Friday, December 1, 2023

Umfeld, 2007

This film is a mostly abstract film just under and hour in length. It's an audiovisual trip. First off, this film is not for epileptics or people sensitive to quick, contrastive imagery. That Pokemon episode that gave people seizures has nothing on this movie. You've been warned.

The film was directed as an interplay between music and visuals with Scott Pagano doing the visuals and Speedy J doing the music.

This film has 8 movements. Each movement has a generalized style of motion. Some shake back and forth, some pulse like a heart, some crossing imagery. I won't say too much because it will ruin the surprise to those who watch it. Unlike other abstract animated films which are more like a progressive dance through visual elements, this one is more convulsive like a more focused early night dream sequence. There are windows and other fragments of technical structures that occasionally appear so the film isn't fully abstract.

I don't think it's going to be everybody's cup of tea, being rather back and forth and convulsive compared to other abstract or experimental animations, and in its similarity at times to visions one experiences when one can't quite fully fall asleep, but I really enjoyed it. I give it an 8 out of 10.

If you want to check it out, I'll embed it here and you can then choose to watch it on YouTube. I hope that one or both filmmakers make another feature length project. Scott Pagano's website

Check out the movie or the other work of either Scott Pagano or Speedy J. Once I find another gem I'll be back again.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Thematic Trajectory: Mamoru Hosoda

 What about the other Mamoru? Oshii has a very large output but I excluded him for two reasons: One, his output contained more franchise films than original or adapted works, and two he seems to have dove into live action more recently.

So, what is the trajectory of Mamoru Hosoda like? Well, before going into feature films, he started on shorts in the Digimon franchise and did a couple other projects like Kitaro short and Superflat Monogram. His first film, One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island was similar in some ways to Miyazaki's Castle of Cagliostro in that it's based on a TV series but takes it in a different stylistic direction. I can't find the film available in English so I'll just say that it's a cartoony sort of fantasy.

His breakout film, though, was The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It's a sci fi adaptation, screen written by Satoko Okudera, and is set in a relatively current version of Tokyo. It is more of a straightforward story than Hosoda's later films. Personally I find it a bit too traditionally anime with the characters but I'm sure others will disagree. After this film, comes Summer Wars. It had the same screenwriter and was his last film at Madhouse. This film is science fiction again but is his first internet oriented sci fi movie. It arguably panders too much to male anime fans but I like it regardless because it has some of the most in depth character drama of any of his films. This film starts to crystalize some of his traits as a filmmaker by staying in the present day for one and keeping the focus on everyday people but not so everyday situations.

His next film, the last written by Okudera, was The Wolf Children. This is the first film made at Studio Chizu and is a fantasy film about a woman who raises two children after the death of her partially wolf husband. It deals with her children slowly growing up and finding their way and how she deals with it as well. This film is notable for being fantasy instead of sci fi like his last two films but also for a more rural setting for most of the film which is like Summer Wars in that respect. The next film, The Boy and the Beast, Hosoda wrote himself. It's a film about a boy who is raised in the world of beasts by a fighter of a hairy beast. It has good visuals but the characters aren't too interesting. The next film, Mirai, also written by him, has better characters but a stop and go storyline. It's a family oriented fantasy about a boy who learns things with the help of other members of his family, from the past, and through his older baby sister from the future, whose name also means Future in Japanese.

For his most recent film, Hosoda combines Summer Wars with Beauty and the Beast. This film has its flaws too, but in my opinion, is the best of the films that he's written himself. It is called a 'science fantasy' film on Wikipedia. It's appropriate because it focuses largely on fantasy beings inside of the web world and because some of the technology is a bit too futuristic for the time it's set in. It's a bit drab and the characters are often a bit too tropey again, but it's got some very compelling drama that somewhat makes up for it.

