Takahata's Objective Style

Okay, I'm going to try to be as quick as possible, since I have the use of the Dunn Bros. Coffeeshop computer for 15 minutes. I wanted to get into this topic last month before getting sidetracked (yet again), but it's a pretty beefy topic, and will probably require multiple posts.

(BTW, the space bar on this keyboard isn't working too well. Please bear with me.)

One of the essential texts that should be in the hands of all visual artists - painters, cartoonists, animators, filmmakers, what haveyou - is ScottMcCloud's "Understanding Comics." It's also crucial for anyone who wants to understand the visual arts, and appreciate how the modern-day meduims of cartooning and animation stem back to the roots of our written language. In short, you need this book, or graphic novel, if you will. Ipersonally place it alongside Miyazaki's Nausicaa manga and Art Spiegelman's Maus as the crowning masterpieces of the graphic novel.

Now, one important point Scott McCloud teaches is the reason why the cartoon character has such a universal appeal. In short - and this really is the short, short version of this - it is the iconic nature of the cartoon that creates its subjective appeal. We identify with Bugs Bunny. We identify with Mickey Mouse. We pour ourselves into the characters, and the more iconic, the more abstract - think of a smiley face - the more universal. So goes the theory. As a drawn character becomes more realistic, it becomes more distant, more objective. We aren't called upon toidentify with it as much.

The best cartonists have tried to strike a balance, depending on what they wanted to communicate. From Sunday morning comics, to Jack Kirby's superheroes, to theavant garde of underground and foreign comics. This is the general rule.

Now, animation, by its nature - that is to say, the technical means it is made - requires characters tobe somewhat iconic and abstract. It's partly because this is easier to create, and this is also very largely because of Walt Disney's early experiments in the early days of cartoons. He and his animators learned, through trial and error, how to effectively create characters that audiences could identify with and connect to.

This touches upon another crucial subject that I need to really get into, the issue of movement and character being defined through action. It's arguably the most significant break between the animation style in America, and what evolved in Japan during its evolution (1950's and 1960's) into modern anime.

Anyway, the key thing here to pay attention to is that American animation isbuilt upon the notion of subjective storytelling. You have a central character, or a small collection of characters, thatyou are called upon to identify with and connect to. This is pretty much how we do things here.

However, the Japanese master Isao Takahata, the leader of the Horus Rebellion in 1968, has always staked a different view. His philosophy has been largely built around the rejection of the subjective model. Instead, he embraced a notion of objective animation storytelling. It's very different from the Western notion of "objectivity" and it carries its own traits. And I believe, personally, that this is absolutely essential for us to understand if we are ever to understand Takahata, as well as his peers like Miyazaki.

Oh, look! Time's up! I've gotta go! Sorry. We'll have to continue this, hopefully tomorrow, and go into greater detail. For now, here's your homework assignment - watch the last episode of Anne of Green Gables again. Take note to how the characters are portrayed. Ask yourself, how is this different, structurally, from American animation. How is this version of Anne different from the Canadian television series?

We'll pick up on this again. Take care!


Chris Sobieniak said...

Damn, now I really need to watch the episodes again! :-)

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