own surprises.

There's a lot of whimsy in this video, and the pity of the Flash-based video above is that you lose some of the detail in the historical photos, as well as the deliberate colour choices to replicate older film (up to a point—director Junji Kojima skimps a little when he starts getting into the 1930s and earlier).

By the way, if you think the tune is catchy you can drop a couple of sawbucks for an import of the single at Amazon.

[Cross-posted from Frames Per Second.]

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Japan Media Arts Festival 2007: Not So Short Shorts



Veterans of animation festivals know that the term "short film" is pretty elastic, from Malcolm Bennett's 30-second Rocky to Yuri Norstein's 29-minute Tale of Tales. They also know that the longer films are usually programmed at the tail end of a given screening, and that prior to the end of the Cold War many of those films were from Eastern Bloc countries—often gorgeous, sometimes inscrutable, sometimes dark.

What's surprising about the 2007 Japan Media Arts Festival's award-winning works is that there are four films that pass the twenty-minute mark. The longest, Love Rollercoaster, is the most straightforward. The remaining three are reminiscent of those old Eastern Bloc films.

I'll start off with the 21-minute Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor because (a) director Koji Yamamura pretty much roped me in with his Mt. Head and The Old Crocodile a few years back; (b) it's actually based on the work of the Jewish-Czech Kafka, which gives it that weirdness that can be supplied only by Eastern European creators in general, and Kafka in particular; and (c) I can't help re-watching it whenever I can. Like any Kafka story, A Country Doctor starts with a seemingly normal premise combined (a country doctor is summoned at night to take care of a young patient) with some bizarre aspect ("unearthly horses" transport him there instantly). As in Kafka's better-known The Metamorphosis, the introduction of the preternatural element marks the moment the protagonist can never go back to the way things were. As in Yamamura's Mt. Head, the pace, sketchy images, and hand-drawn transformations complement the story nicely. At the rate A Country Doctor has been racking up awards, I think Yamamura's going to have to put serious thought into new shelving.

Ryu Kato's The Clockwork City also mines the surreal with traditional tools. The film is pretty much wordless, and you should expect to have to work at sorting some aspects of it out. A young visitor comes to a new city, and it's quickly apparent she doesn't quite fit in—every person, every bird, and even a few buildings have these wind-up mechanisms stuck in them, and she doesn't. After exploring the city for a little while she meets with the town's honcho (who wears a wind-up crown) and exchanges fruits and other goods. Soon after the city goes to war with an unknown enemy, its soldiers identically featureless and wearing blue ties and white shirts. In the aftermath, our protagonist confronts the top man and his flunkies over the discovery of a giant wind-up key; what mysteries does it hold? This is definitely on my "must rewatch" list.

Yusuke Sakamoto's The Dandelion Sister takes us into the realm of stop-motion animation, where a young girl has to contend with her older, sick sister—who happens to be a giant dandelion. There's a lot going on here: There's the younger sister missing out on social activities because of her responsibilities; her resentment of how much attention is heaped on her sick sister; her inability to draw, and express her feelings; and her fear of her sister's death. Like The Clockwork City, The Dandelion Sister is wordless, but as its concerns are more grounded in reality it's open to a number of interpretations about adolescence, caring for sick relatives, and acceptance.

{Cross-posted from Frames Per Second.]

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Japan Media Arts Festival 2007: Happy Birthday



Another odd little parallel shared by some of the award-winning animation shorts in the Japan Media Arts Festival: three of them had to do with birthdays—after a fashion.

My least favourite of the trio was also the longest: Hiromasa Horie's Love Rollercoaster unfortunately has nothing to do with the Ohio Players song, but is instead about a cutesy young bear cub named John trying to solve the mystery of a mysterious birthday present left behind my his late mother. Involved in the search are his friends, and they soon drag in the creepy Lovegun, an eyeless, sharp-toothed green-skinned critter who lives half in and half out of a rocketship. I like the idea behind some of the characters (especially the pair of mischievous panda siblings), and the overall story idea is a solid one—the ending is particularly sweet. But the whole thing is killed by the execution.

