NIGHT AT THE ACADEMY - ANIME COMES OF AGE
by Mark Vallen and Jeannine Thorpe - November 2001
by Mark Vallen) Los Angeles
has long played an important role in introducing anime to the
United States and the rest of the globe. But when Hollywood's
famous Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (presenters
of the Academy Awards and the much coveted Oscar),
sponsored a lecture on the subject of Japanese animation, you
can be sure a historic guide post was reached for anime in the
West. On November 14th, 2001, I was honored to attend
the Academy's seventh Marc Davis Lecture on Animation,
an annual event held since 1994 at the Academy's luxurious Samuel
Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The series of lectures
(named after the renowned Disney artist who created Cinderella,
Tinker Bel, and Cruella De Vil), are meant to
provide a forum for film animators, producers, and other industry
professionals who seek to share experiences and hone their craft.
to the public, past lectures have featured Chuck Jones
(creator of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the Road
Runner), John Lasseter (director of Toy Story),
and Marc Davis himself. The
November 14th. program, Drawing from Japan: Anime and it's
Influences, focused entirely on the history of animation
in Japan, it's diversity, and how this vibrant art has influenced
members, actors, special effects technicians, writers, and other
professionals in the movie industry were in attendance, as
well as local film aficionados.
The Academy Governor, June Foray, delivered the
opening statement and promised the audience of 500 an evening
of enlightenment. The roster of distinguished guest speakers
for the event guaranteed that much, but the lectures were also
highlighted by rare screenings of clips from fourteen different
animated features. The evening's tribute was comprised of a
panel of commentators, including some of Japan's most respected
animators, artists, and their U.S. counterparts. Author,
animation historian, and founder of Streamline Pictures,
Jerry Beck, was the moderator for the proceedings, and
he began the evening with a short history of anime.
the largely professional, over 30 audience to put aside their
preconceptions of anime, Beck announced that anime was "much
more than just Pokemon." He recounted the accomplishments
of master animator Osamu Tezuka (who in 1963 produced
Japan's first televised anime, Astro Boy), and mentioned
U.S. pioneers like Fred Ladd, who in the early 1960's
produced English dubbed versions of Tezuka's Astro Boy
and Tetsujin 28 (renamed Gigantor) for American
format for the evening's three hour long program alternated
between screenings and lively interviews with six different
Beck interviewed his
sitting on the stage in director's chairs and flanked by two
gleaming, 12 foot Oscar statues.
interviewed included Lisa Atkinson (who worked with DreamWorks,
Universal, Disney, Pixar, and Industrial
Light & Magic on their digital animated features), Mark
Dippe (who worked for Industrial
Light & Magic creating
ground breaking CGI effects for the original Jurassic Park
directing the live-action Spawn movie), Eric Goldberg
(a veteran Disney animator who worked
on Fantasia 2000 and
directed Pocahontas before founding his own Pizazz
Pictures), Kunihiko Ikuhara (director of the first
two seasons of the Sailormoon TV series and the Sailormoon
R Movie, Founder of Be-Papas Studios, and director
of the Revolutionary Girl Utena TV series and Adolescence
of Utena Movie), Mitsuhisa Ishikawa (Founder of Production
IG Studios and producer of Neon Genesis Evangelion,
Jin-Roh, Ghost in the Shell, Video Girl Ai,
Patlabor the Movie, and BLOOD: The Last Vampire),
and Fred Patten (freelance writer for Animation World
Magazine, Fangoria, and Starlog).
panelist had a unique perspective and something noteworthy to
say. Ms. Atkinson said she's attracted to anime because of the
strong leading female characters found there. She stated that
producers of anime invest "more time and devotion"
to their craft, filling their works with "spiritual concepts"
and explorations of human emotions. Atkinson also noted how
some U.S. live-action productions are deeply influenced
by anime aesthetics.
Dippe made the same observation when he said the "wild
and unbelievably complex transformations" found in anime
served as inspiration for his own directorial work on Spawn.
also felt that works from directors David
Carpenter were inspired by anime (in fact, a scene from
Carpenter's remake of The Thing apparently inspired the
design of one monster in Yoju Toshi's Wicked City,
indicating that the process works both ways).
also stated that Ridley
Scott's, Blade Runner and Roger Donaldson's,
owe a tip of the hat to the world of anime. Though he wasn't
mentioned, I would add that Steven
Spielberg has also been influenced by anime, siting his
recent A.I. - Artificial Intelligence as a primary example.
