July 6, 2009
In addition to the opening film and animation highlights revealed by the 2009 Fantasia festival, the rest of the films do not merely round out the animation portion of programming. These selections reflect some of the more interesting selections of on the cinematic edge.

The features, in addition to Genius Party Beyond, Hells, and Les Lascars:
  • Edison and Leo, the first Canadian stop-motion feature, is described as a "surprising chunk of steampunk fun, a revisionist, retro science-fiction thriller with a zesty dash of decidedly adult gags." OK, I'm in.
  • anime features Eureka Seven and Evangelion 1.0
The shorts, in addition to those in Tokyo OnlyPic 2008, Celluloid Experiments 2009, DJ XL5's Razzle Dazzle Zappin' Party:
Also of note:
Bon festival!

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November 21, 2008

Another day, another trailer! This first look at Tezuka's little robot boy in CGI form isn't really filling me with glee. Combine the fact that it all looks somehow wrong (Astro Boy's clothes don't scream manga/anime icon to me) with the lacklustre showing of Imagi's big-screen CGI TMNT debut last year and you can colour me concerned.

If the YouTube version above isn't floating your boat, maybe the HD streams at Moviefone.com will satisfy.

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November 4, 2008
According to the Anime News Network,

Tezuka Productions, the studio created by legendary manga and anime pioneer Osamu Tezuka, will be posting 700 manga titles and 100 anime titles from its late founder on the Internet for free starting this week. For the next three years, all works produced before 2000 will be available for viewing.

This is huge. It speaks to Tezuka's lasting power as a brand and a creator, and the beloved position he held (and continues to hold) in Japanese culture. I can think of fewer finer legacies than an act of such generosity.

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October 12, 2008

Looks like a little company called Project 760 Productions in San Francisco used to produce a neat little cable show called World of Anime back in the day. Check out this clip featuring an interview with anime scholar, Fred Schodt then hop on over to their YouTube channel to watch more archival clips.

Previously on fps:
WFAC 2008 - Fred Schodt, John O'Donnell and Brian Ruh to Discuss Grave of the Fireflies

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April 5, 2008

The "To the Source of Anime" retrospective ends its run today at the Cinémathèque québécoise with a tribute to Noburo Ofuji. The "Wartime Japanese Animation" programs included propaganda cartoons that feature strikingly American character designs. I mentioned this to Akira Tochigi, the curator of the retrospective, when I interviewed him during his stay in Montreal. Mr. Tochigi spoke with enthusiasm during our lengthy interview.

Armen Boudjikanian: This retrospective does a survey of Japanese animation from 1924 to 1952. Is there any reason why there are not any films from before the 1920s?

Akira Tochigi: Actually until last year, we haven't had any surviving elements of animation from the 1910s. But a private collector found two elements of early animation from 1917 [35mm prints]. We are now doing their digital restoration. We will showcase them soon in a program highlighting recent restoration projects.

What can you tell us about the state of Japanese animation in the 1910s?

Animation was first imported to Japan between 1908 and 1910 from France [the works of Émile Cohl] and the UK. The Japanese film industry created its first major studio in 1912: Nikkatsu studio. Nikkatsu was very powerful at making and distributing its own films but also distributing foreign films. Gradually, along with its competitors, it began being interested in making animation. Pioneers of early animation found opportunities in these studios.

Around the 20s, as more animation came from abroad, especially the States, the majors lost interest in producing their own animation. Rather, [they decided to focus on] importing. They believed that American animation was much more sophisticated and more appealing to [Japanese] audiences.

But also in the 1910s, there was a heated debate in Japan about the influence of cinema on children. The portion of young audiences was big: about 30 to 40 per cent of the moviegoers. The government, academics and intellectuals were all concerned on the [effect of films] on children.

So in the early 1920s, the Japanese central government set up the policy of supporting educational films [which at the time also encompassed] animation. By this kind of categorization the government supported animation filmmaking and sometimes commissioned independent filmmakers to make animations for kid audiences. Animation became a way to safeguard children [from] the influence of cinema. And so, its quality changed at that time.

Coming to the question of governmental funding for animated films. I have noticed that films from the WWII era which are heavily funded by the government resemble Hollywood cartoons much more than earlier Japanese animation. Is there a principal cause for this?