As a clay animation fan it shouldn't bother me that a CGI film tries to emulate a plasticine look for its characters. And I've never had a problem with Japan's cult of kawaii. But whenever the characters talk or scrunch their eyes, their skin wrinkles and folds in an a way that quickly renders them uncute. I'm sure John's initial concept drawings were very cute, but his textured skin, along with the bags under his eyes and all that wrinkliness just made me ill. Throw in excessive camera movement, the same kind of needless bobbing and weaving that bothered me in Skyland, and a half-hour–plus running time, and, well... let's just say that sometimes I watch these things so you don't have to.

(As an aside, I should mention that Love Rollercoaster is one of several projects generated from a Japanese talent incubator called Anime Innovation Tokyo. I'd rather have seen just about anything else their creators have put together.)

The much shorter, lo-fi Ushi-nichi (or, as the English titles say, Happy Birthday) is pretty much Love Rollercoaster's exact opposite. Created with pencil and paper (complete with smudges) by Hiroko Ichinose, the nine-minute short features a motley crew of characters each going through their own machinations. A man stands in the desert waiting to hitch a ride, but turns down almost everyone who stops for him; a man wakes up every morning transformed in some way (extra-long arms, a huge 'fro) and cheerily skips to the employment office to find new work based on his condition; a woman starts eating pieces of her pet giraffe, mindless of the transformations it causes to her own body. Everything comes together in a whimsical denouement. Deep meaning? Who cares? The jittery, rough and utterly charming style makes the whole film a pleasure.

Meanwhile, Toshiaki Hanzaki's Birthday puts another spin on the word, relating the evolution of life on Earth from one-celled organisms to man and, it seems, beyond. Working mostly with silhouetted forms, it's slicker than Ushi-nichi, but it is, if anything, more whimsical, with its portrayal of a giant fanged asteroid killing the dinosaurs and aliens accelerating our evolution. (It's also in the opposite direction of Hanzaki's earlier Birds, my favourite of the Digital Content Association of Japan's 2005 Digital Creators Competition's award-winning works.) Finally, at about a minute and a half, it's more compact. It gets where it needs to go, and then ends. Brevity really is the soul of wit.


[Cross-posted from Frames Per Second.]

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Japanese Media Arts Festival 2007: Livin' La Vida Low-Res



One of the pleasures of film festivals, whether you're watching them or organizing them, is in discovering unintended themes in the films. Sometimes it's inevitable, such as when social or political issues are on everyone's mind, but these are so unsurprising as to almost be banal. It's the small, quirky and sometimes trivial themes that are the most interesting to discover, and this year's award-winning short animation offerings from the Japan Media Arts Festival has a few worth mentioning.

One thing I look forward to in any compilation is when people take a backward step, especially when it comes to CGI. There's such a tendency to lard on the detail, be it photorealistic or natural-media or whatever, that few make the deliberate choice to step back and pare things down.

This year three films made a point of dialing down the detail, each in different ways. Youhei Murakoshi's Blockman goes the furthest. The viewer peers through a telescope to a strange world where everything is made up of identically sized cubes. Some are black, most are white, some make larger blocks, and some of the larger blocks have faces, courtesy of dots or lines on individual blocks. The curious lifeforms walk, fly, float, combine and come apart in a variety of ways, with the telescope lazily floating from one vista to another. The effect is similar to that of the even more minimalist Dice—an earlier Japan Media Arts Festival honoree—but perhaps more mesmerizing.

