#25g : Robot Carnival : Cloud

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

RCg_1Cloud is perhaps the most controversial of the Robot Carnival collection. Now for a little personal bias, Cloud is my favorite segment. Yet why is Cloud controversial? Mainly due to the strict minimalism of this short. Cloud exists as flashes of images and scenes that drift by (kind of like clouds?) while a little boy is just walking along. There is no plot per se, no story, just images set to music. Some may say Cloud to be boring and even skip over it in the process. Yet I ask you to look again. View cloud in one of two ways. First it is the most art for art’s sake production of Robot Carnival. Treat it more as a piece of fine art, to be looked at, questioned and absorb one’s self into the imagination of creator Mao Lamdo (Manabu Ōhashi). And second, view this as an example of meditation. Sit back, relax and take in what is being seen and go with it.

RCg_2The imagery and the entirety of Cloud could be seen as an innocent dream of a young boy out one day just looking up at the clouds and giving into the wonder. While steeped in a very simple format, the artwork is very fluid and organic with a great sense of care given to the line work. So much in entertainment asks us to go on a wild ride, get into a fast paced mood and expect the images themselves to be just ephemeral ghosts that fly by not to be held in one’s hand or heart for more than a blink of an eye. Cloud asks us to slow down, observe, take in and view life and our world with our senses without any judgements.

Robot Carnival entry index:

  1. Opening
  2. Franken’s Gears
  3. Deprive
  4. Presence
  5. Starlight Angel
  6. Cloud
  7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
  8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
  9. Ending

#141 : The Dagger of Kamui

You love ninja and samurai stories, I love ninja and samurai stories… we all love a good ninja or samurai story. Here in the west we have the epics of ancient Europe and the American western to delight our tastes in mythology, but for some of us there is a draw from an alternate source, the native myths of the East. Anime’s representation of a skilled man (or woman) is numerous: Naruto, Rurouni Kenshin and Ninja Scroll just to name a few. But what if we can marry the samurai genre with the western genre into a film? Yup, that’s been done before… ever heard of 1985’s The Dagger of Kamui?

DoK_1Even if one is not much into action, ninja skills, or sword mastery, The Dagger of Kamui can still be a worthy watch; even if only just once! The Dagger of Kamui equates the definition of the big epic expensive action film, with an art house twist. Big… no no no… more like say, HUGE! Take a break my friends because this is one of those long journeys that spans Japan, Russia and then the wild west of America. Now that is quite a tour! You even get to meet historic figures like Geronimo and Mark Twain too. What?! And this is still considered a ninja, or samurai film? Or perhaps the ultimate shonen fighter? That may be stretching it, but does it matter? Nah, not at all. Just remember, to tell a large epic journey will take some time and this film is long, two plus hours long. And no intermission either (except the pause button, shh! it’s a secret), so be prepared.

DoK_2The Dagger of Kamui is a great example of ‘the hero’s journey’. The Hero with a Thousand Faces has now reached 1,001; a quick nod to you Joseph Campbell! Our hero is Jiro who is in no better terms, a bastard. He is an illegitimate child adopted into a loving family and also an individual whose heritage is partly Ainu, the native culture of Japan that was once frowned upon. Needless to say the kid is not well liked, or respected for no fault of his own except the ignorance of those around him. These elements don’t help when Jiro returns home to find his mother and sister murdered. Take a guess who gets the blame with no due process? With a dagger in hand that will unlock many clues of his origins and destiny, Jiro goes on the run to at first find the murderer of his family and then… well, that’s the beauty of being on a quest… it’s open to discovery beyond imagination.

DoK_3The story may be huge, the music is funky, with electric guitar and traditional Japanese drumming, but the visuals are a sight to behold. This is one gorgeous movie. Backgrounds are lush. Motion is fluid. Colors are bold. The fight scenes are like expressionist paintings that have come to life that could easily pass as a psychedelic experience. No surprise really as this was made at Madhouse, a studio which seems to have two quality settings in the visual department… amazing and fantastic. That and with a director like Rintaro, the ocular experience triples if not quadruples with his use of editing, color and dynamics. Let me go back to the fight scenes again. They are not like the usual brawl. Think more in terms of a well choreographed dance in a lucid dream you can only have at midnight where all around is magic and wonder to behold and see. Conflict becomes poetic art; danger becomes beautiful.

