#181 : Animal Treasure Island

Oi! There be treasure on that there island me boys and girls. Yah interested in finding it? Yah need a map in order to find it’s whereabouts… are you up for some treasure hunting?  Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island is beloved by many. Adventure, pirates, the high seas and lost valuable treasure await you. Except… we are going to throw in a catch of sorts. Let’s make most of the characters anthropomorphized animals and tell this tale in terms of an animated feature film. Classic anime studio Toei would do this in 1971 with the aptly titled Animal Treasure Island. Ahoy we go!

ATI_1Jim Hawkins sits alone with his baby brother (I assume this is his brother?) in their family’s inn dreaming of adventures in the high seas. With a model ship in hand on a lonely night a visitor would arrive that would change his destiny. The hero has been called to action. From this visitor, Jim would be gifted a treasure map by chance that holds the possibility of a great fortune. Time to hire a ship, yet our young man has only a couple pieces of gold for payment. Never fear because kids are often times more resourceful than many of us who call ourselves adults. Jerry rig a barrel with a few contraptions including an engine, sail and a cannon and you get the ideal way to travel on water. Conquest awaits, but also setbacks, untrustworthy folks, and even new friends to aid oneself on this journey.

ATI_2This is a fun movie, at times very silly and slapstick, but far from perfect. Perhaps I am not the target market as this is a film made primarily for young children, but then again, I love many children/family films and stories. Reason… I am a child disguised as a ‘mature’ adult. Shh!, it’s a secret. No that’s not it, perhaps the film is a little long in the tooth? Now this makes sense. At least for me this movie really drags in the middle and while there is a lot of fun action and comedy, it felt like filler. This is an approximately 80 minute film that could have fit more into a 40–45 minute space. My opinion now, you may see different. It starts really great and then I fell into a little boredom that eventually breaks at the end to a surprise ending… be careful when pulling that chain in the cave and make sure to read all the directions.

ATI_3A little trivia for everyone… ever hear of Hayao Miyazaki? He worked on this film, but not in the executive role that he is most famous for; director as an example. These were his salad days where he was making his way through the animation industry and by the early 1970s being put into middle management type roles; key animator as an example. The designs of Jim and Cathy, the two main characters, have part of the Miyazaki flavor in terms of design and many of the action sequences have the fluidity and at times comedy he is known for. That being said, Miyazaki had some say in the making of this film, but was in many ways, ‘working for the boss’.

ATI_4Toei was known for many decades of the company’s history for the creation of big budget animated films for children and families; Japan’s answer for Disney. (what about Warner Brothers?) Animal Treasure Island fits properly into this tradition along with other titles including: The Wonderful World of Puss n’ Boots, The Little Mermaid, Swan Lake and Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. Animation no matter what, takes us on trips into worlds that can only be understood by the imagination. While not ‘reality’, and also in my opinion a more average experience of a film, Animal Treasure Island is still a vital part of anime’s history and an important stepping stone for many who worked on this project.

Capturing the Wind: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata Before Studio Ghibli

Up until recently I had given panels at my local anime convention, a run of about five years from 2015–2019. My most successful panel, and one I gave for three years in a row because of the evergreen content, was Capturing the Wind: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata Before Studio Ghibli. Obviously it was a popular event for an hour of time and witnessing Studio Ghibli panels from the past and noticing the audience turnout, I knew I had to do one, yet I had to do it my own way within the framework of my definition of ‘classic anime’. Reason being, talking about anime from the 1980s, let alone the 1960s and 1970s can be a very niche category. Most fans are younger than me, or have a frame of reference that is the most zeitgeist of properties available. By the way I was born in 1979 in case you want to do the math. That being said, how do I do a panel discussing the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, two men I respect, within the confines of my focus of study?

CtW_1And then it happened… of course, talk about their work before Studio Ghibli’s foundation. These two gentlemen cut their teeth on a lot of movies and television series, all of this before the year of 1985, the year of Studio Ghibli’s birth. I had my content! Of course I focused on their major projects, mostly when they had the directors chair, because I could run a laundry list of doing key animation for this one episode of this series, or assists with whatever task was available for that movie. Ten productions would make the cut, each with video clip, but for here it will all be in the written word. Studio Ghibli fans, who is here to learn and experience some lost, or perhaps not so lost if one has familiarity, treasures of the careers of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata? Don’t be surprised that what you love about the work of these two gentlemen also shows up in their earlier works as well; good habits and styles never change once they solidify.