Sejiro Kubo, Ichiro Tanida and Katsunori Aoki collaborated on Copet, a series of shorts starring a cast of animals that are all straight lines and simple curves, plugged together like deranged Lego. At first glance it's appallingly cute, but little touches like camera shake and nifty bits of business (like a gorilla who repeatedly shivers himself out of a stupor) are at odds with the simplistic motion, and the tension works. But what really kept my attention were the bits that didn't follow the simple-is-better formula, like an erupting volcano, a meteor streaking toward Earth and water that looks, well, watery. The characters' occcasional forays into the live-action world, along with incomprehensible but still amusing storylines were also bonuses. If you can read Japanese you can check out the Copet website, which goes into the shorts' world in considerable depth and pimps Copet merch, including a DVD.

Hiroshi Chida's Boneheads was produced by Polygon Pictures, which I mention because it shares a certain aesthetic sensibility with Polygon's Polygon Family shorts, in which the characters' blockiness is celebrated, rather than smoothed and textured to death. But Polygon Family is mostly monochrome, whereas Boneheads' colour pops with Day-Glo intensity. The latter's characters are also every so slightly asymmetrical, which just makes them kookier.

Moreover, where Polygon Family's animated used the anime and fighting videogame idioms, Boneheads is pure, non-stop Tex Avery-style mania (it's running time of seven minutes makes it even more reminiscent of a Golden Age cartoon). Roccos and Bone are two primitive creatures fighting over bananas—between themselves, and between other critters who get wind of the tasty fruit (or them). The whole thing is really just an escalating chase scene, but as every Blues Brothers fan knows, that's not really a bad thing. Radar Cartoons reps Polygon in the U.S., and Boneheads was produced for Viacom, so here's hoping that it pops up on our screens soon.

[Cross-posted from Frames Per Second.]

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kihachiro Kawamoto Films on DVD



If there were awards for truth in advertising, then Kino International would have to win something for the use of one adjective. The Exquisite Short Films of Kihachiro Kawamoto contains the bulk of the animation master's work, seven short films made between 1968 and 1979.

Kawamoto is considered a stop-motion animator, and his recent feature-length masterpiece, The Book of the Dead, features gorgeous sets to accompany his beautiful puppets. However, this DVD serves as a reminder that his shorts were rarely quite so straightforward. All of the films on the DVD involve the manipulation of physical objects—if not puppets, then cutouts—but Kawamoto freely mixes them with drawn animation and flat paper cutouts with varying degrees of abstraction.

In earlier films like 1972's The Demon, Kawamoto plays with this stylization by having characters move in sync with the background music's rhythm, almost as if they were performing the story as a dance. By the time of the final film, 1979's House of Flames, he's also using stark lighting and elegant compositions to suggest, at times, a stage play. The three middle films in the collection, An Anthropo-Cynical Farce, The Trip and A Poet's Life (from 1970, 1973 and 1974) all break from the use of puppets and the use of ancient Japan as a setting, but are no less compelling. They are perhaps a bit more obtuse in that unique way that independent animation from the 1970s could be.

Kino has also released the feature-length The Book of the Dead, which features some of Kawamoto's most exquisite—there's that word again—stop-motion work to date. Like his best-known short-form films, the movie features Buddhism in ancient Japan. However, this time Buddhist teachings are central to the film, as it takes place in the eighth century, around the time that Buddhism was being introduced to Japan from China. Unlike his shorts, Kawamoto has chosen here to fill out his sets with physical objects and far more characters, all realized with considerable detail. It's hard to watch a sequence with a room full of elegantly dressed puppets with their clothes blowing in the wind and not be awestruck by both the scene's verisimilitude and its poetry.

As lovely as these releases are, there are a few things I'd have liked to have seen. The Book of the Dead uses the English narration with no option to hear the original Japanese (though all the dialogue is still in Japanese, with optional subtitles) and neither disc includes any kind of extras. While Kawamoto's work speaks for itself, the level of craftsmanship on display on both DVDs leaves you wanting to see and hear more. Finally, completists are likely to wag their fingers: The Exquisite Short Films of Kihachiro Kawamoto lacks four shorts that were included on the Region 2 Kihachiro Kawamoto Work Collection DVD.

