星期三, 9月 15

The History of Anime

As a great fan of anime, it is my honor to present you the history of anime. Anime is both radically new and the latest variant on an ancient tradition. Japanese hobbyists made animated shorts as far back as 1917, and the industry grew steadily from there. For the most part, its films were warmed-over Disney, based on homegrown folk tales. By the 1960s, the studio Toei Animation was producing feature films for an increasingly receptive domestic audience in Japan.

But after decades of imitating American models, anime suddenly made a sharp turn in the late 1960s and embraced a totally different influence: manga, Japan's wildly imaginative comic books. "The soul of anime is manga," Otomo has said, and it is an old soul indeed. Unlike US comics, which took off from the rakish spirit of vaudeville and minstrel shows, manga stem from the ancient practice of lavishly illustrating woodblock-printed books. Freely dealing with any theme that falls within the purview of literature, manga often look like a window on Japan's national id: CEOs battle takeover attempts by alien businessmen! A pacifist gunslinger wanders an Old West planet stalked by insurance agents named after Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson! An army of giant girls leads Japan to victory in World War II, mowing down enemies by squatting and firing turds!

Manga had emerged during the 1950s, when a prolific illustrator named Osamu Tezuka began publishing stories in comic-book form. His books weren't just for kids; his manga masterpiece, the 12-volume Phoenix, is nothing less than a history of humanity from the beginning to millions of years in the future. But his most popular works, especially Astro Boy, appealed to children. Astro Boy became enormously successful as a television series in 1963, establishing cartoons as a staple of the Japanese airwaves.

Although Tezuka opened anime to adventure, fantasy, and contemporary themes, it was Hayao Miyazaki who raised it to an art form that could match manga in all its peculiar glory. Born in 1941, Miyazaki is anime's graybeard, a towering figure frequently likened to Walt Disney. His family moved repeatedly in the tumult of postwar Japan, and his mother, the inspiration for the many fierce, smart, volatile women in his films, spent nine years in the hospital with spinal tuberculosis. With their mother incapacitated and their father away at work, Miyazaki and his three brothers had to fend for themselves, a situation he revisited in My Neighbor Totoro (1988), his most autobiographical film.

At 17, Miyazaki saw The Legend of the White Serpent, the first color animated feature from Japan. "Maybe I was depressed because of university entrance exams, or maybe it was my underdeveloped adolescence, or maybe it was susceptibility to cheap melodrama," he later confessed, but "I fell in love with the heroine of a cartoon." He had always adored drawing tanks, ships, and airplanes but had never considered art as a career because he felt he couldn't render people. His new awareness of animation's power to stir the heart rekindled his interest in drawing.

Still, it took Miyazaki 16 years in the bowels of the industry to maneuver into position to make his first solo film, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, released in 1979. It bowled over Steven Spielberg and convinced a publishing company, Tokuma Shoten, to take a flyer on a second film, Nausica? of the Valley of the Winds, an apocalyptic environmental drama about the fate of humankind after toxic fungi and giant insects have engulfed most of the earth. Hailed by critics as a masterwork, Nausica? led Tokuma to create Studio Ghibli to showcase Miyazaki's productions.

Like many of the anime industry's 430 boutique studios, Ghibli is nestled in Tokyo's western suburbs, an area that might be called Anime Alley. With 100 employees, it's larger than most, the industry average is 30. Otherwise, though, it's typical. Ghibli's staff is utterly devoted to making, licensing, and merchandising the movies of its two directors. Thus, Miyazaki exercises more creative control than all but the most celebrated US filmmakers. "The lunatics are in charge of the asylum," jokes Ghibli president Toshio Suzuki. But having an industry largely made up of individual voices is a major reason for anime's amazing vitality.

However, anime was pushed into the limelight by Ghost in the Shell, a 1995 full-length Japanese cartoon by Mamoru Oshii, which inspired the Wachowski brothers to produce the movie, The Matrix. Now, Oshii is coming up with another of his brilliant creation, Innocence. The ideas of Innocence director Mamoru Oshii can be especially head-spinning. The Ghost in the Shell sequel may look like your basic sex-and-violence-soaked cartoon cyberpunk noir, but underneath the gaudy splatter lies a somber meditation on what it means to be human at a time when machines are assuming more and more of the characteristics once thought to be exclusive property of Homo sapiens. And it all began, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, president, cofounder, and the I of Production I.G., a studio that might be described as the Miramax of anime, says in conversation in which he innocently asked, "What do you want to do next?"

"I want to be a dog," Oshii said.

This was not some odd sexual request, Ishikawa knew. He meant that he wanted to make a movie about being a dog.

"Well," Ishikawa said diplomatically, "maybe we could add a few more elements."

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence evolved from that conversation. Indeed, where audiences see an intricate thriller about murder and artificial intelligence, Oshii sees a story about a man - actually, a cyborg - whose dog is, for all practical purposes, his true body.

"A few years ago," the director explains, "I had a shock when my cat Nene died. There was a hole in my heart, a hole that could not be filled, even though a new cat, Mina, came along. I started to wonder why. Why can't one cat replace another? And I started to think that the 'I' is not just one person, but the sum of everything you love - your dog, your wife, your child, your computer, your doll. This led me to the conclusion that the self is empty. What is essential is this network of connections."

Oshii was born in 1951. As a teenager, he was fascinated by the Bible - not in a religious sense but as a window into an ancient mode of thought. He also enjoyed military history and eventually amassed a big collection of guns - an unusual hobby in Japan. Like many creative young people in the late 1960s and 1970s, he gravitated toward manga and anime. He worked his way up, writing or directing more than a dozen films and television series. Along the way, he developed a style distinctly his own, a mix of explosive violence and moody intellectual provocation.

So, you see, anime is not simply a meaningless collection of frames of pictures but coloured by the essence of life and hidden within some, one can find answers about the meaning of life. Before I end my seemingly "endless" blog, I would like to share with you one of the theme songs from the anime Naruto, which brought tears to my eyes. Click here to download. Close your eyes and empty your heart. Feel the meaning of the song. Enjoy!



<< Home