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Archive for the ‘Saturday Anime’ Category

By Bob Clark

Mamoru Oshii’s career throughout the 70’s and 80’s is interesting to consider when looking at his rise to notoreity as a feature director in the 90’s and 00’s. Like many animators in Japan, he got his start behind the scenes on television series based on popular manga, and for a time had a good deal of success with Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura. At first glance, the popular harem-comedy wouldn’t appear to have much in common with the more mature stabs at politics and philosophy that permeate through the director’s later, better known works, but even in his handling of the show and subsequent features based on the manga he found ways to inject his own personal themes into the characters. The series’ second feature film Beautiful Dreamer stands as a savvy precursor both to the surreal dream-narrative adventures in the heart of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, and to the existentialist dilemmas of Oshii’s adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell, right down to the shared imagery of a protagonist confronting their own reflection in the underside of a body of water, struggling to breath and wake up out of their suffocating dreams.

Over time, however, Takahashi didn’t approve of the deviations that Oshii took from her celebrated manga, and the director eventually left to pursue his own projects, like the pure art-house animation Angel’s Egg, while his team from Urusei Yatsura moved onto less highbrow, but in a way more creatively successful works like the soft-core hentai turned mainstream satire film Project A-ko. But he wasn’t the only one who eventually left the Takahashi series to follow a newer creative direction– screenwriter Kazunori Ito would go on to work alongside Oshii on the live-action feature The Red Spectacles, a part of the director’s Kerberos cycle of films, animation and manga, and would eventually script his first Ghost in the Shell film before moving on to join the .hack franchise. But before either of those endeavors the two of them created the Patlabor series, best known in America for the second feature film and recognized as a precursor of sorts for the same ambitious blend of groundbreaking digital hybrid action animation and serious subject matters that the Ghost in the Shell films would later represent. Yet in ways both obvious and subtle, those features were merely building up from the established themes and subjects already present in the first incarnation of the franchise, as an Original Video Animation, and perhaps the best thing that can be said about Patlabor: The Mobile Police as an OVA is that, no matter what you think or know of the series or Oshii’s career from their feature incarnations, it represents something of a surprise.

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By Bob Clark

This weekend marks the closing of this New York International Children’s Film Festival, which has been one of his highest profile years yet, with releases in multiple theaters throughout the city, from the IFC Center all the way to Lincoln Center. Over the past several years the festival has become one of the best, if not only places to check out recent releases of international animation in Manhattan on a regular basis, with new works from Europe sharing ample screentime with established anime voices like Mamoru Hosada, Makoto Shinkai and the storied house of Studio Ghibli. And though it can be more than a little disheartening to mull over the fact that even in the art-house circuit the only animated works that receive any real attention or release are bound to be ones targeting the youngest of viewers (it’s an uphill climb to even get a teen-oriented movie like Evangelion a stateside release), the contrast that can be seen here between the lush, mature work from around the glob and the crass, polished-plastic output of Pixar and the like in the United States couldn’t be clearer. Between this and the other myriad retrospectives and new releases gracing New York screens I was only able to check out three of the films, but they stand out as easy contenders for some of the best animation to reach our shores this year, though not without a few points to clarify.

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Two reasons to rerun this article this year– both the second anniversary of the devastating crises in Japan that began March 11, 2011, and a rare American television broadcast of Hideaki Anno’s magnum opus in the form of  Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone. The film will be showing on Cartoon Network this Sunday at 1am during its Toonami block. Anyone in the States with basic cable, there’s no excuse to miss it. Not even Church in the morning.

By Bob Clark

After the recent devastations of earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear meltdown struck Japan, there were many comparisons made to the nation’s many imagined instances of various science-fiction disasters, from Godzilla rampaging through the streets of Tokyo to the apocalyptic wasteland of Neo-Tokyo from Katsuhuiro Otomo’s Akira. These, and so many other one-note similes, were rather tasteless ones, to my mind. They ignored not only the root-inspiration for all those horrifying kaiju and anime calamities in the usage of American atomic weapons on the civilian towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and furthermore ignored the untold losses of life and livelihood presented by the new disasters, ones which continue to threaten the safety and security of an entire nation that already knows all too well the cost of nuclear fall-out, with the largest and potentially most deadly radiation event since the days of Chernobyl. However, in the midst of all these pop-cultural associations, there has been one that rings true, when an energy-conservation effort to help the besieged TEPCO power plant was unofficially dubbed “Operation Yashima”, quickly spreading as an internet-meme and gaining popular support throughout Japan as a rallying-cause to help solve the nationwide crisis through personal sacrifice for the good of everyone.