Where to Get It
Buy The Exquisite Short Films of Kihachiro Kawamoto from Amazon.com
Buy The Book of the Dead from Amazon.com
Buy Kihachiro Kawamoto Work Collection from YesAsia.com


[Cross-posted from Frames per Second.]

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Speed Racer Learns from Manga, Can Teach Feature Animation a Few Things



I'm generally not a fan of live-action adaptations of animated TV shows, because they almost always disappoint. The problems usually start with the choices the filmmakers make in order to get animated (or animated-looking) characters into a live action universe. The Flintstones had fake-looking rock sets; Alvin and the Chipmunks and Scooby Doo had CGI critters in an otherwise realistic universe; Fat Albert had the TV characters coming to life in the real world.

In Speed Racer, the Wachowskis do what none of the creators of these other films had the will to do: they created a cohesive universe in which all of the elements in any given frame look like they belong together. In the process, they also highlight something that's been missing from mainstream animation for quite some time.

As I was sitting in the cinema watching Speed Racer, it occurred to me that I already knew how most journalists were going to describe the movie's look. Some would say that it looks like a video game, or that it's anime come to life. They're dead wrong. Outside of some race scenes the movie looks nothing like any video game you've actually played, and outside of a few Akira-like shots and a nod to the original series opener, it looks nothing like any anime you've ever seen. Really, these are just phrases that reviewers use when they want to say that there are lots of things moving around very fast, or that have bright-coloured, futuristic-looking elements.

In a strange way, however, they're also right. Speed Racer, like many video games, demands that its viewers process a lot of visual information at once. Like anime, it stylizes motion in a way that isn't entirely realistic but is believable within its own reality.

If anything, Speed Racer's filmic cues come from green-screen/digital-set movies like the most recent Star Wars trilogy and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, along with shorts that feature heavily processed and manipulated live action, like Gaëlle Denis' City Paradise. But the Wachowskis' real inspiration here is manga. This doesn't just apply to the racing scenes, but to just about anything set outside of the Racer family home. Take a look at these images, and pay special attention to how they put the focus on certain foreground objects or characters and use the backgrounds to denote movement, atmosphere and mood, These compositions are pure manga:







Better still are the transitions, in which the camera moves around a foreground character's head and the backgrounds change to show scenes either as a transition or as a flashback to the past. Some of these scenes are multi-layered, including audio from both the current time and place and the location or time being referenced. There's even one scene where one character tells Speed about about something that will happen in the future; as the camera whirls around Speed, the background shifts to show scenes that highlight what the other character is saying—and eventually we discover this isn't speculation, but what actually happens in the future. The whole sequence interleaves between the present moment and flash-forwards, kind of like an episode of Lost on, well, speed. (Lazy journalists will look at all this and make references to audience members with short attention spans or ADD; the truth is, you really have to pay attention if you want to follow it all.)

I'm just scratching the surface here. All in all, Speed Racer is a visual effects spectacle that doesn't reserve its inventiveness for eye-candy money shots; rather, it's a carefully constructed, dynamic reality that is unlike anything seen on the big screen. All of which brings me to the question I kept asking myself when I left the cinema: why haven't I seen anything like this in feature animation for so long?

It's a cliché these days to say that effects-heavy summer movies are cartoon-like, and there's some truth to that. But it's also true that live-action movies have, through the heavy use of CGI, taken animation's "anything can happen here" mentality and run with it. Meanwhile, feature animation has largely concerned itself with looking more realistic, obsessing over things like realistic fur and hair. Even those productions that aren't so fixated are, relatively speaking, conservative. I've very much enjoyed Pixar's films, but when you get right down to it they mostly fit into a niche best described as "Talking ____s," with the blank filled in by toys, bugs, fish, rats or what have you. The Incredibles was an exciting departure, but so far the new direction that it signalled appears to be a dead end.