DoK_480s anime cinema has many standout choices. Many originate from well known directors, franchises, or are just at the right place at the right time. The Dagger of Kamui can fall into line with say the Fist of the North Star film for being a big action epic where our hero has to face up against a his major arch rival in the end, but The Dagger of Kamui is a completely different beast altogether. Some action films are just that, an action film. But there are those action films that are blessed to have been created by an auteur studio and an auteur director as well. There is something special about these movies, even though they can be a little long winded. The Dagger of Kamui is one wild ride!

#137 : The Chocolate Panic Picture Show

CPPS_1“Let’s do the time warp agai…” Oh wait!… wrong Picture Show. This is The Chocolate Panic Picture Show. The… what? I often like to search the dusty bins of odd ball OVA titles from the 1980s and I like goofy animator playhouse styled productions that are more valuable as strict visual art than the usual story based spectacle. And what we have here is a title that fits into both categories nicely, but I really have no clue what I just watched. For some, this would be a detriment, for me it’s makes me resort to my inner five year old… Again! Play it again! Play it again!!!

CPPS_2According to research The Chocolate Panic Picture Show was based on a manga based on the old film the Gods Must Be Crazy. AT the time of writing I have yet to see it in full and am only familiar with  clips and remembering the old VHS cover; very funny from what I have seen. From my eye I see similarities to a personal favorite, Birth in terms style. Character designs, spastic comedy, fluid motion and at times flat backgrounds. Then two and two come together under the name of artist and animator Yoshinori Kanada, who was instrumental to both projects. Also one cannot discount the name of Gainax. Apparently The Chocolate Panic Picture Show was Gainax’s first professional production. Hmm? I always thought it was Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise? I stand corrected.

Now according to the entry on My Anime List, which is a direct quote from McCarthy & Clements The Anime Encyclopedia, this is what the say about The Chocolate Panic Picture Show

“Jaw-droppingly racist musical in which grossly caricatured Africans Manbo, Chinbo, and Chonbo causes chaos in civilisation despite the efforts of their pretty tour guide/bedmate to tame their zany, grass-skirted cannibal ways.”

CPPS_3Racist? Maybe, but I didn’t see that way. Cannibal ways? I saw no cannibalism. And the three main characters have names? There is a hint of that at the end with the final song going over the credits, but who knew. … Unless I am missing something from the manga, all I got out of this half hour was surreal imagery on the par with being a close shave towards hard corps psychedelia. Funky music, bright colors and no concept of gravity, or any other law of physics are what you have to work with here. Now I know I see things differently than others some of the time, but The Chocolate Panic Picture Show from where I stand is nothing like the above quote. Of course until one sees this OVA in it’s entirety how will you know what it is? Maybe like reality, The Chocolate Panic Picture Show is what you perceive out of it. Nothing is mutually exclusive.

So in the end I don’t know just what The Chocolate Panic Picture Show means. Perhaps it just is what it is and that is all it needs to be. For me it’s like a rollercoaster ride into the bizarre and sublime, beyond verbal explanation and great to watch. Or, just listen to the music and DANCE! That’s all the explaining I need 🙂

#120 : Belladonna of Sadness

BoS_1On the surface you may think Belladonna of Sadness is some pornographic psychedelic fest of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll. Hedonism at it’s height and yet far from it. Yes this is an erotic movie, very sexual indeed at certain parts, though much of what is brought out through the sexual act is not pleasurable or idealized. With pleasure comes pain, much like any responsibility, including love. Belladonna of Sadness is a title for ‘mature’ adult audiences, told partially through an erotic perspective, with so much more going on that to dismiss this film as simply a wild psychedelic skin flick would be an injustice.

BoS_2Mix elements of The Beatles Yellow Submarine, Gustav Klimt, the Ryder Waite tarot deck (or maybe even Yoshitaka Amano’s deck… I use this one) and beautiful organic line work accented by watercolor fills and you get a general idea of the look of a tale of a Medieval maiden by the name of Jeanne (is it me or does she remind you of Fujiko Mine from Lupin III?). Recently married to her beloved Jean (a perfect pair of opposites/polarity?) the honeymoon is completely spoiled due to the kings need for taxes. When Jean is unable to pay the fees it is up to Jeanne to come up with a solution. Selling her soul to the Devil and exploring the dark night of the soul via sex and witchcraft, Jeanne soon becomes targeted as a witch. Yet she admired by the townspeople as she brings help to the suffering via her femininity and the use of belladonna, a nightshade that can be a medicine, hallucinogen, or poison depending on the dose. Now for the ultimate question, are Jeanne’s methods and new role, both of which exist outside the established patriarchal order, considered methods of evil, or balance?