But what is “Operation Yashima”, and what does it have to do with cinema or science-fiction? In short, it represents the climax of the first six-episode arc of Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the modern classics of contemporary Japanese animation, in which the entire electrical supply of Japan is used to destroy a monstrous alien invader bent on destroying mankind. Channeled into a high-powered positron cannon built by the Strategic Self-Defense Force, used as an immense sniper-rifle by the clandestine United Nations organization NERV, the requisitioned power is the only hope of beating the bizarre attacker, known as an “Angel”, but requires a nationwide outage for the duration of the assault. As the operation begins, the lights go out throughout the entire country, putting everyone in the same position, huddling together and waiting in the dark for news of victory or defeat. By the end of the battle there will be immense destruction, both in the wakes of the surreal attack and NERV’s epically desperate attempts to fend it off, but our attention as viewers will not be to the catastrophic fields of destruction or the untold millions of lives hanging in the balance throughout Japan, much less billions throughout a world that is already suffering from a near-apocalyptic contact with the Angels fifteen years ago.

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By Bob Clark

Note– This piece is rerunning on the occasion of this film’s appearing this weekend in the New York International Children’s Film Festival again, this time in an English dub. Anyone with an interest in animation in the New York area can check showtimes and locations for this film and others at– http://gkids.tv/intheaters.cfm

When I was a very young child, there was nothing I liked better than to spend an afternoon at the planetarium. Whether it was the Hayden in Central Park, made famous on film by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s escape into its confines from the rain to stare at metorites on display in Manhattan– thus preserving it in pristine black-and-white before its modern conversion into the Museum of Natural History’s Rose space center– or the more humble atmosphere of the local Hudson Planetarium in Yonkers, there was very little in my early childhood that was quite as thrilling as the experience of sitting in the dark and watching wondrous projections of shadow and light upon those huge domed ceilings, and allowing one’s self to be transported into the far-flung reaches of our Solar System’s farthest limits and beyond. In many ways, a planetarium offered the most immersive kind of cinematic experience possible, envoloping one’s total sphere of direct and peripheral vision with a 360 degree panorama of light-shows, especially when I was a small enough to have to stand up in my seat to get a clear vantage of the interstellar display. Even if all that was shown was a series of static starscapes and superimpositions of classical constellations, there was enough magic in all the wondrous presentation of all those magic-lantern marvels to stoke the fires of my budding imagination– I’d cover my eyes and hide whenever the image of Perseus carrying the head of Medusa was projected on the planetarium’s false-sky, for fear that I’d be turned into stone just like Ray Harryhausen’s monsters in Clash of the Titans. Listening to a loudspeaker narration describing the endless void of the vaccum and watching an infinite of stars and planets expanding as far as my little eyes could see, I came far closer to experiencing the religious awe of a holy moment in there than I ever did at Church, made aware of how small I, everyone I knew and everyone on our blue-green ball of surf and turf were in the limitless expanse of space. It could be a frightening idea to wrap your head around at the pre-school age (hell, it’s not too comforting to think about even in maturity), but it was also awfully exciting, too.

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RankinBassROTK1

By Bob Clark

The story of how J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings came to be adapted for animation is a strange one that begins from different directions, particularly different directions of American animation. While Rankin/Bass productions, even by then an institution best known for their stop-motion Christmas specials, got things rolling with a Japanese-crafted 1977 take on The Hobbit that got the essentials of the book into a slim 70 odd minutes, the first attempt of the Lord of the Rings tome proper would be begun by notorious rabble-rousing animator Ralph Bakshi. His film, covering about the first half of the trilogy, spanning Fellowship of the Ring to somewhere in the middle of The Two Towers, represented something of a transitional effort for the director, bridging his earlier efforts that concentrated on aggressively adult sex and violence (the R. Crumb adaptation of Fritz the Cat and the urban grime of Heavy Traffic and Coonskin) to increasingly lighter, more adventure-oriented fantasy works (the sci-fi Wizards, the Frank Frazetta inspired Fire and Ice) that would ultimately culminate in his return to television cartooningwith the brief Saturday Morning run of Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures (which kickstarted the careers of John Kircfalusi and Bruce Timm among others, but only before it was cancelled amid controversy for a cocaine gag).

