Six crazy weeks of school are finally over, and after taking 6 credits (that’s two classes or four nights a week) you better believe I’m completely and utterly exhausted. That said, posting should resume on a more regular basis with a post a day. In the meantime, here’s a few week links for you to peruse.
Report from SAS 25: “Redefining Animation”
Harvey Deneroffgives a full account of the recent Society for Animation Studies conference in Los Angeles. By all accounts, it’s a great event for anyone interested in the more academic side of animation.
The decline of Disney
The title is slightly misleading because we all know that Disney (the company) is doing great. What Jaime Weinman at Macleans is concerned about in this piece is Disney (the studio) and the rapid decline of its output and the resulting sidelining of its impact on the overall Disney company. You don’t have to be blind to see that Disney is relying more and more on either acquisitions or outside partners to produce its films, but you might inadvertently miss the shift in style that has occurred over the last 20 years.
Olly Moss’ Studio Ghibli Posters
Need I say any more? Click through for the Howl’s Moving Castle one.
A Simple Thought: Go Big. (And Stay Simple.)
Ken Fountain has this great post that looks at the ‘cartoony’ style of animation and how best to achieve it. Lots of great points and yes, the key is to go big and to stay simple.
Can you really call this a review? I don’t know, because a true critic would tease out the good points from the bad, leaving the inevitable conclusion up to the reader. I cannot do that however, for the simple reason that From Up on Poppy Hill is a film that you must see, regardless of whether you think you will like it or not.
Studio Ghibli has been turning out films that in all honestly, put Pixar’s best to shame. The irony of course is that for their unashamed, un-commercial style, Ghibli’s films are phenomenally successful at the Japanese box office. It is a testament to the studio’s pool of talent that there is a distinct lack of sequels in their library; a feat that Disney maintained for many decades until it caved to the inevitable pressures of short-term growth forecasts.
From Up on Poppy Hill is the latest in that long line of films to reach Western audiences as an official release. Much respect and gratitude should be given to New York-based distributor GKIDS for having the desire to bring yet another film to our shores that many in the business would consider too far outside of what could be considered a commercially viable release.
The film comes with an attachment in the form of yet another Ghibli trademark. In this case it is the surname Miyazaki and unique for the studio, both father and son are on board. The past experiences of both men on the son’s directorial debut, Tales From Earthsea, have been mended, and From Up On Poppy Hill is the result. The elder, Hayao, wrote the screenplay based on a popular manga series by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsur? Sayama while the younger, Gor?, undertook direction duties.
The result is a curious film insofar that it retains the usual Ghibli ‘look’ but dispatches with the customary fantasy element, relying instead on a very real and heartbreaking problem that stemmed from the Japanese involvement in World War II.
The film does much more than simply portray a series of events. Rather, it grants us privy to a series of dramatic and emotional revelations for our heroes: Umi Matsuzaki and Shun Kazama. We see the calamity behind their first meeting and the subsequent bond they form and nurture.
It is this bond that forms the backbone of Umi and Shun’s story and while it gets a bit uncomfortable, the struggles that both characters face in coming to terms with reality make for some very emotional scenes, especially for Umi. She embodies the strong female protagonist that is common among Miyazaki films, but Gor? manages to make her vulnerable in ways that, say, Princess Mononoke is not. It must be said that the levels of emotion that the film managed to evoke from this blogger have not been equaled by any Western film from the past 15 years.
While it is easy to decry the presence of a substantial plot (about efforts to save a dilapidated clubhouse on school grounds), that is to miss the point of the film. Both Miyazaki’s have made known their nostalgia for a period in modern Japanese history when the shackles of the past were giving way to the optimism of the future. Such a transition period was fraught with many struggles. From Up On Poppy Hill conveys such struggles through its dual plots; that of Umi and Shun and their efforts to save an old, dilapidated clubhouse; the Latin Quarter. We see the characters in both plots attempt to reconcile actions from the past with an unknown but optimistic future.
Naturally the animation itself is superb. Once again, the notion that traditional 2-D, hand-drawn animation is no match for CGI is proven to be nothing but bluster and false promises. The Latin Quarter is beautifully rendered for the messy pigsty that it is and the lush colours of a Japanese summer manage to leap off the screen without obscuring our heroes.
The soundtrack adds a delightful level of joviality and comedy to proceedings too.
In the end, From Up On Poppy Hill returns to the humbler roots of such films as Kiki’s Delivery Service where the character’s experiences and reactions throughout the film are much more important than the plot itself. You won’t watch Poppy Hill to see whether the Latin Quarter is saved, you will watch because you want to see what becomes of Umi and Shun. Their innocence belies a complicated past and their reaction to, and reconciliation with it are what makes From Up On Poppy Hill such a wonderful film. Make an effort to see it when you can.
While such systems are capable of projecting the most vivid colours in a flawless manner, I found that they completely destroy the viewing experience. Why? Well animation is created as individual drawings that when shown 24 times a second appear to move and ought to be presented in that manner.
