The spirits without
I picked up a couple of Blu-ray discs yesterday in a sale at Zammo that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have bought were it not for the fact that they were on sale in a “2 for £20” deal. (Anyway, I was in a buoyant mood because I’d just received a large sum of money that had been incorrectly taken off me in taxes over the past twelve months of so, and felt like treating myself.)
One was Tekkonkinkreet, which caught my eye a while ago because it’s one of those rare anime productions that I actually think has a semi-interesting visual style. The other, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, is a film that I’m not a massive fan of - in fact, the only reason I tolerate its soulless, stilted, so-called “realistic” visual style is the knowledge that the various imitators it spawned (e.g. Robert Zemeckis’ butt-ugly The Polar Express and Beowulf) are a whole lot worse. Still, I kept hearing about how good the BD transfer supposedly was, so eventually I got fed up waiting for it to become available for rental and decided to plonk down the cash for it.
Anyway, I took a look at it tonight, and yes, it’s a very good transfer. Not perfect, but still really impressive. My purchase of the standard definition DVD release, back in 2001, actually marked something of a special event for me because it was the point at which I started becoming aware just how many DVD reviewers were full of the proverbial. Put simply, the glowing 10/10, A++ and 100% ratings for image quality didn’t match my own impression of it being overly filtered and riddled with compression artefacts. But I digress. The Blu-ray release is about as far as you can get from the DVD as you can get, although a small amount of filtering has been applied and is present throughout: check the light ringing around the text in the final capture below. It’s fairly minor, but it means that the disc does just fall shy of perfection. I wonder why they thought it was necessary to do this.
Oh, and, as a side note, I do like that, despite the film never having touched celluloid, someone was thoughtful enough to actually try to make it look like film by adding a sheen of grain to it. The illusion is actually quite effective and goes some way towards making the motion captured CGI visuals look slightly less clunky and fake than they otherwise would have.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
(Sony Pictures, UK, AVC, 25.2 GB)
Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 9:52 PM
| Comments: 8
| BD Impressions
Better than Beowulf? Fuck off!!
Posted by: Dirty Sanchez, September 15, 2008 2:02 AM
You seem to have trouble controlling your temper, Dirty Sanchez… or is it Quentin Tarantino’s Chin, or rebel_scum, or Martin Dempster? I’m not quite sure why you feel compelled to hide behind such a variety of pseudonyms, unless you’re afflicted by some sort of split personality disorder.
Posted by: Whiggles
, September 15, 2008 10:22 AM
Posted by: Anon, September 15, 2008 4:23 PM
Yeah, I could probably do with casting my anime net a little wider. Generally speaking, though, what I’ve seen just doesn’t tend to do a whole lot for me, which is why I tend to avoid reviewing it - I’d rather leave that to the people who love it and are more knowledgeable about it than myself.
As a case in point, I watched all the trailers you linked to in your post. To someone with an intimate knowledge of all things anime, I’d imagine that they all have a unique, distinctive look, but for me, all I could see were the similarities between them: the same bland, overly realistic proportions and character designs, the two- or three-frame “mouth opening and closing” animation, the over-reliance on special effects and detailed backgrounds (many of which simply don’t read at all to me because they’re so obsessive with their minutiae) at the expense of imaginative character acting, the continued obsession with post-apocalyptic, militaristic scenarios… Of the five, the only one that stood out to me as having a distinctive look was the Dead Leaves trailer, and its overly cooked colour palette and incomprehensible visual overload (or was the trailer just purposefully edited that way?) meant it actually gave me a headache just watching it. Like I said, I’m not trying to say people shouldn’t enjoy these films or that they’re bad - I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t watched many - just that, from what I’ve seen of them, there’s really very little that makes me want to seek them out.
Posted by: Whiggles
, September 15, 2008 4:52 PM
Say, are you saying the visuals in Beowulf are worse than Final Fantasy, or the film as a whole?