So with Hosoda, he went from a fantasy franchise film, did two films in science fiction, branched out into fantasy, only with one that's partially set in a different world, and otherwise kept focused on contemporary real world stories. And then went back from fantasy to a more science fantasy story. Hosoda's filmography has one thing in common with Miyazaki and Takahata by ending with fantasy, at least for the moment but shows more sci fi commitment than the films of either of them, or from Makoto Shinkai.

Thematic Trajectory: Hayao Miyazaki

I'd like to talk about for a bit, the thematic trajectory of anime directors for a post. I don't want to focus too much on anime, but let's face it, they're the only industry with directors with long careers. First there's Hayao Miyazaki. I will focus mainly on his feature films but his other works are important as well, though they're not my primary focus here.

First he made a TV series called Future Boy Conan which was sci fi. He started off in films with a cartoony caper film based off of an animated franchise which was based itself on a manga. Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro. His second film was, as most people know, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind which was futuristic sci fi again. After that, Studio Ghibli was founded and he directed its first film, Laputa Castle in the Sky. Here there is a notable switch from science fiction to a semi-post apocalyptic fantasy. In Nausicaa he focuses on teenagers and adults, in Laputa on children among adults, and in My Neighbor Totoro he focuses on two young sisters and switches to a recent past historical setting with fantasy elements. It's interesting how he switches from sci fi to fantasy in his films. Perhaps he wanted to do something different from the Nausicaa manga which he finished in the early 90's and was thus working on concurrently.

Then came Kiki's Delivery Service, originally supposed to be directed by Sunao Katabuchi. It was the first film of Miyazaki's with actual magic human characters. It was recent historical fiction again, this time set in a war-free Europe instead of Japan where My Neighbor Totoro was set. After this came Porco Rosso which was again set in historical Europe around the Adriatic Sea. This film was about a former war pilot who has a nose shaped like a pig's, possibly for abandoning his fellow pilots. It is a film which is dramatic, cartoony and historical. It is primarily for adults unlike his last several films. It seems at this point that Miyazaki is willing to set a film in the relatively recent past, the present, or far future and it can range from sci fi to cartoony real life to fantasy. 

For the next few years he will work on other projects but come back to feature film with Princess Mononoke, made based on an earlier manga but which evolved into a very different movie. This is Miyazaki's first film set before the 20th century and is fantasy again, but Medieval Japanese fantasy and squarely tackles the theme of human civilization and its tension with nature. The film uses more Japanese mythology than any of his earlier films, though Isao Takahata's film, Pom Poko, does so first in a present day setting. Spirited Away takes many themes explored in Princess Mononoke and Pom Poko but goes a step further into a realm of spirits that exists in the modern day. Miyazaki's next two films, Howl's Moving Castle, set in a fantastical Medieval Europe, and Ponyo, set in the modern day Japan but with oceanic magic in a film aimed at children like My Neighbor Totoro, seem to be caught under the cape of Spirited Away with their further explorations of its magical themes. Though Howl's was originally supposed to be directed by Mamoru Hosoda.

He then worked mainly in a supervisory role after Ponyo, but returned to the director's chair for The Wind Rises which combines reality with historical fiction. And now he's working on his last film which is based on a book which he read as a child. So basically, thematically, Miyazaki started with a caper, went into sci fi, gradually transitioned into deeper and deeper fantasy themes only to end up working an exaggerated historical biography until his last film which we've yet to see.

Thematic Trajectory: Makoto Shinkai

 Makoto Shinkai started out on video games before releasing his shorter film, Voices from a Distant Star. A sci fi love story. Even though it's not quite feature length, it is an important stepping stone in his fulltime transition into anime. His first feature film, The Place Promised In Our Early Days, combines friendships lost and renewed over time, and romance in an alternate divided Japan. The next film of his, 5 Centimeters Per Second, loses the sci fi themes and deals with romantic feelings lost over time as two people lose their connections.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a fantasy film. It deals with death and fantastical realms. After this film, Shinkai released The Garden of Words, a film under feature length by some standards. It is about a teenage boy who wants to be a shoemaker who comes to adore an older woman who is an unsure teacher avoiding class too. It is a film which starts to especially push the realism of setting which he is known for.