Yes, [this is the result of the combination] of two elements. In the late 20s, early 30s, more and more American animation came to Japan: Disney, [Fleischer's] Betty Boop and Popeye, etc... Japanese animation was very quick to react to this situation by creating its own [set] of characters which originated from comic books and also from Japanese folklore such as Momotaro, monkeys, badgers, etc...

It seems that the synthesis is very well done, though. These are early cartoons but they are very well executed technically. The western influence is obvious but the Japanese elements are blended in successfully.

[The reason for] this synthesis is that in the 1940s, the Japanese government set up the Film Law which forced culture films [documentaries], educational and animation films to be shown in theatres to [large] audiences.

The law also controlled film projections, and [theatre] personnel. There was severe censorship. [Nevertheless], the field of animation became prosperous in these times because the government supported it with its law. So as the influence of American cartoons on Japanese animation continued in the 1940s, it came together with the film law and this resulted in the making of the first medium and feature-length animated films in Japan [the 1942 war film Momotaro and the Sea Eagle was Japan's first five-reel animation].

[Films from this period] used characterization that was typical of American animation. [This] is pretty ironic because these films were very much anti-American propaganda, but still [laughs] it is very apparent that their character designs and aesthetic were coming from American animation.

Coming to Momotaro and the Sea Eagle, can you talk about its cast of characters? Why is the leader of the Japanese army a young girl and why are its soldiers animals?

I think that it's a young boy, not a girl. It seems that he has a kind of femininity but it's a boy. [These characters] come from the original story of Momotaro, who was a boy character that fought the enemy [with the help] of animals.

What happened to Japanese animation between the end of WWII and the establishment of Toei Doga studio in the fifties?

This is one of the hardest ever periods for Japanese animation. There was a shortage of film stock and taxes were high. The defeat of the war finished the [governmental] support to filmmaking. There were no festivals, no theatrical exhibitions, but there were a lot of talented young artists who tried to make films on an independent basis. So when Toei started in the '50s, and TV animation in the early '60s, they [offered the young] animators a way to sort of continue making films under a well-financed situation.

Noburo Ofuji, an animation pioneer to whom you attribute a program to in this retrospective, made Burglars of Baghdad Castle in 1926. This film is very innovative. The techniques used in it foresee some of those that Japanese animators will employ later such as limiting the movement of characters. Do you see a link between Ofuji's work and some of the techniques that were used later on?

Noburo Ofuji started using chiyogami [Japanese coloured paper] as a medium of motion in the 1920s. Celluloid was very expensive in Japan and most animators were not able to use it until the middle of the 1930s. Even then Ofuji remained interested in using chiyogami.

He would cut them [drawings done on chiyogami] out, right?

Right. Ofuji continued making films in the late '50s, and in his later films, used colored cellophane—not to use celluloid [laughs]. And because of the materiality of the [cellophane] paper, [he had] to find ways to economize the motion of the characters. And this seems very associative with TV animation. As you may know, when Osamu Tezuka started the program Astro Boy, thirty minutes of animation were aired on TV weekly. It was pretty hard to make original pictures for thirty minutes amount of work per week.

The team of Tezuka Productions only animated eight pictures in a second [as opposed to 24] to sort of economize the motion of characters... So when trying to connect history to what came before it, [early] paper animation and TV animation [seem] closely related.

Also, Burglars of Baghdad Castle, like current anime, has also plenty of action.

Yes. The Baghdad film features mass action.

Yes! A lot of crowds.

[Laughs] Something like a Kurosawa movie.

How about other links between the early animations and contemporary anime? Do you see any similarities in terms of inspiration?

I think that [there] is a very clear association with contemporary anime [especially] with the work of Studio Ghibli: in Pom Poko for example, a community of creatures [raccoon dogs, or tanuki] fight against human beings. This Ghibli film is not similar in content to 1930s cartoons that have [similar] characters, but [in terms of] the idea to use creature characters to make a satire of human society, it is very closely related. Ghibli, in this sense, is a very traditional animation creator.

So what got you interested in animation?

To be honest, I didn't have a special interest in animation for a long time. Of course, as a child I was intrigued by theatrical animation—and in fact had a passion for TV animation. I [also] read comics in my elementary school [years]. When I entered college, I continued reading comics, [especially the work of] Otomo [creator of Akira]. He was popular with the college crowd not only because of his aesthetics but also because of his handling of contemporary issues.