BoS_3Belladonna of Sadness may be an anime, but it does not follow or accept the traditional look typical of Japanese animation as stated previously. The look is more akin to western sensibilities, yet I doubt any western studio would dare to give life to a project like Belladonna of Sadness. I give thanks and respect to Mushi Production and studio head Osamu Tezuka for creating such an uncompromising piece of art. The animation most of the time is sparse and at times is nonexistent in sections where the only movement was the action of scrolling long still collage images. Is this animation, or fine art passing as a film? Still shots could pass as canvased paintings much more so than just painted acetate cels. Much akin perhaps to Angel’s Egg, Belladonna of Sadness could belong in an art gallery setting instead of the usual theater venue.

BoS_4The original source material, a novel by Jules Michelet named La Sorcière (The Witch, though the title is better known as Satanism and Witchcraft) is unknown to me, but this did not block my own interpretations. Much of the themes reflect the history of the subjugation of the divine feminine and the fear of our more ancient principles and primal desires. The aspects of the darker subconscious, raw sexuality, the use of psychedelic substances as a way of altering ones consciousness and the worship of the feminine as supreme Goddess. Is the Goddess a witch, or a savior? …think Lilith, the untamed feminine. Reminds me of the Hindu goddess Kali… just what is God? SHE is darkness, the void, wild and terrifying beyond compare. The polar opposite to the Abrahamic ‘father’ image. In medieval European society and even still in our ‘modern’ cultures, much of what is listed above was and is still at times considered heresy. Yet this is only because that is what we have been told. Where is truth? How can such darkness be natural? And just what, or who is the Devil really?

Like any hallucination that takes the your mind, your ego, your essence into a different sphere of consciousness, viewing Belladonna of Sadness changes your perception of anime and perhaps even a part of yourself. Be gentle when viewing this film as mind blowing adventures always leaves something behind that you must take full responsibility for as it is now a part of your experience. Belladonna of Sadness is more than a movie, it’s a full blown awakening.

#54 : Neo-Tokyo

Short collections are always welcome in my world. Anime often becomes a system of stereotypes… Shonen fighters, magical girls, mecha, Ghibli films. All are great, but is this all that there is to Japanese anime? And of course the answer is absolutely not. There is always something of an alternative. Something more artsy, a little bizarre and uniquely it’s own thing. Art for arts sake and without compromise. A true hallmark of that awesome studio known as Madhouse, welcome to the trilogy Manie-Manie Labyrinth Tales, better known here in the west as Neo-Tokyo.

NT_1We begin with my personal favorite, The Labyrinth. Directed by Rintaro, this a feast of visual delight. Rintaro has always been known for being excessive with visuals to the point that what you are watching becomes more important that the story itself. The story is simple here, an imaginative girl who while playing with her lost and found cat gets sucked into a surreal psychedelic ‘labyrinth’ that leads to a circus via a clock. It just goes to show, watch the invitation you receive from Pierrot-type clowns around grandfather styled clocks. I don’t know if this segment has a meaning or point and I don’t care. It’s pure Rintaro and often when I watch his work I just want to bask in it like a painting in a museum. Plus having the music of Erik Satie is a plus for me 🙂

NT_2The second part known as The Running Man is perhaps the most recognized of the trilogy. I believe this had some play on MTV back in the day and it was in the promotional material of Streamline Pictures. This film looks and feels like its creator, Yoshiyaki Kawajiri. He is best known for a lot of seinen action, think Ninja Scroll, but you cannot deny his talent as a character designer. Top notch, meticulous detail exudes in this tale about a reporter who has followed an unbeatable professional racer throughout his career. How has this man survived for so long in this dangerous sport and how long will he last at the top? The action is fast paced, but the sections where it feel that time or movement slows to a grinding halt is where the real drama begins.

NT_3Now to the final segment, I present Construction Cancelation Order. I can sum this one up with one name, Katsuhiro Otomo. It’s Mr. Akira essentially and yes this is a tale where the societal conditions have gone wrong, except this one has a bit more humor. A nerdy salaryman inspector is to visit a construction site in the remote region of South America to essentially shut it down. And that is a tall order as the machines have total control of the situation. And even though the site is in effect falling apart at the seams and abandoned, the worker robots still continue as programmed. Can our faithful inspector do anything to stop this insanity, or is their a way to just get out alive? This reminds me a lot of Otomo’s later work Roujin Z where he shows how letting technology thrive to solve our everyday problem without a safety net can bring disaster and a chuckle or two.