Next comes the film Your Name, the first of three high concept contemporary fantasy films that have made him a more popular director, being called the next Hayao Miyazaki, due to their popularity, though obviously his films are thematically very different to Miyazaki's. Weathering with You takes an especially unusual direction in that it is set in Tokyo, but a flooding Tokyo. Suzume no Tojomari is a fantasy about magical doors which need to be closed for the safety of people in Japan.

One thing that all most of Shinkai's works have in common is a focus on teenage love and the change in it over time, whether fulfilled or abandoned. And it's notable that like Miyazaki, he has started from sci fi, though more from video game roots than comic and manga roots, and then gone more into fantasy over time. He said that he wanted to get away from romance for this film and focus on female friendship but his producers meddled in the project and wasn't able to. I think it's a shame. Since I first started this post I've seen the film in theaters and it didn't quite live up to his past two films.

I only have one director outside of anime who has enough variety to deserve a thematic trajectory post: Francois Laguionie. I will publish the posts about other directors soon.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Thematic Trajectory: Isao Takahata

 Isao Takahata is the friend, collaborator, slight senior in age, and fellow director of Hayao Miyazaki who is known for his variety in filmmaking and television.

Takahata's first film directional credit was as the director of Horus Prince of the Sun. This was a historical fantasy adventure film and was a cornerstone in the foundation of modern anime's style. His next film, Chie the Brat, was a comedy drama set in Osaka about a girl, her dad, several cats and other members of her family based on a manga. The next film, Gauche the Cellist, is in a similarly semi-cartoon style but is based on a story by Kenji Miyazawa. It is a drama about a cellist who can't play his part quite right and is visited by forest animals in his country house. So a semi-fantasy drama.

After producing two films for Hayao Miyazaki, he directed Grave of the Fireflies, a drama about the life of two children trying to get by in Japan during World War 2. This film shows that Takahata was capable of dramatic range. For his next film he directed Only Yesterday. The film, based on a manga, was about a woman reflecting on her childhood while she was visiting relatives on her first trip to rural Japan. After that, he followed up a realistic relatively modern film with a cultural fantasy film, Pom Poko, based on Tanuki, giant racoon-like creatures that can shape shift using their scrotums. This film was a sad lament of how nature is being ruined by over-industrialization and urbanization as the tanuki fight against the development of their land with diminishing results.

After a few years away producing Isao Takahata returned with My Neighbors the Yamadas, a film that is not only cartoony but fully steeped in newspaper comic strip linear aesthetics. It uses computer drawn animation and 2D shaded 3D models to create a film unlike any before it.

Isao Takahata's last film, a long time in the making, was Tale of the Princess Kaguya, an adaptation of the well known Japanese fairy tale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. It is very stylistically similar to My Neighbors the Yamadas stylistically, though it's based on scroll paintings instead of a modern comic strip. This film falls more into a fantasy label than a cartoon because it's slightly more naturalistic and because it's a more serious film than MNtY.

So let's look at the progression. Started in mythological fantasy. Shifted to a mundane, for lack of a better word, cartoon. Made another cartoon but as a fairy tale. Made a hard shift to tragic realism. Then went to a more optimistic and modern realism. Then he made a fantasy film set in the everyday world. Then he took a hard turn and made a film with a comic strip style. And then he finally ended it all with his last film which is a fairy tale fantasy in a style that combines new and old visual styles. Of course that ignores his large TV output at Toei, Nippon Animation and elsewhere.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If I rushed something let me know. I wanted to get it out before the year ended in my time zone.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Cosmic Boy

 I got a hold of the movie Cosmic Boy from the Ottawa International Animation Festival's Aniboutique store.