In that film, robots are called mecha (short for mechanical),
the very word used by the Japanese to describe the robots
and mechanical devises so plentiful in anime.
course the true highlight of the evening was the opportunity
to see some magnificent anime projected onto a large screen.
movie clip was around 10 minutes long, and
excerpted films screened were Astro
Boy, Akira, My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso,
Princess Mononoke, Wicked City, Perfect Blue,
Ghost in the Shell, Pompoko, Grave of the Fireflies,
BLOOD: The Last Vampire, Adolescence of Utena,
Metropolis, and Spirited Away. The great majority
of the audience had never heard of, let alone seen
these outstanding works of animation, and the audience reaction
to each piece was always the same, utter amazement and enthusiastic
applause. Mark my words, in the near future anime films will
be winning Oscars!
by Jeannine Thorpe) Jerry
Beck opened the evening by saying that like Indian musicals,
Chinese martial arts films, or the silent films of 1920's Hollywood,
anime is itself a unique form of film-making. The respectful
and sweeping approach he gave to the genre in that one statement
set the mood for the entire evening. It gave anime the attention
and admiration it deserved, and the excerpts of films shown
were carefully selected to inspire awe and expand the minds
of the audience members.
program was educational for the uninitiated and delightful for
the longtime aficionado. The
organizers of the presentation worked hard to bestow certain
ideas about anime upon the audience, understanding that audience
would be more familiar with Western style animation. One major
point made was that unlike with Western Animation, Japan has
a history of creating both comics and animation for all ages
of viewers and not just children. Another point made was that
anime often achieves emotional levels far beyond even the live
action films of the West. Several films by Studio Ghibli
were screened in order to elaborate these points. After watching
just a few moments of the impressive Princess Mononoke,
the dramatic Porco Rosso, or the wartime angst of Grave
of the Fireflies, the audience was clearly overwhelmed and
impressed with the new ideas and aesthetics they were confronted
perfect example of this came when a clip from My Neighbor
Totoro was screened. In one fantastic scene, two little
movie's lead characters) encounter
magical creatures while waiting for a bus in the rain. What
completely overwhelmed the audience, as Eric Goldberg
explained, was how the director imbued a feeling of serenity
in the moment... and how visually everything on the screen "read"
or imparted an exact meaning.
minimalist character designs combined with highly expressive
faces made for a work that could be universally understood.
Goldberg further explained that anime in general tends to do
"so much with so little", and utilizes a style of storytelling
that expects more from the audience because the story is often
not clearly laid out for the viewer.
elaborated by saying that in American films directors are often
forced to "lay pipe" and lead the audience along, while anime
in general and the films of Hayao Miyazaki in particular
tend to be more stream of consciousness. For the audience members
who had never seen anime before, there was immediate recognition
of the unparalleled quality of film presented to them. Mark
Dippe commented that some anime could be quite "deep"...
and like with Stanley Kubrick's, 2001: A Space Odyssey,
the viewer is left feeling as though the "mind has grown
two sizes." Dippe
added that anime is often complicated in storyline but unclear
with motivation of characters (as opposed to the usual dynamic
of "good vs. evil" in American films). He further observed that
anime often presents inconclusive endings.
Atkinson suggested that perhaps as a result of coming from
postwar cultures, European and Japanese storylines tend to focus
more on the human aspect of characters going through change,
brought out through climactic situations. Atkinson
mentioned another cultural difference in anime, the depiction
of women. Speaking from personal experience, she noted that
in Japan "women play a different role in society than men. Women
have a different internal power, they can be strong and not
be masculine, a quiet strength in femininity." I would add that
all one need do is compare America's Wonder Woman to
Japan's Sailormoon to see this difference. While Wonder
Woman is essentially a clone of Superman, Sailormoon
is undeniably and realistically female, and only through the
purity and strength of her heart does she wield her power.
of the most interesting exchanges of the evening came from the
panel "The Next Generation" of anime, with Producer Mitsuhisa
Ishikawa and director Kunihiko Ikuhara. After
hearing from Hollywood insiders the entire evening, this panel
gave the direct Japanese perspective on the artform. When asked
to explain the difference between US and Japanese animation,
Ishikawa jokingly said through a translator that "There are
two kinds of animation, one that is harmless for children and
one that is harmful to children." Ishikawa
then took a playful jab at his American counterparts when he
flatly stated "Most of my staff doesn't like Disney animation,
and I can say that because we'll probably never work for them."
Ikuhara, who now resides in Los Angeles, had this to say: "I
have learned that in America there are two kinds of movies...
New York makes independent films, and Hollywood makes entertainment,
makes movies. Hollywood movies are just entertainment.... Hollywood
is like a Las Vegas Show. Anime in Japan is more like the New
York independent films." At
this point Ishikawa expressed a desire to elaborate on his earlier
comment about anime being either "harmful or harmless to children".
He offered that although many would consider his works to be
for teenagers and adults... his young children have seen all
of his works, explaining that "maybe now the works would be
considered harmful to them, but as they get older and are educated,
then they will understand them."
like the above imparted to the audience an understanding of
the cultural and artistic differences between Western and Japanese
animators. Perhaps even more importantly, it suggests that just
as Ishikawa's children have a lot to learn, any audience
has to be ready in mind, art, and spirit in order to understand
the complexities of the world we live in, and how these complexities
may be explored through the art of anime. The Academy Foundation's
presentation succeeded overwhelmingly in beginning the gigantic
task of teaching people about an entire genre of art from the
other side of the globe. I'm certain Academy members and other
viewers in the audience will be affected for years to come by
what they saw.