Where's the wow? Where's that moment when you jump up in your seat, excited because you've been shown something you've never seen before? Speed Racer provides that in spades, but in feature animation it's been sorely lacking. I remember seeing Tron in 1983, Akira in 1988 and Mind Game in 2005 and each time feeling like someone had redefined what was possible in animated cinema because I was being shown things I hadn't seen before. I've had that same feeling many times over since then, but when it comes to animation it's generally been in OAVs, shorts and—much to my surprise—television.

I'm all for the blurring of boundaries, but to me movies like Speed Racer indicate that feature animation is ceding ground to live action. Something is very wrong with this picture.

[Cross-posted from Frames Per Second.]

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Returning to the Source of "Otaku"

When an anime fan proudly describes themselves as an otaku I usually wince a little. I realize that language evolves, especially around loan words—the term anime is a classic example—but I've always found it odd that a word with such negative connotations in Japanese is worn as a badge of honour in the English-speaking world. I usually point to the case of Tsutomu Miyazaki (no relation to director Hayao Miyazaki), who molested, killed and mutilated four girls in the late 1980s. Among his massive video collection were pornographic anime and slasher films, and he was something of an outsider; the Japanese public linked the term otaku with dangerously antisocial behaviour.

However, the term existed before then; less sensationally, but still negative. Over on Néojaponisme, Matt Alt has translated the first two parts of a series of articles in which the term "otaku" was first applied to extremely obsessed fans with few social skills. The articles, written by Akio Nakamori, first appeared in 1983, and you can read them in "What Kind of Otaku Are You?" and "Can Otaku Love Like Normal People?".

[Cross-posted from Frames Per Second.]

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Top 5 Animated Earth Day Shows

Say "environmentally themed animation" to most people and they'll think of FernGully: The Last Rainforest or Captain Planet—both well-intentioned, but as subtle and as thrilling to experience as a boot to the head. Presented in alphabetical order, here are five titles that get it right; essential viewing not just on Earth Day, but every day.

The Lorax
When we talk about Warner alumna who worked with Dr. Seuss, we tend to mention Chuck Jones and, er, that's it. But it was Hawley Pratt who directed The Lorax, the 1972 adaptation of the good doctor's book from the year earlier. In it, the Lorax—a typically Seussian odd-looking, oddly coloured creature who says he "speaks for the trees," tries to convince an industrialist not to chop down the Truffula trees, which he uses to make a unique form of clothing called Thneeds.

The industrialist doesn't listen, and the Thneeds take off. His small shop becomes larger, which leads to the construction of larger factories and more roadwork, which leads to increasing destruction of the forest and the air—and eventually, the growth of a whole city, which just makes the problem worse. Futile though it is, the Lorax protests the whole time. Near the end of the story, the industrialist chops down the last tree and realizes he's not only ended his business, but destroyed the very reason he came to the forest in the first place—and the Lorax sadly picks himself up (literally) and flies away.

The Lorax is pads the original story with reasonably entertaining songs, gags and bits of business to bring it up to a half-hour special, and it captures the Seuss look pretty well. While it's comparatively strident—"greedy industrialist" is all you need to know about the antagonist—it's still a striking look at how we can carelessly consume and destroy resources when we're not careful.

The Man Who Planted Trees
Frédéric Back believes passionately in the need to protect and co-exist with the environment, and his most moving testament to that belief is his 1987 masterpiece The Man Who Planted Trees, an adaptation of a 1953 French short story. In the story, a man visits an abandoned valley in France three times. The first time is before World War I, when the valley is dry and desolate, and he meets a young shepherd who is planting acorns; the second time is between both world wars, when the young trees are starting to dot the landscape; and the third time is after World War II, when the valley is a green, lush paradise, and a small village has sprung up around it.

The story itself, in which one man selflessly and patiently turns emptiness into a thriving, living community, is inspiring, but what makes it work as a film is Back's method. Using coloured pencils and frosted cels (like traditional acetate cells, but with a tooth to them so that traditional but inkless drawing tools can be used on them), he made each frame a gorgeous illustration, with each one cross-dissolving into the next. When we return to the valley-as-Eden, that technique serves to make every leaf on every tree burst with life. When we hear that our actions have far-reaching implications, it's usually when we're being warned not to do something. When you see the forest in The Man Who Planted Trees flowing across the screen, you realize that there's a positive aspect to that as well.

