AniPages Thoughts on Animation Directors

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
scars visible.

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.


Anonymous said...

Wow, amazing discussion! Thanks for the hint! The post would have been perfect if you included the link ;-)

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but did you ever buy this
(The Anne of Green Gables DVD box set)? Are there english subtitles? I know it says there isn't on the site, but since there english subs on the Marco boxset and the are by the same compagny I thought they might have enteres wrong data?

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Thanks for the comment, Klaus. I forgot about the link to the discussion thread, so I made sure to add it back in.

As for Squeak's question about Anne, I just checked the site this week, since I'm planning to buy some Marco box sets for gifts. The website says that the Anne DVD box doesn't include English subtitles, and I've never had any reason to doubt them. The Heidi set doesn't include English subs. Then again, 3000 Leagues does have them. Weird. It's a pretty inconsistent thing, and I really don't understand why this was the case. Some of the WMT series include subtitles, and some don't.

This isn't a problem for us, as far as Anne is concerned. Remember, we have the Anne of Green Gables fansubs, which are freely available via the links on this blog. It's only a matter of clicking a few links and downloading. Then you can watch on your computer, or burn to a DVD and watch on your television. It's all very easy.

One final note: I mentioned some time ago that I was scheming to press those Anne fansubs onto DVDs and share them around. It was pretty ambitious, actually, considering this was a zero-budget project. But I've found that so many DVD players have problems working with DVD-R's, that it wasn't worth it. Why these series aren't available commercially remains a puzzling mystery. Perhaphs only the biggest players (Disney, Dreamworks) could afford to assemble an American voice cast, which would likely be mandatory for any chance of success.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong on this, and you could succeed with only subtitles. Maybe that's something to bring families together. But I don't have the money to find out either way.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the swift answer. I've been downloading like crazy for the last few days, but the still, It would be nice with a DVD box you could give as a gift (I know a few girls who I'm shure would love Anne of Green Gables).
Also the A/V quality is better, and it's a better conversation piece to have people see the box for themselves in your DVD collection, than having to bring it up yourself. ;-)

I've already ordered Marco though and I want to thank you sincerily for bringing to my attention these excellent pre-Gibli Isao Takahata series and Hols, not to forget. I've heard of them before, but always brushed them off as 2nd rate TV bread and butter animation. Oh my was I ever wrong! Takahata is every bit the genius Miyazaki is.

Anonymous said...

If anyone knows where I could buy Heidi, Girl of the Alps with English Subtitles, please let me know. I only found 1 on yesasia for $500.00. Help me out.

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