There's an excellent discussion at the AniPages message boards about the role of the auteur director in Japanese anime. It's a terrific discussion that began earlier in the fall, but you owe it to yourself to check in and read everything. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the insights from an actual, real-life animation filmmaker (hint: Tikkon Kinkreet).
Naturally, since the role of director came up, I had to highlight the master himself, Mr. Takahata. Here's my post, in case you're interested. Continue the discussion here, or on your own blogs. I'm looking forward to your insights, as always...
This is an excellent discussion! I feel sorry for having missed out
on so much of it. This is just about the best animation reading I've found
online in some time.
If you're going to talk about the auteur theory and the role of film
director in Japanese animation, it's absolutely crucial to focus on Japan's
greatest animation director of them all - Isao Takahata. His work is
essential viewing not just for anime fans, but for Westerners looking for that
crucial new inspiration in helping our animation styles evolve.
I argue (and I'm pretty sure Ben Ettinger argues this too) pretty
fervently that Horus, Prince of the Sun ushered in the modern anime era, that
moment when Japan's animation made the critical break from the West and became
its own unique entity. All of the hallmarks of the later classics are
there: the literary quality, the depth of characters, the focus on psychology
and the inner mind, the emotional range, and, of course, the battle by the Toei
crew to break fully from the Disney model. And anime's visual language,
it's jazz-like tempo shifts and compositions and movements, is given
birth. It's really a spectacular movie to watch; even with all the battle
For me, modern anime is forged from the old Toei crew - Miyazaki and
Takahata are now world-famous, but their peers are equally brilliant and should
burn in the minds of all animation lovers. Otsuka, Mori, Kotabi, Okuyama,
Ota (heyyy...what exactly did Akemi Ota do on Horus?), yadda yadda.
Takahata is not an animator, and this distinction always stands out for
us on this side of the pond, although he insists this was common practice when
he was coming of age in the 1960's. It's impossible to think of an
American animation film - real animation, not just the Zemekis motion-capture
approach - where the director isn't a craftsman as well. Maybe that's more
due to our style. Bugs Bunny ain't exactly auteur. But Takahata
brought the great directors to animation - Renoir, Bergman, Welles, Ozu - and
challenged live cinema on its own terms.
I remember Roger Ebert commenting on Grave of the Fireflies, noting
that the movie couldn't be possible as a live-action movie. The reality of
the actors would clash too harshly with the archetypes and what they
represent. In a sense, animation succeeds in connecting to us emotionally
because it's more iconic, more abstract. You can do human drama that's
more involving; just in the way expressionist art succeeds where photography
fails. Could Van Gogh succeed as a photographer? Perhaps. But
that inner dimension into the mind wouldn't be there.
I know it's hard for animation and anime fans to point to these three
programs, but I think they sit at the top of the entire Takahata/Miyazaki
canon. These are the three World Masterpiece Theatre series produced in
the '70s - Heidi, Girl of the Alps; 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother; Anne of
Green Gables. I don't brag nearly enough about these three on my Ghibli
blog, but they are absolutely essential viewing for anyone remotely interested
in animation. Goes double if you work in animation.
Oh, and great job in calling out Animal Treasure Island. That's
the craziest, wildest pirate movie I've ever seen. It just blazes. I
like it even more (if only a little) than Puss in Boots, the definitive anime
comedy. Ben Ettinger is right - Miyazaki's pirate battle is required study
for all aspiring animators.