Beginning with directorial debuts for a feature film, then leading to initial collaborative efforts, I would continue with two final categories: television work, because we often equate Miyazaki and Takahata with their cinematic presence and finally a quartet of final projects from the early 1980s that directly preceded the founding of Studio Ghibli. I will not explain in detail each of the productions here, but with link them to my other posts where you can read more in depth on each particular production. Of course this panel only covered what I had seen at that particular moment. Even now I am still filling in gaps by watching other anime not available at the time where I could have had opportunities to showcase more material. But then again I only had one hour and what I had to work with was enough of a fun show.

Here were the following anime that I focused on for the panel Capturing the Wind: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata Before Studio Ghibli:

My initial goal was to showcase to Studio Ghibli fans that the names of Miyazaki and Takahata go well beyond the familiar movies we have watched time and time again. Did I succeed? I think so, but now that legacy can live here online and reach a wider audience. Of course there are a couple more anime that I wish I could have included, but at the time I had no access to the show or movie, Heidi: Girl of the Alps being the best example (watching that one now!). If you love Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, their collective work at Studio Ghibli is only the beginning to a world of many treasures which featured their creative talents. Before capturing the wind of Ghibli, we can witness the emerging portraits of these two artists as young men… a little nod to you James Joyce 🙂

CtW_2Many a thank you to the work you both did. We love you!

1984… 35 Years (and counting) of Love / A Film Trifecta

1984… ‘Anime’s Golden Summer of Love’. And let me say first and foremost, that this statement is my personal opinion. I am of course paying homage to the famed ‘Summer of Love’ from 1967 that was the high point of the hippie counterculture. An idealistic paradise of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll during an era of intensity and danger. The anime version that I am putting a label on is nothing like 1967, but was a year of ‘Love’ in more ways than one. I was a five year old living in the U.S. during 1984, so I don’t have first hand knowledge of what actually happened in Japan. What I do know is that 1984 could be a serious contender for being a tipping point year in anime. And this is was all down to three beautiful and classic films.

The stars must have been aligned a certain way for a year that featured the directing talents of Noboru Ishiguro with Shoji Kawamori, Mamoru Oshii and Hayao Miyazaki. Three plus one geniuses in terms of animation, story telling and visual presentation. A couple dozen productions made their way into theaters in 1984, but the three movies that these gentlemen directed perhaps… stole the show. One was a reimagining of a popular romantic mecha science fiction TV series, one was a sequel to a film that was part of a long running screwball comedy and the third was an adaptation to an original manga that rocketed it’s creator into superstardom. Funnily enough, only one of the films was released in the summer time, but we are taking this as a collective metaphor.

Let’s start in February of 1984, February 11 to be exact. Oh wow, personal bias… that’s my birthday. This was the release date of Mamoru Oshii’s entry, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. Urusei Yatsura was Rumiko Takahashi’s first huge success and with the successful TV series and manga, films began to follow. The second is the topic of this discussion and it would be the first time that Mamoru Oshii would show his more signature approach to crafting a movie. While Urusei Yatsura was known for high school slapstick silliness, Beautiful Dreamer would show something else. Oshii’s use of the surreal, odd angles, subtlety, lighting and the sublime would be interjected into the project creating something different from the usual Urusei Yatsura fare. These approaches would eventually become his calling cards, but they began to show there potentialities with Beautiful Dreamer.

March 11, 1984. A popular manga from an anime veteran would see release into theaters. This was the work of the now famous Hayao Miyazaki and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind would be his second time behind the directors chair for a film. Miyazaki’s tale of a young heroine passionate for making the world a beautiful and peaceful place struck a chord with audiences and in a BIG way. Nausicaä’s messages of environmentalism and compassion took sci-fi and fantasy down to earth literally. In an era of far out grand space epics, we are thrust to return to our immediate surroundings and confront the issues plaguing in front of us: reconnecting with and preserving nature, witnessing the corruption of power and greed and standing up for what is true and moral that is within our hearts. The film’s success would give us one of Miyazaki’s most beloved characters with Nausicaä, who would become a benchmark for many of his later creations. Miyazaki’s success and growing popularity from Nausicaä would lead him with his partner in crime, Isao Takahata, to found their famed Studio Ghibli.

We now come to summer, July in fact. Debuting on July 7 would be our final film, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love… say that three times fast. Macross was a huge hit on TV for being an amalgam of everything otaku related at the time. Mixing aliens, space opera and mecha with tenderness, romance and beautiful character designs (hooray for Haruhiko Mikimoto!), Macross would reach a large fan base and encapsulated the height of passionate sci-fi idealism of the era. A reinterpreted film would show it’s hand in 1984 bringing the characters back to life yet again after the now defunct TV series left the air. This would be an alternate retelling and helming the directors chairs would be two men, series director and long time industry veteran Noboru Ishiguro and mecha designer/sci-fi fan Shoji Kawamori. Together they resurrected the giant Macross ship for another voyage that left fans, including me, jaw dropped and spellbound.