Hold on… we are going back to the first segment again to finish off as a sort of coda. The labyrinth doors closes… The end. Lets gives a round of applause for our three directors everyone.

NT_4So… what does this trilogy of shorts have to do with a title like Neo-Tokyo? Honestly, I can’t see one, except… except that it was most likely borrowed from that contemporary hit film, Akira. As stated, Akira was a license to print money here in the west back in the early 1990s and it’s creator and director Katsuhiro Otomo was associated with the film right off the bat. I am sure the consensus was… we need to find more work that features this guy to cash in on this Akira trend. And of course Neo-Tokyo was prime for the taking as there was not much else out at the time that had Otomo’s name as director on it. Too bad this film is nothing like Akira and that is neither good, nor bad.

A distant cousin to another all time favorite of mine, the beautiful Robot Carnival, Neo-Tokyo is for me darker and perhaps more streamlined. Helmed by three of Japan’s best directors and produced at Madhouse, Neo-Tokyo stands as one of the best examples of how far Japan stretched animation in the 1980s. I often have forgotten about how unique this one was in the past, but that is true no more.

#25 : Robot Carnival

Robot Carnival is phenomenal… beautiful. Nine short films of pure genius. Much like picking up a package of new crayons, there is a color or two or maybe even nine that appeal to you? I have my favorites for sure, which I will disclose in time. There are many omnibus or collective productions that have come over from Japan, but Robot Carnival to me trumps them all. It is art for art’s sake and for all the directors who were a part of the production I am sure this was the assignment… ok you have about 10–15 minutes to tell a story and include some aspect of robots… have fun!

I have always enjoyed Japan’s view of what a robot is or can be. It is not some machine to be used for comedic entertainment or a scary monster that shows the darker side of technology. A robot can be a great force or nature, a superhero, a vehicle that has be piloted by someone, your best friend, but above all else a robot can also be as human as you or me. After all are we not organic machines that have emotional connection, the same can be said of something that is inorganic. Mixed with the free interpretation of what a robot can be allowed a large range of creative expression shown in Robot Carnival. No two pieces look or feel the same. But the one constant is the great music. Most of the shorts have no dialogue so in a way they are kind of like music videos. And guess who wrote the music for all of these shorts except one of them? That Jo Hisashi guy! Yes, Mr. Jo has a backlog of other soundtracks beyond the Studio Ghibli canon.

rc_1Robot Carnival begins and ends with it’s most well known creator’s vision of the “Robot Carnival” coming into town spreading it’s joy and fun. Katsuhiro Otomo (the Akira guy) shows his usual style by having this gargantuan transport vehicle partying it up as it travels through a barren landscape. The only thing is this party is laying waste and destruction in the wake of the vehicle’s journey (so Otomo). But hey look at music festivals and such after everyone leaves, it’s a major mess and trashed. Rock on the rolling Robot Carnival… ee maybe Carn-evil?

Alright I am going to go over the next grouping that I consider my also rans and then I will go in backwards order of my favorites from there. Not saying these are bad or they may not be a favorite of your’s, it is just that my tastes favor the shorts I will anounce later. Franken’s Gears is darkly funny and a complete rehash of Shelley’s FrankensteinStrange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion is funny and over the top. And Chicken Man and Redneck or Nightmare is one that I often look over and too be honest if I can give it another go I would probably favor it more. Now for my favorite four, the our seasons, fab four, the Beatles… 

Number 4… Presence: If any of the shorts is standard stock and trade shonen action and could have been turned into a longer single release OVA, this is it. Heavy action, driving music and awesome hair. Girl gets kidnapped, hero saves the day and a whole lot of fun… and awesome hair!

rc_2Number 3… Starlight Angel: Two girls having fun at an amusement park and one sees her beau being friendly to her friend (creep deserves a SLAP!) and girl gets mad, loses necklace and a robot in the park tries to return it. Then again some over the top stuff where a big bad robot takes her away and the robot mentioned previously turns into a handsome guy and saves the day… and then they fall in love. I love shojo and the work of Hiroyuke Kitazume and Starlight Angel has both. This one always reminds me of my niece and the times we (and my sister) had fun times at Six Flags and also her love of going to Disney World. To me she is the “Starlight Angel”.