At this time, my interest in animation was not so much special. [However], when I started working for the Film Archives several years ago, I found many animations in their collection [from the past]. When I watched these films, I was struck by their power and complexity. Of course most were for kid audiences; but from a contemporary perspective, I found out about the [ability] of animation to deal with fantasy, illusion and delusion in many different ways. It seems to me that because these early animators worked mostly independently [their only support came from the government], their individualities and sense of art as filmmakers is apparent in their films; [whether] they worked on mainstream films or in alternative cinema.

[And since] I was struck by experimental cinema in college, including [laughs] Norman McLaren...

Of Course! [laughter]

[Continues laughing] So... Because of this intrigue, my connection with these animated films [felt] natural. And of course as an archivist, I was interested in the history of animation cinema.

There is going to be a retrospective of Canadian and Québécois animation in Tokyo in 2009. Is there an interest in Canadian animation in Japan right now?

Yes, definitely. Next year's exhibition of Canadian and Québécois animation will be programmed by [Marco de Blois of the Cinémathèque québécoise]. We like to leave him to make the final decisions for that [exhibition], as I did for this one.

The staff members of our institution [the National Film Center in Tokyo] are very eager for [this] program because when Norman McLaren was first introduced in Japan in the late '50s, many young artists were so surprised by his films: they were experimental and personal expressions of ideas and feeling through the medium of animation. Most of the Japanese audiences at the time thought animation would [only] be kid entertainment.

That's something that's common in many countries.

Right... And in the late '50s, early '60s, the word "animation" was first introduced in Japan.
Before then, we used the word "manga" film, not animation. But the exhibition that introduced McLaren's work was called "animation film screening". [This] means that the term animation was related not to Disney type of animation but to experimental film and personal film... So this context of Canadian animation has a special [significance] in Japan: it is a kind of individual expression.

Which filmmaker from the "To the Source of Anime" retrospective is of special interest to you as a researcher?

When I was watching the films of this retrospective again and again, the films of Masaoka Kenzo struck me so much [in terms] of aesthetic, ideas and technique.

The Spider and the Tulip is very well directed and animated, could you talk about the artist and how he got into animation?

[Kenzo] had a unique background; he came from a very rich family from Kyoto. He studied western painting in college. Then he joined a major film studio as an actor. He then made his first film, a documentary. [It is only afterwards] that he moved to animation.

Because he came from a prosperous family, and because of his movie studio contacts; he did not rely on [external] funding to make his films. He was exceptionally able to have his films exhibited in theatres, even his first film. Also, because of this, he did not care about targeting his films to children. He wanted to show his films to regular audiences. He often created in his own small studio. He [also coined] the Japanese term doga which means "animated images" in English.

He [did this to be able] to cover all aspects of animation: from puppet to silhouette animation, [whether designed] for children or not. He wanted to value animation as an art for everybody.

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September 16, 2007
Review written by Aaron H. Bynum

As profound an impact as Osamu Tezuka has had on the artistic and commercial cultures of manga publishing and the production of Japanese animation, it nevertheless remains true that in no place other than Japan is the late Tezuka acknowledged in scholarly media with constant fervour each passing year. A man whose ambition knew no bounds, Osamu Tezuka is one of Japan's most recognizable icons, while at the same time the nation's best-kept secret. He was a veritable "one-man dream factory," as author and translator Frederik L. Schodt wrote in his new book, The Astro Boy Essays. Known to the Western world mostly through his manga creation of a little rosy-cheeked robot boy named Atom, Osamu Tezuka was an individual of colossal imagination.

Read the review

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June 12, 2007
Pixar has announced that their 2009 feature will be titled Up, making it the most concisely titled animated feature ever, at least until Shane Acker's 9 comes out. According to Variety, the movie will be about "a 70-year-old man who teams with a wilderness ranger to fight beasts and villains." That's just vague enough that I went straight to Up helmer Pete Docter and asked if he could provide even a little more detail at this early date. For instance, is the movie set in the past, present or future? "It's set in the present," he said, "But I'm not supposed to say much more than has already been printed—other than it's going to be really cool!" Hopefully he'll be more forthcoming before the movie's June 12, 2009 debut.