See a clip and storyboard images from The Man Who Planted Trees

My Neighbor Totoro
In 1950s Japan, Mei and Satsuki move to the countryside with their father, as they wait for their hospitalized mother to recover from her illness. From the moment they set foot in the house, the girls discover (magic?) forest creatures large and small, who seem to be presided over by the largest of three creatures, that seem like a jovial cross between a cat and a bear; Mei calls them Totoro.

Not much more needs to be said, because if you haven't seen Totoro, you've probably heard of it (and, really, should make the time to go see it.) It's the 1988 film that made Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli icons in Japan (literally, as Totoro now graces the Ghibli logo on every movie opener), and, after some time, abroad as well. The three Totoro are probably the Ghibli characters you're most likely to see pop up in the background of comics and animation, as artists the world over pay homage.

The reason for all the love is simple: Totoro is a gentle film that is as much about the joys of childhood as it is about the beauty of nature. Linking expertly realized scenes—of napping in a forest, of skipping over a creek, or of savouring the night breeze through the trees—to our own memories makes a better case for preserving forests than any amount of brow-beating. The Japanese public apparently agreed, and Totoro has become a symbol, both official and unofficial, of its environmental movement.

Princess Mononoke
Nine years after Totoro, Ghibli released its flip side: Miyazaki's look a fifteenth-century Japan where the powerful forest spirits still walk the Earth with both majesty and terror. The young prince Ashitaka is banished from his village when his arm is scarred in an encounter with a deranged boar god, and during his travels he encounters San—the demon princess of the title—and Lady Eboshi, who has founded and runs Iron Town on the edge of the forest. San has literally been raised by wolves (or, more accurately, wolf gods), and is constantly sabotaging Iron Town's operations, as their manufacturing facilities are encroaching further on the forest.

Ashitaka, and the audience, quickly learns that things aren't as black and white as they may seem. Lady Eboshi has taken in lepers, prostitutes, and other people cast off from society and given them a home; by mining and refining the iron she's been able to keep Iron Town self-sufficient. San and many of the forest creatures see humanity as a threat, an ever-reproducing virus that needs to be destroyed for their safety. The result is the beginning of a bloody war, with interested outside parties looking for opportunities and Ashitaka risking life and limb to keep things from escalating past the point of no return.

Princess Mononoke carries two messages within it, both rarely said in environmentally themed films. First is that if you push nature too hard, nature will push back harder. The second echoes a sentiment spoken by John Muir, godfather to the American environmental movement: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything in the universe." The fatal error that is often made in the movie, and in real life, is that humanity is somehow separated from nature.

Respire
French group Mickey 3D's 2003 CD Tu vas pas mourir de rire (You Won't Die Laughing) is full of politically conscious songs set to toe-tapping music. Its second track, Respire (Breathe) is the basis for a CGI music video that features, for the most part, nothing but a young girl running barefoot through an open field, skipping through creeks and climbing trees, all under a gorgeous blue sky. The laconically delivered lyrics speak of what man has done to his world, and how action needs to be taken by everyone, right now.

It's the end of the video that brings everything together as, with a Twilight-Zoneish twist, we discover that things aren't what they first seemed. Frankly, I find this scenario all too plausible. Consider Respire a warning you can dance to. Watch the video and decide for yourself.



Where to Get It
Buy
The Lorax DVDs and more from Amazon.com
Buy
The Man Who Planted Trees DVDs and more from Amazon.com
Buy
My Neighbor Totoro DVDs and more from Amazon.com
Buy
Princess Mononoke DVDs and more from Amazon.com
Buy
Respire (part of the Imagina Trips Vol. 2 compilation; PAL, Region 2) on DVD from Amazon.fr
Buy
Tu vas pas mourir de rire on CD from Amazon.com

Previously on Frames Per Second
Imagina Trips Vol. 2 review


[Cross-posted from Frames Per Second.]

