Sunday, December 14

Soft Power Discussion no 5

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / From anime to action

Michael Arias, the first and so far only American to direct a Japanese animated feature film, 2006's award-winning Tekkonkinkreet, once told me that animation, live action film and video game technologies were fast uniting, and that the remaining differences between the three would soon become imperceptible.

Arias' singular achievement is an exemplar of the cross-cultural phenomena about which I frequently write. Born in California, Arias has lived on both U.S. coasts, working primarily in film, computer-generated imagery (CGI) and software development. A trip to Japan to help develop a Back to the Future ride for Universal Studios Japan led to an eventual residency, and a devotion to the Japanese culture and its approach to movie making.

"There's not as much money to be made [in Japan]," he conceded to me years ago. "But there's a lot more freedom."

Among other prizes, Arias's animated version of Tekkonkinkreet, based on the original manga by Taiyo Matsumoto, won Japan's Academy Award for Animation, despite competing against domestic giants like Hideaki Anno, director of the revived Evangelion 1.0.

In the mid-1990s, Arias developed a software program known as "Toon Shaders," which integrates traditional hand-drawn images with CGI. It was used by no less than maestro Hayao Miyazaki in Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke) and the Academy Award-winning Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away).

I caught up with Arias recently, while preparing to introduce and screen Tekkonkinkreet at universities and museums across the United States next year for the Anime Masterpieces ( project.

And what is he up to now? Live action.

Arias's new film, Heaven's Door, will be released in Japan on Feb. 7. At a screening in Roppongi, Tokyo, last week, I was struck by the parallels with Tekkonkinkreet. Like its predecessor, Heaven's Door features a pair of misfits attempting to survive in a crumbling world. One is older, presumably more experienced; the other is a naif. And in both films, they are attempting to reach resolution by the sea.

Also as in Tekkonkinkreet, 360-degree shots make the viewer move with the camera; brightly colored settings punctuate scenes of artful static; and a sense of apocalyptic dread adds urgency to every little act.

I asked Arias about these parallels earlier this week. "A lot of that stuff I only realized seeing the movie finished," he told me. "There's no doubt that Tekkonkinkreet and Heaven's Door share a lot of the same DNA. But a lot of it just kind of crept in."

What didn't just creep in are the big-name Japanese stars headlining the film, including TOKIO lead singer Tomoya Nagase and Japanese-Russian-American model, actress and singer Anna Tsuchiya. They and others should guarantee a big roll-out early next year.

Arias says he's drawn to emptiness and longing, exploring the "missing limb" in our interconnected lives. His younger brother died when Arias was 8 years old, he told me.

"I guess I'm drawn to these stories of some kind of perfectly matched partner who's gone. Some kind of strange sense of absence," he said.


Tekkon Kinkret is surreal and unusual anime experience, a fusion of 2 cultures can be felt here strongly. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who is looking beyond mainstream animes have to offer. Not as obtuse as Oishii's work but not that simplistic either.

Gonzo being restructured and bought over

GDH/Gonzo continues to trim down, in response to being on notice for a year by the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Having recently been purchased by Iwakaze Capital KK, the company's restructuring is now well underway.

On Friday, November 28, GDH announced that it was asking 50 employees of the GDH and Gonzo divisions -- about 25% of the GDH workforce -- to retire voluntarily, effective January 31, 2009. Those who choose to go along with this request, and agree to it between December 1 and 12 of this year, will be given a one-time bonus, equivalent to one month's salary. While this staff reduction applies to the Gonzo anime studio as well as to its parent company, GDH, it is not going to affect the Gonzo Rosso online gaming division.

In another announcement on Friday, GDH revealed plans to sell another subsidiary, GDH Capital. This financing arm of the company was established only three years ago. But since it was worth about US $3 million in 2005, and is now worth US $2.
2 million, GDH seems to have decided that it's a good time to get out of the financing business, considering the current world economic situation.

Source no 2

I wonder if some people going to use this to illustrate the damaging force of illegal digital copies responsible for anime industry woes. I do really wonder.

Well I hated Gonzo for some really lame anime series but they do have good stuff like Last EXILE, Yukikaze and Blue Submarine no 6.

Looks like the economic problem is biting very hard.

Kannagi Mangaka is on recovery, manga will resume soon.

The latest update on Eri Takanashi story.

She apparently afflicted with a serious condition and went into operation which was successful. ComicRex has announced in rather suspicious manner that she will resume her work as soon as possible after announcing the suspension of Kannagi in January issue. Something is amiss here, I felt.

Ah well.


Earlier entry on her sickness

Eden of the East / 東のエデン

Studio I.G. and Kenji Kamiyama is coming up with new series " Eden of the East"; this winning combination has produced GITS: Stand Alone Complex and best chambara anime series, Seirei no Moribito/Guardian of Water Spirit. I am very, very sure that I want to follow this one very closely, so far I am not disappointed with these 2 forces.

Official Site

Shangri La/ シャングリ・ラ

New GONZO anime coming soon, with same team setup that produced largely successful Last EXILE few years ago. It is called Shangri-La and it is based on the novel by Ikegami Eiichi.

Looks interesting, I will check it out pretty soon.

Official Website

Original Work: Ikegami Eiichi
Director: Bessho Makoto
Series Composition: Oonogi Hiroshi
Creative Producer: Mori Takeshi
Character Design: RANGE MURATA
Creative Supervisor: Takeba Shingo
Design Works: Kusanagi Takuhito, Satou Hajime, Iida Umanosuke
Animation Production: GONZO

Phantom Requiem Anime series announced

If some old timers remembered, one of Nitroplus most famous work is Phantom of the Inferno which a story about an unwilling assassin in wilderness of America brainwashed to be perfect top killer for underground organization by evil German scientist. There is a brief but largely forgettable anime OVA treatment ( I hated it pretty much) and right now there is a new series coming soon in 2009. The art looks good so far and I hope they will not tone down the violence since it is an integral part of the storytelling.

Official Site

Oh no, it is by Bee Fucking Train. Bleh!

Phantom 〜Requiem for the Phantom〜 will feature the director Koichi Mashimo (.Hack franchise, Blade of the Immortal, Noir) and series script supervisor Yousuke Kuroda (Demonbane, Gungrave, Mobile Suit Gundam 00).

Yoshimitsu Yamashita (Blade of the Immortal, Murder Princess), Mutsumi Sasaki (Murder Princess, .hack//Roots episode animation director), Yoko Kikuchi (Arc the Lad anime, Noir, .hack//Legend Of The Twilight) and other artists will adapt the game characters for anime. The anime studio Bee Train will be in charge of production.

ANN piece