The sheer range of Bakshi’s career demonstrates the wide attraction that Tolkien’s work can and has had on any number of filmmakers over the years (one wonders if Stanley Kubrick hadn’t decided the books were unfilmable int he 70’s whether he would’ve used those NASA lenses and recycled Napoleon material on Middle Earth instead of Barry Lyndon). In the case of Bakshi and the contrasting animation done on the Rankin/Bass Hobbit, the clash of different styles shows even further the different mixes any creative team can pull off from the same material. While Rankin and Bass’ animation mixes the best of their physical, posture-heavy stop-motion style with the expert hand-drawn artwork and economic pacing of Japanese anime (courtesy of Topcraft, the production house that would soon become Studio Ghibli), Bakshi offers a blend of heavy rotoscope and classic Americana cartooning techniques that is sometimes a surreal match for Tolkien’s text. It’s a style that he would go on to develop in his subsequent fantasy adventure films, which in some ways makes up for the fact that he didn’t get the chance to finish the story he’d started with the second half of The Lord of the Rings. In any case, it only makes the renewal of the Rankin/Bass style that much stronger and stranger when one views 1980’s The Return of the King: A Tale of the Hobbits, officially a sequel to their earlier effort and by now a de-facto climax to an unofficial trilogy.

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RankinBassHobbit1

By Bob Clark

The various television specials produced and directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s represent some of the most distinctive animation in America beyond the works of Walt Disney, Warner Brothers and MGM, enough to the point that their immediately recognizable style finds itself imitated on an almost yearly basis during the holiday season. The vast majority of their work follows a hand-crafted style, perhaps most recognized in one of their earliest efforts, the classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but with each subsequent production it’s easy to see their range and comfort with the medium growing, each special more ambitious than the next in terms of length, scale and themes. For the most part, however, their work is remembered solely in the realm of stop-motion, which they produced the bulk of their output in, and though that work has provided an invaluable influence on many animators and filmmakers since (even Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox betrays a family resemblance) the pair’s efforts in traditional hand-drawn animation are no less impressive. Seasonal works like the Frosty specials or the Joel Grey-starring ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas remain consistent favorites (South Park would crib a song or two from the latter in one of their holiday episodes), and even later programs like Thundercats have held their own amidst the array of 80’s cartoons kept alive by nostalgia and reboots. But among the works that the pair created outside of stop-motion, the two that probably survive best beyond mere generational hindsight are their Tolkien adaptations, which impress not only as examples of modest, yet adventurous television animation but also as works of fantasy cinema in general.

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by Jaime Grijalba

a.k.a. Resident Evil: Damnation

(Japan, 101 min)

The theme has been chasing me and I do think that, maybe, this is a sign of sorts. It is the third time this year that I’ve been in the position of writing this column and talking about a film that is a videogame adaptation, and this is the second animation and, may I link the original piece here, where I talk about the definitions and divisions inside the sub-genre, and I shall link to a recent installment in my usual wednesday pieces (even if Bob Clark graciously ceded his spot this week for my piece on an anime film once again, as he has kindly done a large number of times and I can’t be thankful enough) where I talk about the issues of videogames in general as narrative experiences when talking about a too faithful film based on a succesful japanese series, here. Now, let’s keep talking about videogame movies, just a tiny bit, so that there’s not much else to say and if I ever encounter another videogame adaptation that I have to cover for this series of essays/reviews I’ve been doing, I can just jump straight ahead to the jist of the thing itself, instead of meandering around doing technical and thematical discussion that maybe no one is actually interested about. So, as I said in previous essays, there are a singular kind of films that bear the label ‘based on videogames’ where the only thing that they do is continue the story and the canon of the original games, a product usually done for and with the fans in mind, as it thrives on the reference to events and characters of the videogame franchise but not in the way that a live-action film would, but as in what continuity would think about regarding the destiny of the main characters and how it all pieces together the plot threads of the previous, and most important, the following games (as the movie is usually one of the vehicles of promotion for the forthcoming game in the series). For example, there’s the classic and much maligned ‘Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children’, that has some neat CG animation from Japan and manages to tell its own story, continuing and featuring new characters, and even I, not a particular fan of the original PlayStation game, I like the movie for what it is and because of the spectacle that brings in the final act, as well, of course, thanks to the references done to the game to make it appealing to the fans. So here comes along another CG animated film that follows characters and situations from the ‘Resident Evil’ game series, that manages to put its own story forward and at the same time pleasing the fans, how perfect is it? Well, let’s just see… (more…)

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