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Masaaki Yuasa's Kaiba



A few weeks ago I watched Mind Game again, and not for the first time I wondered what director Masaaki Yuasa was up to post-Genius Party. And what do you know, shortly after I found out: he's directing the series Kaiba, which just started airing on the Japanese satellite channel WOWOW. Makoto Fukuda reviewed the first episode in today's Yomiuri Shimbun. As she describes it, the show is "set in a world when memories can be filed as data, and humans no longer regard the death of their physical bodies as the end of their lives."

I just finished watching the first episode, and I have to say that I agree with Fukuda's review, but she only hints at what I think makes it interesting. At its core, Kaiba offers up a lot of things we've seen before: the titular protagonist wakes up with amnesia, and is almost immediately attacked; strange machinelike creatures are attacking people while a ragtag resistance fights back; even the character designs, which Fukuda describes as echoing "those found in manga for children popular several decades ago" capture that 1960s and 1970s retro feel.

What Yuasa does is he mixes it up and makes it fresh. I like how little is explained as Kaiba makes his way through this new world. When the camera pans up or across in a scene, you're following his viewpoint. Nothing is explained to either of you, so you have to pay attention to everything you see. (Some things are conveniently spelled out, but as the title sequence hints that there's considerably more to Kaiba, you get the sense that there's information that should be filed away for later.) The world is just familiar enough that you know you're in a shady bar, but just weird-looking enough that you're trying to figure out what those lumpy wall protrusions are for. The character designs are retro, but they don't quietly elide the oddball wacky-looking characters I was fond of in older anime in favour of the graceful designs of the protagonists. I got a nice fix of people walking around with potato heads, wobbly jowls, bright red noses and the craziest hips you've ever seen. The cartooniness infects some of the action as well, but not in an at all jarring way. In some ways it's a better interpretation of what Tezuka did in his manga than the beautiful but perhaps too crisp Metropolis.

What I'm particularly fond of is Yuasa's interpretation of movement. As we saw in Mind Game, little of what he does falls into stock anime poses, staging or motion, and that feeling of always seeing something new is invigorating. Between the animation and the storyline—I particularly want to know what's going on with that bird-creature that's saved Kaiba three times now—Kaiba has my attention. I'm hoping someone picks it up domestically so I can watch it with subtitles, but, in another throwback to the old days, I'm perfectly willing to watch it entirely in Japanese just for the sake of seeing it.

Images and a Youtube trailer below.















[Cross-posted from Frames Per Second.]

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

DreamWorks Brings You Ghost in the Shell Again



Just 15 months after Kodansha and Production I.G. kissed and made up over optioning Ghost in the Shell, they've found a taker: DreamWorks, who released Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence in North American cinemas under their GoFish banner in 2005, has acquired the rights to make a live-action, 3D version of the property.

While I think Ghost in the Shell is a great selection for a 3D film, I can't say I'm particularly enthusiastic about the news. I'm generally not a fan of live-action remakes of animated shows or comics; overall, there have been more misses than hits. More to the point, the recent spate of rights acquisitions for anime (or anime-like)-to-Hollywood live-action adaptations (Robotech, Akira, Avatar: The Last Airbender—have I missed anything?) reminds me of the old maxim that in Hollywood no one wants to be first, but everyone wants to be second. Speed Racer is due to hit cinemas in just a few weeks, and I've long had the sense that these acquisitions are a means of lining things up to ride an anticipated wave of anime-inspired movies, in the same way Spider-Man and X-Men helped launch a wave of comic-inspired movies.

One thing I won't do, however, is claim that Spielberg (or any of the other directors/producers working on adapted anime works) will somehow "ruin" the original. Gimme a break—that's like saying a bad date will ruin your memory of your first kiss.

[Cross-posted from Frames Per Second.]

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