Of course 1984 was so much more than these three films and in the future I will include a more in depth focus for the year as a whole, but these three movies are something special. This ‘Summer of Love’ came to me because of the fact for the title of the Macross film; an exercise of putting two and two together. But pondering on this title I thought ‘Love’ could stand for a labor of love. All three of these films were created during the analog era of painted cel animation, “Look mom no hands computers.” All three of these films are a testament to the sweat and effort during that era as these productions were well crafted, painstakingly detailed and hold up in terms of quality today. These are three films that I love (one more than the other two because I am an uber fan of Macross) and treasure and I hope that you do as well.

#139 : The Wonderful World of Puss ’n Boots

WWoPnP_1Once upon a time there was this very cool cat who had a killer pair of boots and a very fashionable hat. He met a young man stuck in a muck and brilliantly the cat thought of a way to change his luck. A prince you shall be, to impress a princess from yonder away though there is a another suitor who is big, strong and the token bad guy… this just is not our lucky day. Never fear, rescue her you shall with our friends the mice, while I dodge a helpless trio devoted to capturing me as I feed you great advice. Sounds like a tale so classic filled with adventure and folly that it can only be The Wonderful World of Puss ’n Boots, I am feeling oh so jolly!

WWoPnP_2Let’s first talk about mascots in anime. They number in plenty from Pikachu (Pokémon) to Totoro (Studio Ghibli) to Mokona (CLAMP) and even Astro Boy (Osamu Tezuka or just anime in general). But what of one of the oldest studios in Japan that has entertained generations going back to the 1950s, Toei? That smiling cat in the hat… just who is that? And no this is not some Dr. Seuss riddle? … oh how I love me some green eggs and ham … That fine feline is none other than Pero (why not Pierrot?). Pero? Yeah Pero from the 1969 classic The Wonderful World of Puss ’n Boots. A fairly popular film in it’s day, it eventually led to two sequels in fact. But I hypothesis the popularity also because why would a studio choose a character to be a mascot, if not a veritable logo, from a film that did not reach a certain level of recognition? The Wonderful World of Puss ’n Boots is a film that defines Toei’s classic cinematic style.

WWoPnP_3Puss ’n Boots is light hearted, witty and fun for the whole family. Though to be fair the film was geared towards children, as is most animation, you can’t say it does not have humor and sophistication to draw in adult fans as well. After all many of us anime or animation fans are just ‘kids’ disguised as ‘adults’ 🙂 … I know I am! Often when one thinks of these early anime titles from what we term as the modern era, mostly the 1960s to be precise, we often equate Disney’s influence as they were the biggest animation standard during the day. But I want to include Warner Brothers for this movie. I have no idea if this was an influence, but the humor, action and even the artwork reminds me of Chuck Jones masterpieces like What’s Opera, Doc? and The Scarlet PumpernickelTouché; great ideas from animation can be borrowed from anywhere! We artists are not creators, we be pirates, argh, lol.

WWoPnP_4Speaking of borrowing, when reading the back of the DVD case I noticed that Puss ’n Boots’ director also directed the film Swan Lake. Hey!, I know that movie and come to think of it. the dynamics and even the character designs for Pierre, Rose and Lucifer (PnB) are very similar to those of Siegfried, Odette and Rothbart (SW). Even the climatic battle scenes at the evil castles are even similar. Not a bad nod, or reference to previous anime! Especially when you worked on both. 😉 And some of these scenes are so well animated that I thought, hey this part reminds me of say The Castle of Cagliostro? And maybe Future Boy Conan as well? Again the action scenes at the castle and the design of Princess Rose (the essence is all in her face) looks oh so Hayao Miyazaki. Well I don’t know what parts, or sections he worked on but yes, Miyazaki did work as a key animator on this movie. A portrait of an artist as a young man…

The 1960s would be the decade when Japan’s animation industry became a big business, serious in approach and growing ever professionally. The Wonderful World of Puss ’n Boots stems from the tail end of that decade and it’s influence would continue into the next decade and beyond. Some of Toei’s early films look cheap or grow dull quickly, but examples like Puss ’n Boots and even Horus: Prince of the Sun set standards that we need to honor today. Oh great Puss ’n Boots I bow before thee, bless u all your great legacy evermore.

See you at Anime St. Louis this weekend!

Just a reminder for those of you coming to Anime St. Louis this weekend I will be hosting my panel Capturing the Wind: Miyazaki and Takahata before Studio Ghibli Saturday afternoon. More info at my previous post. Hope to see you there and have fun my friends!