The Mouse goes to Bollywood: In an effort to crack the Indian market, Disney is teaming up with Yash Raj Films to co-produce Bollywood-style animated features, voiced by Bollywood stars. It's a step up from, say, pitching Mulan to Chinese audiences, but it'd be really cool if Disney set up an exchange program between the Indian studio and Feature Animation in the States. It's a small world, after all.

You know we're gleefully anticipating Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution, but gnash our teeth mightily while waiting for its September release date. Happily, we can get a taste when author Frederik L. Schodt chats with KQED's Michael Krasny next Tuesday, between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time. (If you miss it, you can download the archived podcast a bit later.) Oh, did I mention it's a call-in show? You can phone in with questions during the show at 415-863-2476 or 1-866-SF-FORUM (866-733-6786; toll free).

I had no idea there was such a thing as the Canadian Skills Competition, let alone that the thirteenth instalment happened last last week. And imagine my surprise at discovering that the "Olympic-style competitions that test the skills of young people at secondary and post-secondary levels in trade and technology areas" include animation! Specifically, there are two team events titled 3D Character Computer Animation and 2D Character Computer Animation. Congratulations to the winners, but of course I'm a little irked that animation is being considered a technology skill more than an artistic one.

I'm not a huge fan of '80s TV, and frankly the thought of another He-Man and the Masters of the Universe movie bewilders me. (The Transformers movie, less so. The smart money has long known to bet on robot smackdowns.) But it's now been confirmed that Warner will be making the Thundercats movie as a CGI feature. Okay, they've got a cool logo and all, but... why? I know, I know, there's a fan base. But... why?

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June 8, 2007
Well, that didn't take long. It's only been a few days since ImaginAsian launched their weekday morning anime programming block, and they've already announced the first six DVD releases for the three series (Cat's Eye, Super Dimension Century Orguss and Nobody's Boy Remi). On another front, it looks like there are a couple of good books coming over the next six months. Two in particular, Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution and To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios sound like must-read material.

New titles:

7/10 - Cat's Eye Vol. 1 + series box (DVD)
7/10 - Nobody's Boy Remi Vol. 1 + series box (DVD)
7/10 - Princess Princess Vol. 2: Chorus of Cuties (DVD)
7/10 - Super Dimension Century Orguss Vol. 1 + series box (DVD)
7/24 - Naoyuki Tsuji Animation Collection (DVD)
7/24 - Todd McFarlane's Spawn: Animated Collection (DVD)
7/31 - Cartune Exprez (DVD)
7/31 - Emilys First 100 Days of School (DVD)
7/31 - Hand Maid May Box Set (DVD)
7/31 - Hare+Guu Box Set (DVD)

8/7 - .hack//Roots Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/7 - .hack//Roots Vol. 3 + MP3 case (DVD)
8/7 - Cat's Eye Vol. 2 (DVD)
8/7 - Dick Tracy Show Vol. 1 (DVD)
8/7 - Dick Tracy Show Vol. 2 (DVD)
8/7 - Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Blu-ray)
8/7 - Godzilla: The Original Animated Series Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/7 - Happy Tree Friends Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/7 - King Kong: The Animated Series Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/7 - Nobody's Boy Remi Vol. 2 (DVD)
8/7 - Simpsons: Complete Tenth Season (DVD)
8/7 - Super Dimension Century Orguss Vol. 2 (DVD)
8/14 - Noein Vol. 5 (DVD)
8/14 - Tokko Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/14 - Trollz 2-Pack: Best Friends/Magic of the Five (DVD)
8/14 - Trollz: Best Friends for Life (DVD)
8/14 - Trollz: Magic of the Five (DVD)
8/16 - Character Emotion in 2D and 3D Animation (paperback) (Book)
8/21 - Big O II Complete Collection (Anime Legends) (DVD)
8/21 - Casper's Scare School (DVD)
8/21 - Galaxy Angel AA Vol. 2 (DVD)
8/21 - Kimba Mini Set Vol. 1 (DVD)
8/28 - ATOM Vol. 1: Touch of Paine (DVD)
8/28 - ATOM Vol. 2: Enter the Dragon (DVD)
8/28 - Curious George Takes a Job and More Monkey Business (DVD)
8/28 - Growning Up Creepie Vol. 1: Creepie Creatures (DVD)
8/28 - Land Before Time: Amazing Adventures (DVD)
8/28 - Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Treat (DVD)
8/28 - Rozen Maiden Vol. 3: War of the Rose (DVD)
8/28 - Samurai Jack Season 4 (DVD)
8/28 - Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles: Seeds of Revolution Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/28 - Tutenstein Vol. 3: The Fearless Pharaoh (DVD)
8/30 - Anime Intersections: Tradition and Innovation in Theme and Technique (paperback) (Book)

