Takahata's Objective Style, Part II

Alright, now for another (hopefully) quick installment of our little Takahata chat. Another 15-20 minutes at Dunn Bros in Uptown Minneapolis.

Anyway, I was highlighting the subjective narration that dominates Western animation. It's dependent to a great extent on what Scott McCloud descibes as the icon, that simple, abstract figure that becomes a black hole into which we pour ourselves into. We identify with Bugs Bunny, we want to be just like Bugs, and to an extent, we are. We are inhabiting the cartoon and comic character.

This is especially prevalent in animation, which mixes iconic characters with detailed backgrounds. There are a variety of artistic styles to choose from, ranging from naturalistic (Bambi) to stylized (Chuck Jones) to the surreal and psychedelic (all those cartoon shorts from the '70s on Sesame Street). Then, most cynically, there are the cartoons which are little more than overt toy commercials and propaganda for a whole line of cheesy merchandise. Into this circle of hell we will throw most afternoon cartoon shows, and, sadly, most of today's feature-film animation.

The key to subjective narration is the primary focus on the main character. Because we inhabit the hero, in a sense, they can become our tour guide, our archetype, through the dream worlds within. We are being taken through the lands of Middle Earth, or Bambi's forest, or inside the belly of a whale. And there's little doubt who we are supposed to root for. The world ofthe story literally revolves around the hero.

An excellent example for us - and this is perfect because it stretches outside animation - is the Canadian television productions of Anne of Green Gables. I'm thinking of the live-action version from the '80s, and not that animated cartoon that slogged its way onto PBS (why couldn't PBS instead carry, say, Heidi?) that we're all best to forget. This Anne is rooted very firmly in subjective storytelling. In this production, Anne Shirley is our heroine. She's the one we can most identify with.

It's not a matter of choosing whom to identify with; by subjectifying the main character, this simple isn't possible. Everything is perceived from her point-of-view. All of the adults are seen from her eyes, from her perspective. This is probably the easiest path to take when adapting Maude Mongomery's novel, since it's mostly comprised of Anne's chatty dialog. You could probably do a one-woman play about Anne without missing much.

For me, I think this was the secret reason I never liked the Canadian Anne. I saw it in 8th Grade English class, which was around the time that Anne first aired. The girls in the classroom, naturally, loved it. They cheered with Anne, their own personal savior. The boys were mostly bored. For me, the reason I couldn't enjoyit was because of theway all the adult characters were portrayed. Marilla Cuthbert, most ofall, was an ogre, a menacing, frightening figure that towered over your head. I could never relate to her as an actual person. I still cannot.

Marilla was depicted the way that Anne would see, or, more precisely, theway the filmmakers want you to see her as you identify with Anne's point-of-view. Marilla and everyone else could never be seen as anything else than emotional sketches to boo or cheer in tune with Anne's fortunes. This is all too often the way these kinds of stories are told, and to be perfectly honest, I find it opressive. It's not honest, and it's not fair. This is an easier way to write, so I cannot fault anyone for choosing this path, but it is ultimately less rewarding.

In the hands of the worst offenders - hell, everything that hit theatres last year - this is beyond patronizing. It is manipulation.

As is so happens, Isao Takahata holds nearly the same view. He's devoted his career to moving in the opposite direction, into the realm of objective storytelling. When you consider the iconic nature of animation, this is a radical break. Perhaps it's merely an extension of the cinema that stronly influenced him - Renoir, Fellini, French New Wave, and of course Ozu. But I think there's more at play here.

Next time, I'll go into greater detail, and I'll explain how Takahata uses objective storytelling to create the definitive Anne. Time's up! Gotta go!


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