The Man Who Walked Between the Towers


Michael Sporn is a long-time animator with his own animation studio in New York. His studio is responsible for a long string of award-winning short films, usually adapted from popular children's books. A few months ago, he was kind enough to send me a DVD copy of his most recent film, 2005's The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Based upon a great illustrated book, the movie captures a sense of pencil and watercolor nostalgia. It tells the story of a performance artist who famously tied a tightrope between the then-newly built World Trade Center towers, then danced and frolicked between the towers.

As an artist (or at least a good substitute for a real artist), I enjoy the look of this movie, its illustrative style, like the pages of the book sparkled with life. It reminds me of all the terrific animation I used to watch as a child on a USA Network show called "Calliope," of The Wild Things and Phil Harmonic and Carol King looking for Chicken Soup.

I've wanted to repay Mr. Sporn's kind efforts for some time, to repay the gesture. So I put the DVD burner to good use, and sent over a "care package" last week. Any day now, the Michael Sporn Animation studio should recieve the following (drum roll...this is just like Christmas!):

  • Horus, Prince of the Sun (1968)
  • The Flying Ghost Ship (1969)
  • The original Lupin III series, 23 episodes (1971-2)
  • 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, 52 episodes (1976)
  • Future Boy Conan, 26 episodes (1978)
  • Anne of Green Gables, 50 episodes (1979)
  • Goshu the Cellist (1982)
  • The Story of the Yanagawa Waterways (1987)
  • Omohide Poro Poro (1991)
  • Yasuo Otsuka's Joy in Motion (2004)
Yay! Happy Channukah!

A few extra notes for those playing at home. Quite a lot of this is only possible thanks to the efforts of the fansub community. These are kids who dig anime enough to translate the scripts and provide English-language subtitles, making them available over the internet. Horus, Flying Ghost Ship, Lupin III, Future Boy Conan, Anne - these are only available to us from the fansubs. So they all deserve our deepest thanks; without them, I doubt we would ever discover any of these gems.

The others are copies of DVDs I've purchased from online retailers like YesAsia, which I rely upon to fill out my collection. I chose these because they're unlikely to become available in the US anytime soon. Omohide Poro Poro, as a Studio Ghibli film, is part of the Disney distribution deal, but they don't intend to release the film in the States. You will never see that movie in the States with a Disney label on the box. This is deeply frustrating, since I consider it to be Ghibli's - and Takahata's - masterpiece. It needs to be seen.

I wrote about the 3000 Leagues (Marco) box sets in one of this blog's first entries. It comes from China, and is the only release anywhere in the world to include English subtitles. A fansub group has assembled the first seven episodes, but progress is slow, and anime geeks want Naked Chicks and Robots, not heartbreaking drama. This is the only version we'll have for some time. I also made copies of the DVD covers and bought some blank cases, which is something I do when I make DVDs for the family at Christmas time.

While I'm clearly against piracy (and I'm obviously on the side of the artists in the eternal war between artists and suits), I'm eager to spread the word and share great animated productions like these. I look at these and wonder, why not us? Why can't we create something similar to Heidi, Marco, and Anne? Where's our Goshu the Cellist? Where's our Poro Poro? Animation is capable of so much more than the public is being served, and there are so many talented artists who could help us evolve out of the muck. My hope is that exposure to a Takahata, a Miyazaki, an Otsuka, a Kondo, will become a crucial source of inspiration for American animators.

Each generation has its great film movement. Other people had Kurosawa and Ozu, the French New Wave, the Italian Neo-Realists. This is the great movement of our times, and we need to learn, to adapt, to evolve. We're capable of more than bad sitcom cliches and music video segues and endlessly cynical product tie-ins. We deserve better, and our children deserve better. If I have to share what I've seen with every single animation studio on this continent, so help me Almighty God, I'll do just that.

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