9/1 - Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution (paperback) (Book)
9/4 - Alvin and the Chipmunks: Scare-Riffic Double Feature (DVD)
9/4 - Chill Out Scooby-Doo! (DVD)
9/4 - Inu Yasha Complete Movies Box Set (DVD)
9/4 - Inu Yasha Season 4 Box Set (DVD)
9/4 - Inu Yasha Season 4 Box Set Deluxe Edition (DVD)
9/4 - Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow (DVD)
9/4 - Naruto Vol. 15 (DVD)
9/11 - Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: The Complete Season 2 (DVD)
9/11 - Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (DVD)
9/11 - Tom & Jerry: Spotlight Collection Vol. 3 (DVD)
9/11 - Tom & Jerry: Spotlight Collection Vols. 1-3 (DVD)
9/18 - Full Moon Vol. 6 (DVD)
9/18 - Tweety's High-Flying Adventure (DVD)
9/25 - Bleach Vol. 6 (DVD)
9/25 - Hikaru no Go Vol. 10 (DVD)
9/25 - Naruto Vol. 16 (DVD)
9/25 - Ranma 1/2: Season 3 Box Set: Hard Battle (DVD)

10/1 - Computer Animation, Second Edition: Algorithms and Techniques (hardcover) (Book)

11/1 - To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios (hardcover) (Book)
11/16 - Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime (paperback) (Book)
11/19 - Foundation Flash Animation Techniques (paperback) (Book)

Date changes:

6/21 - House of 100 Tongues (Adult) (DVD)

8/7 - GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka Semester 1 (DVD)
8/14 - Initial D Season 2 Box Set (DVD)
8/14 - Slayers Season 1 (DVD)

9/14 - Data-Driven 3D Facial Animation (paperback) (Book)
9/18 - Basics Animation: Scriptwriting (Book)
9/30 - Opportunities in Cartooning and Animation Careers (paperback) (Book)

10/31 - Learning with Animation: Research and Implications for Design (paperback) (Book)

12/26 - From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Culture in the Mind of the West (paperback) (Book)

Indefinitely delayed:
12/12 - Boobalicious Vol. 2 (Adult) (DVD)
12/12 - Break Time Vol. 1 (Adult) (DVD)
12/12 - Dark Chapel Vol. 2 (Adult) (DVD)
12/12 - Insatiable Vol. 2 (Adult) (DVD)
12/12 - Ringetsu Vol. 3 (Adult) (DVD)

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May 8, 2007
I've got to find a way to get to San Francisco. From June 2 to September 9, the Asian Art Museum plays host to Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga, an exhibition focusing on the work of the man who revolutionized manga and anime. Anime hipsters take note: without Tezuka's lovable, cute-as-a-button characters, you wouldn't have Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Death Note to swoon over. You can pay the man his due by visiting the exhibit, which will feature over 200 pieces of artwork from the God of Manga, including. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, with presentations, screenings and other events accompanying the exhibit. Can't make it to SF? Then at least check out the podcasts on the man and the manga. (You'll find them under the "Tezuka" link from the entry page.)

A couple of festivals are looking for animation submissions: Romania's aniMOTION European Animation Festival is accepting entries until May 20; the Woodstock Museum Film/Video Festival in New York has an early deadline of May 31.

Don Bluth and Gary Goldman still want to make a feature-length prequel feature based on the Dragon's Lair arcade game. In the right hands, I think I might enjoy the comedic adventures of Dirk the Daring as a young, somewhat hapless knight. I just don't know who "the right hands" would be.

A team of Iranian animators aims to produce two animated works with the theme of "National Unity, Islamic Solidarity" on July 5, with the intent of establishing (or breaking?) the record for the world’s fastest animation. Uh, how is that measured, exactly? I can make animation pretty quickly—it just wouldn't be particularly long. Anyway, the films will be produced between the morning and evening calls to prayer.

Animator Steve Moore has launched Flip, an online magazine entirely created by animators and animation artists. The first issue features an interview with storyboarding guru and all-around nice lady Nancy Beiman.

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