rc_3Number 2… Presence: Loss, regret, can I be loved? This one could be the pièce de résistance of the whole collection for the production quality alone. Not that the other works are a slouch, but the detail work particularly with clothing and motion show a true strength of the old paint and cel technique. The story is about a man who basically is lost in his life. His marriage is dull, his wife seems to be more successful than him and all the usual responsibilities of being a man seems to have drained the life from him. He creates a female robotic companion, but when she comes to life she asserts her independence and again he becomes frustrated. This one is often looked at as an erotic piece, but I have to disagree as it is a much more metaphorical tale of looking to connect in a genuine relationship.

rc_4Number 1… Cloud: Yes, Cloud! But it’s slow and boring and doesn’t do anything. It’s basically a kid walking with minimal background changes and piano or synth music… SHUT IT. Yes it is in a ‘way’, but it is not slow, or boring, or bad, or stupid, it’s BEAUTIFUL! It is perhaps the most relaxing animation I have ever experienced, almost the equivalent of ambient music (Brian Eno anyone?). And the music makes it that more magical and this is the only production that does not feature notes from Jo Hisaishi. That, and I really like the wandering kid. He reminds me of myself as someone who is a daydreamer on a quest. So yeah, Cloud is my numero uno.

Lightning in a bottle. That saying comes to mind when I think of Robot Carnival. It may only happen once and when it does be thankful that you had the opportunity. Besides the older otaku culture who raves over this collection it can be in many ways a gateway drug to introduce Japanese animation to anyone who may not be warm to it. The limited dialog and shorter lengths makes easy digestion. But for those of us who love Robot Carnival, it is almost a religion. I am a proud fan of this one and glad to still keep my old laserdisc release even though we got a DVD release (Discotek, you made a miracle come true) as this is one of the reasons why anime is so much more than just the term anime.

#8 : Angel’s Egg

No matter what anyone says, anime is primarily a pop culture vehicle, a marketing tool to promote an already established manga, toy line, established franchise, or at times, a video game. It is true that animation is a skilled craft that requires artists to create the final product from writing to drawing to special effects. But in the end, it is not a piece of fine art that can hang in a posh museum along the likes of Van Gogh, Pollack, or Warhol. All except for this one example that I am aware of.

AE1Angel’s Egg is without question one of of the most uncompromising pieces of animation I have ever seen. It has no agenda to sell you anything. It is art for art’s sake with a story and journey that is left for the audience to decide what it is actually about. Compared to a majority of anime of the 1980s that are big, fun, colorful and or action packed, Angel’s Egg is none of that. Dark, austere, quiet, lyrical, gothic and yet quite beautiful, Angel’s Egg is not an animated movie, but more like a poem come to life through visual interpretation.

AE2The stark, post-apocalyptic world, sets the tone for the only two characters that are to the best of my knowledge, unnamed. The first is a girl who seems curious about the world around her and has as a companion a giant egg that she holds to dearly as if it was a doll. Along her unknown journey she encounters our second character, a young man who ends up tagging along. He is curious about her behavior and the reason she holds dear affection towards the egg. The only thing that I can interpret from this young man is that possibly he may have been a soldier due to the fact he carriers a large weapon like object that looks similar to a giant cross. What sin does he have to bear, or what sin will he commit? Along their journey they witness many a strange sighting from ruins to faceless fishermen who hunt ghost like whales that they can never catch. The ending and turning point like most of the reviews here, I will leave for you to find out.

So where did this film originate from? From the mind’s of two men. The first being the artist and character designer Yoshitaka Amano, a name known to those who are fans of Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D. The other is one of Japan’s best known auteur directors, Mamoru Oshii. Production began right after Oshii’s time on Urusei Yatsura, particularly the dream like film Beautiful Dreamer, you could tell he wanted to push the boundaries much further. The act of expressing something very deep and also, very painful. Oshii has stated that he had a hard time getting work after this movie, but you have to give him credit for being brave enough to give the world something this different.

AE3Due to a lot of interpretation of this movie, and most of Oshii’s work in general, many state Christian symbolism and influence. I agree that the symbology can be viewed from a certain point of view, but like any religion, it all comes back to the one truth when studied properly. The theme of Angel’s Egg is in my personal view about a great loss of something very special within one’s life that it makes the pain unbearable to bear any longer. There are many interpretations of what Oshii was trying to express from his own life. What was his pain? Many interpretations can be or may not be correct, but in the end it is how it affects you as the viewer. And the question you must ask, how does this relate to my personal experience? Angel’s Egg, a masterpiece like no other.