Also, Happy Comic Book Day and Stars Wars Day for those of you who celebrate and for my astrology people, Happy New Moon in Taurus!

… crossing my fingers that I find another awesome art book.

– J

CAM is back again at Anime St. Louis this May

I will be presenting yet again at my local convention of Anime St. Louis (still waiting on my time slot!). This is my fifth year so I guess I have had enough practice to not be nervous? Yeah right, I am human and an introvert (INFP, sometimes INTP, especially on Tuesdays), but once I am behind the podium… I dunno… something takes over and it all becomes natural. Originally I submitted three panels, but have cut down to a singular entry so I have time and energy to work on other personal projects including rebuilding part of my basement. I will be presenting a solo panel this year; a crowd favorite, Capturing the Wind: Miyazaki and Takahata before Studio Ghibli. I highlight a select grouping of the work that Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata did before Studio Ghibli; many of the titles are featured already in my blog, but I will not say which ones… a magician never reveals their secrets. 😉

Hope to see you there if you are attending. And if not, I know a lot of you will be with me in spirit. Thanks everyone and enjoy the rest of this calendar year of 2019! Are you going to any conventions, or have any other awesome plans for the summer?

– J

#92 : Sherlock Hound

SH_1“I say Watson. There is even an anime adaptation of me… and I am portrayed as a dog? Mmm, interesting.” And not only that Holmes, or Hound, but you had the blessing of the magic touch from one of Japan’s top directors. Hayao Miyazaki, working with studio TMS, was on the brink of fame and fortune with the release of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind in 1984, a year that also featured a collaborative television show with the Italian broadcast and production company RAI. Sherlock Hound would be the fruit of this collaboration.

SH_2Italian and Japanese design and sensibilities reminds me of, and I am sorry if you are not into cars, but I think of that beautiful machine, the Honda/Acura NSX. It’s graceful, elegant and high quality. This is an example of the complete best of two different cultures filtered through a project. Sherlock Hound is perhaps one of the finest looking television anime of the 1980s. Rich in fluid motion, witty humor, crisp details and beautiful colors. There is no mistaking that this was produced at TMS; such a high mark portfolio piece. And while Miyazaki is credited heavily for this show, it must be known that he was only around for the first six or so episodes before licensing issues came to the surface. Miyazaki would leave TMS to continue work on first the manga of Nausicaa, which led to the film production. Still, the influence of the master was still ever present once the show got back on track a couple years later.

SH_3Sherlock Hound is a very loose adaptation of the crime fighting detective who always seems to be one thought ahead with every clue he finds. “Hello?” Along with Dr. Watson and occasionally the bumbly Inspector Lestrade, Hound (or, just Holmes in the original Japanese dialogue) has to foil the exploits of his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty. Across the 26 episodes I am reminded of another franchise very familiar to TMS. I think of Lupin III, yet it is almost the inverse of Sherlock Hound. Instead of cheering on the thief and laughing at the authorities, you laugh at the thief and the authorities (Scotland Yard and Lestrade) and cheer on the third party who seems to be more effective than the officials that are in charge. Now that makes me think of Batman as Gotham City’s police squad may be good at handing out parking tickets but leave the real work for the caped crusader. Goes to show that in order to do it right, you have to find an alternative source. Off to Baker Street we go to solve our problems.

SH_4Nostalgia, at least for me, is strong with Sherlock Hound. The glory years of the mid to late 80s Saturday morning cartoon boom, which also includes the independent syndication market that had shows on everyday after school during the week, are very much in harmony with this show. Yet I didn’t see Sherlock Hound during my youth and yet it could have fit in quite well. In particular are the shows that Disney cranked out, you know Duck Tales, Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers et al since you have the anthropomorphic animal characters in fun adventure situations. And then there was the British cartoon of Danger Mouse, which is similar to Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond, with dry humor so beloved in the British Isles. In all honesty, they don’t hold a candle to Sherlock HoundSherlock Hound holds to an even higher standard as mentioned above that draws me as a ‘mature’ adult. And yet, it is brilliant for an audience of any age; it’s almost perfect? Truly, lightning captured in a bottle.

Sherlock Hound is an easy recommendation and invites you in from a number of possible routes. Do you like Sherlock Holmes? Do you enjoy Hayao Miyazaki’s work and style? Are you looking for a great anime to watch with the whole family? Are you an old school otaku? Do you like great animated action that’s fun? If you answer yes to any of these, I would consider you a candidate for this show. Try or rewatch Sherlock Hound for the first or 101st time because this round is on me 🙂