DEAD LEAVES is just as bombastic as the trailer implies. I imagine it's the animated equivalent of doing a lot of psychedelic drugs and then being dropped off in the middle of a busy carnival; frightening and hard to describe, but pretty amazing. It's short runtime (48 min) helps it be fun without wearing out its' welcome, and if you love John K. cartoons I imagine you might find some things to love about it.
JIN-ROH is a fantastic tragedy first, stunningly animated second. Was lucky enough to see it from a 35mm print at a convention (albeit dubbed) and adored every second. It's just a shame that the Blu-ray is so damned expensive...
METROPOLIS is a Rintarou film based on a manga that Osamu Tezuka hated in retrospect, based solely on having seen the poster for Lang's film. Rintarou loved it and wanted to adapt it for quite some time, but Tezuka wouldn't allow it, so production didn't begin until shortly after he'd passed away. Rintarou is a master at animating intricate and garish things that look amazing, but typically don't make a lot of sense, not without a lot of familiarity with the source material before hand (see GENMA TAISEN and X/1999). Add that to Tezuka's classic character designs (circa 1949!) and it's a bit of a mess, but it certainly is a fascinating one...
I happen to love Rintarou's work as pure spectacle, but I'd never deny that he has massive weaknesses as a storyteller. A shame.
By the way, love the blog. :)
Posted by: Kentai, September 16, 2008 9:14 AM
I’d say the visuals in Beowulf are worse than those in Final Fantasy. To some extent I think it’s the “uncanny valley” effect (things being so close to real life that even slight flaws are multiplied tenfold for the viewer), but I personally also have major problems with the whole “CGI imitating real life” game, because it strikes me as pointless, and the effect is never as good as just shooting live action to begin with. Films like Final Fantasy and Beowulf are technically magnificent, but for me they just don’t deliver the goods because I don’t find the end result remotely interesting. When it comes to computer animation, I’d far rather watch something deliberately stylised.
I’ll definitely take a look at Dead Leaves if I get the chance. Based on the trailer, though, it’s about as far removed from John Kricfalusi’s animation theories as you can get. I imagine, for example, that he’d hate the colour palette and fast cutting, and I can see myself having a similar reaction, if the trailer is indeed anything to go by. (For me, the choice of colour and the speed at which things pass means that, while there are definitely some really nice poses and layouts in there, they don’t have a chance to register.)
Posted by: Whiggles
, September 16, 2008 9:56 AM
Yeah, I could probably do with casting my anime net a little wider. Generally speaking, though, what I've seen just doesn't tend to do a whole lot for me, which is why I tend to avoid reviewing it - I'd rather leave that to the people who love it and are more knowledgeable about it than myself.
That I respect, far too often people review films, series, et al that they obviously never wanted to view in the first place - over and over and over. The downside to avoiding it is of course missing out on a bunch of stellar works, nevermind the medium.
As a case in point, I watched all the trailers you linked to in your post. To someone with an intimate knowledge of all things anime, I'd imagine that they all have a unique, distinctive look
Yes. An Otomo (Akira) character design is unlike anything else, instantly recognizable, for instance. Realistic character designs is not something that is the norm in anime, I just find that people tend to "prefer" this for whatever reason so perhaps my "trailer picks" were skewed toward this. But needless to say, they can get as stylised as you want... and beyond.
the two- or three-frame "mouth opening and closing" animation
That is amusing, as I know for sure 2 of these were animated at a rare 12 and 24fps (one segment is done in "one shot" for something around 10-15 minutes). Jin-Roh in fact had pre-recorded audio for the lip movements which you could have seen if the Japanese trailer had been available. "Limited animation" and its usage/potential would need a bigger thread to be discussed, but especially Miyazaki is a master at this...
