Isao Takahata's Objective Style, Part III

Alright, it's time for part three of our Takahata Isao discussion. I think by now I've given you a clear indication of the Western subjective storytelling style, and just what I have in mind when I use the term. This is pretty much the dominant method of telling stories, both in live-action and animation, but especially in animation. Now let's take a look at the alternative.

Takahata is the great champion of objective storytelling. By this I mean a number of things. First and foremost, objectivism rejects the notion of a central character as a void, a black hole into which we pour ourselves. It rejects the notion of the tour-guide hero, with whom we are meant to almost solely identify with.

I guess a better way to think of objectivism is to think of distance. We do not inhabit the inner minds and souls of the hero. We take a step back, and observe them from a distance. We are not so completely detached that we lose all emotional connection. On the contrary, by becoming objective we can embrace characters and stories that are far more emotionally involving and intimate than the subjective style can achieve.

The subjective hero charges at the screen, at us, desperately screaming, "Hey! Love me! Pay some attention to me!" It is a cry of desperation. "I can tell jokes and stories! I'll sing and dance for you! We can learn...(cue violins)...valuable mowal wessons!! Love me! I used to do standup!! I used to be famous!!"

Subjective cartoon characters is where overripe comics go when they die. Remember when Robin Williams was funny? Remember when Eddie Murphy was dangerous? Remember when Carrot Top got more attention than Bill Hicks?

Oops, sorry 'bout that last one. It's always been a thorn in my side. Now that I think about it, Carrot Top should do animated cartoons. He's been a desperate cartoon character all his life.

Takahata's objective hero is not any of those. They are complex, fully fleshed-out human beings, full of the qualities, gifts and foibles that we all possess. They are the characters from literature, the characters from Shakespeare. They do not rush to meet us, desperate for our approval. They live their lives completely and fully, just as we live as seperate beings.

We meet the objective hero on his terms. Not ours. That's probably the key statement.

Takahata has keenly noted that the best literary characters are beloved because of this, because they exist at a slight distance from us. We identify with them because they remind us of ourselves. They are not a black hole that we inhabit. This hero is a person that we befriend.

I'm pretty thouroughly convinced that this is the most important trait of Takahata's works. This is the most important lesson that we can learn. I've written and raged many times about the current state of Western movies, and American animation in particular. We've all been doing this, most of all the many skilled writers, artists, and filmmakers who work in the animation industry. We're not happy with the current arrangement. Nobody's needs are being met - neither the audience nor the artists. And, eventually, as the marketplace becomes saturated with a sea of cheap imitators, the needs of the businessmen will be unmet. We need to change the current course if we are to have any kind of a future.

Employing the objective style just may be that key.

Let's take a quick look at some of the advantages of objectivism, and I'll have to go into detail on the next posts this weekend. But here's the short-short version:

- Better defined characters that portray greater depth. Characters with a wider dramatic range, with more complexity.

- A greater attention to realism, both through characters and through the dramatic form. Needless to say, cheesy melodrama will have to go by the wayside. We're going to have to produce better scripts.

- Stories that demonstrate greater respect for the audience. Films that demand the audience's attention and their intelligence. These are not escapist amusement park rides. If you want cheap thrills, then play Nintendo (and even Nintendo's giving you a real workout these days).

- Multiple points-of-view. Freed from the need to place the hero at the center of the universe, we can now present the world through more eyes. We can see everything in greater detail, with more complexity and luminosity this way.

- The hero can be shown to possess faults. They can say or do things that earn our criticism. They can be flawed human beings. They can make mistakes. We can disagree with their choices, and understand just why the mistakes were made. In fact, objectivism requires central characters to possess faults and failings.

These are the short bullet points I wanted to highlight this time. We'll go into detail on each one, giving examples from Takahata's work. I also want to touch on his other main characteristics, from his documentary realism, attention to human drama, emotion, and psychology. Time's up, once again! Gotta go!

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