Eve no Jikan OVA
Pale Cocoon OVA
Yasuhiro Yoshiura is that rarest of artists: He comes across as humble and unaware of the many layers of depth to his work. His most recent anime, Time of Eve, is, according to the series' director and writer, only what it appears to be--a story of humans living alongside near-human androids.
But there is so much that can be read into the tale, which is centered around a unique cafe--called Ibu no Jikan (Time of Eve)--where androids and humans intermingle on the condition that they do not attempt to determine who is flesh and who is not. Within the cafe, the androids have no identifiable characteristics that distinguish them from the human customers; they look the same, sound the same and act the same.
Outside the cafe, however, the androids speak in a more mechanical manner and have digital halos--a particularly beautiful effect--that identify them as robots. One idea, Yoshiura explained to The Daily Yomiuri in a recent interview at his Tokyo studio, had been to identify them with writing on their bodies, unintentionally reminiscent of Jews who were forcibly tattooed during the Holocaust.
The metaphors could be extended to any sort of prejudice--racial, sexual or religious--seen in human relationships. The silence that penetrates the six-part series (and his award-winning 2006 film, Pale Cocoon), too, seems to refer to loneliness or a disconnection with society.
But, that was never the intention, Yoshiura says. "I wasn't out to try and make this some sort of social statement. It's just about a guy who's got this beautiful woman he lives with, and he's thinking, 'She's cute, but I can't do anything 'cause she's not human...ah, what should I do?'"
"There probably aren't that many Japanese who would look any deeper than that to see the issues of racism or social problems," he says with a laugh.
This is not to say that Yoshiura has not found an equally interesting social problem based in science fiction, one that also has shown up in works such as mangaka Naoki Urasawa's Pluto or episodes of Star Trek or Alien Nation: Can--and should--humans treat nonhumans as equals?
"In Japanese anime and manga, it's pretty much a given that robots and androids are treated just as other people. But if there was really a robot standing here next to me, would it really be that easy to interact with him? I don't think so, no matter how much he looks human. I wouldn't know what to do," the 28-year-old says.
Time of Eve, the third installment of which is out now on timeofeve.com and also at streaming.yahoo.co.jp/p/t/00502/v05087/, is not Yoshiura's first film to deal with this social interaction. Mizu no Kotoba (Aquatic Language, 2002), which Yoshiura completed while studying at what is now Kyushu University's School of Design, has a surprise, if unnecessary, twist at the end involving robots. Here, too, the storyline is more about inter"person"al relationships than anything to do with robots.
So, why all the robots and androids?
Yoshiura says he has been a big fan of Isaac Asimov, particularly his Three Laws of Robotics, from his I, Robot, ever since middle school. In fact, the Three Laws are referred to in Time of Eve, which also deals with android prostitutes, much like Spielberg's A.I., in the latest episode, which is available free for this month.
Outside of the literary world, Yoshiura has found inspiration in the films of Terry Gilliam--Pale Cocoon was an homage to the lonely, desolate society of Gilliam's Brazil--scriptwriter Andrew Niccol (The Truman Show) and The Simpsons, among others, though the humor found in those materials does not transfer well to animation, according to the director.
An obvious comparison, one Yoshiura does not seem to mind, is to anime auteur Mamoru Oshii, who has tackled both the issues of sentience in androids (Ghost in the Shell) and the use of silence to portray loneliness and disassociation (The Sky Crawlers).
Made with a combination of 2-D character designs with 3-D backgrounds, Yoshiura's films look contemporary, high-quality and engaging. For the young director, who has won awards at numerous international film festivals, this method was born out of practicality more than aesthetic reasons.
"I didn't have the ability to really draw very well, so when I was making the films by myself, that combination of 2-D and 3-D was what gave me the best results," he says.
"There are very few people who can just toss off a drawing of a character and a beautiful background," he says as he flips through a book on the making of Hayao Miyazaki's Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away). "Japanese audiences have a thing for hand-drawn characters...If everybody was a great animator, then I think fewer people would use 3-D, and that would result in much more 'Japanese'-looking films."
Unlike his earlier works, Yoshiura is making Time of Eve with the help of a team of artists, making it possible for him to make this Internet-based series, as well as to consider the possibility of extending it in the long-run style of a U.S. TV show.
But working with others has drawbacks, such as communication challenges, he explains.
"I had always wanted to work with other people, but for practical reasons wasn't able to," he recalls. "When it was just me, it was just me. But just because I'm working as a group now...it's not as if it's five or 10 of me working together."
Both Pale Cocoon and Time of Eve are excellent works that is completely out of mainstream anime which I loved so much. As the article above mentioned, he is focus on themes of dissonance and social diaspora through high technology. Not as obtuse as Oishii, he able to convey the narrative effectively.