Using traditional film, that is fine; the technology relies on only displaying one frame ever 1/24th of a second and requires our brain to fill in the rest when the screen is blank between frames.
With digital projection, we lose that; it is clever enough to project each image without the gap. The end result is that I am not watching a film, I am watching a very high-definition video on a very large screen and when you project a technique like traditional animation using such technology, the result is that ever movement is so clearly defined that it doesn’t move smoothly, it shudders.
This shuddering didn’t ruin the film for me, but did leave me pining for a good ol’ strip of celluloid that would have been darker and not as sharp, but at least I wouldn’t have to be fooled into thinking I was watching individual frames projected onto the screen.
Matthew Razak over at Flixist has a great in-depth look at Hayao Miyazaki’s seminal 2001 film, Spirited Away. That article is well worth a few minutes of your time as it discusses many aspects present in that film that are sadly lacking in many contemporary American productions.
However, while Razak focuses a lot on the animation, the direction and the over-arching themes of the film, he almost completely neglects to discuss the characters.
Yes, he talks about Chihiro and her transformation from a spoiled little girl into a more mature adolescent and his analysis is quite good in that regard. However, he glosses over the supporting characters that help her in that regard.
Like Haku, the faithful, if resentful, servant of the bath house owner Yubaba who is on a quest for self-redemption and rediscovering his identity, or Lin, the worker at the bath house who teaches Chihiro some of the realities of working life. Not to mention Yubaba herself, show imparts a tough impression of the businesswomen and her strikingly contrasting sister, Zeniba.
If it were not for characters such as these, as well as the multitude of supporting characters, from river gods to no-faces, Spirited Away would be an altogether duller film. Visuals and direction can greatly improve a film, but if the characters themselves aren’t complete, the film will feel stifled and wooden.
That is where Miyazaki excels in his films; the characters are never boring, or repetitive or simple. They are complex, flawed and plentiful; just like real people. Their importance should not be overlooked when analysing a film.
I saw this today and can’t help but be amazed. A ~26 year old movie managed to shatter the tweet per second record during a broadcast in Japan. Now you could say that it’s in its natural environment, but one can’t help but wonder how such an old movie managed to garner so much attention. If anything it’s proof that good films can generate discussion man years after their initial release.
Yes, it is the season and coming tomorrow is a list of Six Traditional Pieces of Christmas Animation, but today’s post is about four, non-Traditional pieces of Christmas animation.
What could that possibly mean?
Well, on TV around Christmas, the normal programming schedules get scrapped in favour of showing films, and lots of them. Less so in recent years, but still quite prevalent (at least in Ireland and the UK), these films are a great mix of family fare and films that you wouldn’t normally see at other times of the year, such as Spinal Tap and pretty much any Mel Brooks film. I once tried to explain to the fiancée that Irish people’s favourite Christmas film was almost consistently polled to be Back to the Future for the very reason that’s it’s a Christmas staple. She called me weird.
So, without further adieu, here’s the top four non-Traditional Christmas films:
Why did the lead character have to be female? Well, it doesn’t look truthful if the guy has power like that! Women are able to straddle both the real world and the other world — like mediums…..It isn’t the swordplay that Nausicäa is good at, it’s that she understands both the human world and the insect world. No animals feel danger in approaching her; she’s able to totally erase her sense of presence, existence. Males, they are aggressive, only in the human sphere — very shallow! (Laughs) So it had to be a female character.
Spirited Away is one of my favourite films for the simple reason that it has a lot going for it. A great coming-of-age story, a quirky yet layered set of characters, fantastic animation that stays true to traditional methods while incorporating digital technology and a superb score by Joe Hisaishi all combine to make it a very enjoyable film yet at the same time remain an emotional tale.
Its hard to believe its now 10 years old but it is. A true testament to the deftness and skill of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. John Lasseter also deserves an honourable mention for handling the better than usual English dub.
This is the second in a series of posts in which I explain why I respect certain people in the animation industry and why you should do the same.
Do you really need me to explain why I respect the greatest animation director alive today?
How about a long and varied history of making animated films of the best quality? How about being the single biggest force in helping anime films attain popularity in the US? (Yeah, Akira helped too but Hayao’s films appeal to everyone).
Hayao Miyazaki’s output at Studio Ghibli has mesmerized the world for over 25 years and shows no sign of stopping. That is not why I respect the man though.
No, I respect him for his devotion to animation as a storytelling medium. Much more than that is his devotion to traditional animation as a storytelling medium. In an age when the computer has conquered production, he remains lovingly committed to the paper and pencil.
Besides that, Miyazaki’s films remain fascinating studies in character. Yes, the animation is superb, but that is always a sideshow to the characters and their story, on whose level we always see the film.
Hayao Miyazki is more than worthy to be included on the list of people I respect.