Garoto Cósmico or Cosmic Boy

Directed by Alê Abreu

The premise is interesting enough. Kids from a monotonous automated planet where everything is controlled escape through shafts in order to find a way to score more 'points' and go to a 'grown up child' planet. They get lost and meet a mischievous cat who runs afoul of the authorities and they end up on a faraway planet with a circus visiting it. They learn of an evil fog monster that makes everything under its influence dreary and dull. You can probably guess much of the rest, if not just from my partial synopsis then from the images in the trailer.

The film is creative but it suffers from some often annoying characters  like the clown Moe Moe(may have the name slightly wrong) and limited animation. Also the plot is fairly predictable from about halfway through. I give it a 6 out of 10 for good effort but Abreu's second film, The Boy and the World is a clear improvement with a more fully realized art style and a less silly premise.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Story Sources of Animated Features before Walt's Death and Russian Feature Slowdown


Snow White- Fairy Tale

Pinocchio-Fairy tale-esque book

Fantasia- Musical works

Dumbo- Toy novelty book

Reluctant Dragon- live action propaganda and a short story

Bambi- Book

Saludos Amigos- anthology

Three Caballeros- anthologyR

Make Mine Music- anthology

Fun and Fancy Free- anthology

Melody Time- anthology

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad-novel segment and short story

Cinderella-Brothers Grimm version of fairy tale

Alice in Wonderland- two fantasy novels from Lewis Carrol 

Peter Pan- Based off of book based on play

Lady and the Tramp- Based off of book

Sleeping Beauty- Based off of fairy tale

101 Dalmatians- Based off of book

The Sword in the Stone- based off of book based on legend


The Lost Letter- Nikolai Gogol short story from a collection

The Hunchbacked Horse- Based on a poem

The Night Before Christmas -Based on Gogol short story

The Scarlet Flower- based on Russian adapted fairy tale Beauty and the Beast

The Snow Maiden- based on play which is turn based on folk tales

The Enchanted Boy- Based on Swedish novel

The Twelve Months-based on fairy tale play

The Snow Queen- Based on Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale

Beloved Beauty- based on Russian folk tales

The Adventures of Buratino- Adaptation of Russian adapted version of Pinocchio

It Was I Who Drew the Little Man- Expanded version of an animated morality tale

The Key- original fairy tale

The Wild Swans- Based on Hans Christian Andersen

Left Hander- Based on Nikola Lesov story


There are many similarities between Disney's story sources and those of Soyuzmultfilm. They both used fairy tales, short stories and books for their content and during this period they both had little use of original stories. Soyuzmultfilm only produced two original stories both of which are light propaganda, and Disney only did their original storytelling in short segments of anthologies. For Disney there is some variety early on but followed by economic decline where the films are all anthologies until the company returns to fairy tales and book adaptations.

Visually the Disney films are for a large part superior to the Soyuzmultfilm ones if we compare the prewar Disney films to the tail end of war Soyuzmultfilm ones. They both have  visual slumps, Disney after Bambi's release and Soyuzmultfilm during the Stalin period though I'd say that Soyuzmultfilm has an edge story-wise due to Disney's lack of focused storytelling during the time. Visually, however, the Soviet films are edged out by Disney until the 60's where the lack of experimentation in characters and media begins to show.

Towards the end, around the mid to late 50's Soyuzmultfilm starts to edge out Disney in both storytelling and after a while visual innovation. They had two original stories in the 60's and while they didn't follow up those films like they probably should have, they made the experimental film Bath based on a play with very inventive visuals,  They made a stop motion film and a cutout film and there would be a notable followup after this period I'm restricting this post to ends.

Russian animated features start to happen less regularly from here on out though they produced some real gems in the 80's before the Soviet Union collapsed and quality animation with it while Disney produced animal movie after movie but managed to recover with the Silver Age of animation, as it's known, before 3D CGI started to take over the industry from hand drawn animated films.

Recently, however, three Russian directors who started their careers in the USSR have made stop motion features.

Stanislav Sokolov with Hoffmaniada, Garri Bardin with The Ugly Duckling, and Andrei Khrzhanovsky with The Nose or the Conspiracy of Mavericks.