"I love the artistry of Kiki. I love the artistry of each of Miyazaki's films, and I think that if you see them all, there's a definite arc to his technical mastery of the particular style of limited animation. From time to time, there are moments of breathtaking precision and fluidity, but he makes them count. They're always the moments that have to be done on ones or maybe on twos. The rest of the time, simplicity is a strength, and he manages to make me forget that it's limited animation at all. In Totoro, once again, I was touched by these characters. Mei, in particular, struck me as one of the more realistic child characters I've seen in a film. The simple, aching story of two sisters who escape their fear for a sick mother with the help of a set of spirits that only they can see is a perfect example of how Miyazaki somehow constructs strong dramatic pieces that avoid the simple black-and-white "good guys" and "bad guys" of most films."
the over-reliance on special effects and detailed backgrounds (many of which simply don't read at all to me because they're so obsessive with their minutiae) at the expense of imaginative character acting
Needless to say, I disagree with the latter. I love the intricate backgrounds in animes that use them for various purposes. Over-reliance on special effects is certainly a 'crime' US animation commits just - or more - often. Arguably DreamWorks spewed out "Look at this! Look how amazing all of this is!" title after title for many years.
the continued obsession with post-apocalyptic, militaristic scenarios...
Certainly that is present in many shows/films (for good reason?), but again, anime comes in all shapes and sizes. Modern, period, comedies, drama, thrillers, you-name-it. High-school romances or mid-life crisis dramas, all sans the aforementioned "obsessions."
Kentai did a great job of covering the appeal of Jin-Roh, Dead Leaves (yes, its cutting style is *almost* that aggressive, but hardly worse than Bayhem or Tony "take his Avid away" Scott), and to a lesser extent Metropolis in his post. Believe I appreciated it a bit more.
Like I said, I'm not trying to say people shouldn't enjoy these films or that they're bad - I wouldn't know, as I haven't watched many - just that, from what I've seen of them, there's really very little that makes me want to seek them out.
That's fair, and again I commend you for not falling into the all-too-common "Anime sucks!" sweeping generalization. I've done so many "conversions" that I really tend to just say: "You're missing out on a heckuva lot" these days when people show little or no interest, such as yourself. Should you change your mind for whatever reason, though, this is a good spot to begin hunting:
Posted by: Anon, September 16, 2008 11:51 AM
Thanks for the clarification. I'll grant that Beowulf wasn't quite as nice visually as Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, but it wasn't half as hideous as The Polar Express either (yuck). I'd worried I was reading between the lines too much and you were thinking FF:TSW was the better film - rather than eye candy - over Beowulf. If THAT were the case, well...
I think I've never thought of pseudo-real CG quite aping reality, more they just bridge the gap between live acting and animation. This is exactly why Japan goes with animation instead of live action adaptations of so many horror, fantasy and sci-fi stories; it isn't practical for the Japanese film industry to spend hundreds of million yen on CG filled epics when they only make tens of million back at the box office anyway. I won't fault you for feeling that way, though; rotoscoping can be used to great effect to exaggerate reality (Rock and Rule) or it can be a hideous shortcut (Bakshi's Lord of the Rings).
Dead Leaves is quite a bit far and away from Ren and Stimpy, I admit, but the layout work and genuinely expressive animation is what struck me as being somewhat comparable to John K. (not that "this is the Japanese John K.", as a second John K. existing anywhere seems as unlikely as another Miyazaki suddenly cropping up in Hollywood). Much as I do enjoy "typical" low framerate/high concept Japanese animation I'm always happy to see something far removed from the norm, and Dead Leaves is about as unconventional visually as it can get. I'm equally fond of director Hiroyuki IMASHI's first TV series, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, but wouldn't recommend it to someone not already somewhat familiar with mecha anime, in the same way (for lack of a better example) I'd not recommend Scream to someone unfamiliar with slasher movies. The joke just wouldn't register.
I'd also recommend ROBOT CARNIVAL, but with all legitimate releases being out of print I'm not quite sure how to suggest you do it. The somewhat similar Neo-Tokyo(aka Manie-Manie) is once again available as a 2-pack with the so-so New Fist of the North Star series, but for $20 MSRP just think of getting the latter for free.
Manie-Manie was (IMO) a much better fit for Rintarou's talents than Metropolis. That's not to say that Metropolis is bad, just that I think he's capable of so much more. Then again the issues I had with it could be the fault of Tezuka's manga. I've never read it, so I don't know.
(Whew - sorry, I rambled more than usual!)
Posted by: , September 16, 2008 10:47 PM
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