Anime Entertains Cartoon Buff of All Ages
October 13, 2004 8:52 PM
Adults and children alike flocked to the opening of "Shrek 2." It became the biggest animated hit in domestic box office history grossing more than $364 million in its first four weeks.
The DreamWorks movie premiered in major international markets like Australia, France, Germany, and Japan. Pixar had five straight award-winning hits in "Toy Story," "A Bugís Life," "Toy Story 2," "Monsters, Inc.," and "Finding Nemo."
Another animation film opened recently that was highly anticipated among certain circles. Although the title includes the word ďinnocenceĒ in it, itís not intended for children.
Written and directed by Mamoru Oshii, "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" opened nationwide Sept. 17. It is a sequel to the Japanese filmmakerís 1995 anime, "Ghost in the Shell," about a female detective who inhabits and then loses her artificial body.
Set in 2032, the new anime centers on her former colleague, the stone-faced cyborg Bateau (part human, part robot), who is a male cop in an unknown governmentís antiterrorist division.
What gets "Innocence" off and rolling is a plot to hunt potentially homicidal gynoids (female pleasure robots) whose primary use is sex. The creatures have suddenly begun freaking out, killing their owners and disappearing. Since this could be a national security issue, Bateauís elite Section 9 is called to investigate.
The "Ghost in the Shell" series is an example of an unusual form of Japanese animation that takes as its first rule the idea that grown-up movies can be animated.
It may be a new concept for American animators, but itís old news in Japan, where the culture takes stories told in pictures seriously.
"[Anime] comes from a lot of experimental graphic design stuff in Japan," said SF State conceptual information arts major Kuroha Mitsuo. "Japan is a real visually orientated culture."
Mitsuo grew up in Japan and remembers watching anime as a young child.
"A whole culture of films and seriesí in Japan, from the sappiest kid movies and adult love stories to hyper-violent samurai and gangster works to cruel hard-core porn, regularly arrives on screens in animated form", said Mitsuo.
While movies like "Shrek" and "Finding Nemo" deal with some adult themes like self-confidence, trust, perseverance, and nobility, anime like "Ghost in the Shell" goes deeper, touching on subjects of human identity, consciousness, reality, and what it means to have a soul.
Japanese animation has become an underground subculture in America, said Mitsuo, because the more traditional cartoons here are child-orientated.
Mitsuo thinks animation in the States is less aggressive. The subject matter is different in Japan, said Mitsuo, where itís common to see Japanese businessmen in fancy suits reading popular comic books on the subway.
"The audience is not as limited in Japan," he said. "Japanese animation can take place in a fantasy world similar to dreaming, but it also uses subjects from everyday life. Thereís more variety in the content."
Some popular American movies and books have been influenced by Japanese animation.
The Wachowski brothers, creators of "The Matrix" trilogy openly admitted to being inspired by "Ghost in the Shell," according to SFgate.com.
Ridley Scottís 1982 sci-fi classic "Blade Runner," although made before "Ghost in the Shell," resembles the same popular theme of robots living side-by-side with humans; the line between human existence and robot awareness being blurred.
Isaac Asimovís book "I, Robot" was written in 1950, yet the three laws of robotics are also seen in Oshiiís "Innocence."
Whether we influenced them or they influenced us, the popularity of anime is growing in the States.
"Ghost in the Shellís" 1995 cinematic run achieved what was then the highest gross for a theatrical release of an anime feature. On home video its flourishing cult following made it the first anime production to ever reach No. 1 on the Billboard Home Video charts. It eventually moved over a million units on VHS and DVD.
Another example of that growing popularity can be seen right here at SF State. Anime FX, a club on campus promoting the love and curiosity of anime, hosted their first anime screening on Sept. 24 with a five-hour dose of anime action, comedy and drama. They plan to hold this event annually.
Gathered together in a dark windowless room in the Science building, a group of anime lovers cheered and laughed as 13 different anime films played.
Anime FX librarian Jimmy Mai gets licensing permission to show the flicks to the public for free and the popularity of the club keeps growing every year. The club started in 1995 to not only entertain students, but to help students learn and be enlightened with what Japanese animation has to offer, said Mai.
Lita Cho, a freshman majoring in Japanese, first saw Japanese animation in the 5th grade. It was the distinct cartoon style that captured her interest.
"I remember watching 'Sailor Moon' and not realizing it was anime, but it caught my eye and Iíve loved it ever since," she said. "It was so different the way characters were drawn with the big eyes and pretty feminine bodies."
Brad Uyeda, a senior majoring in animation, started noticing Japanese animation his freshman year in high school because of the intense graphics. He likes the attention to detail and the realism of the graphics. He also thinks American animation is over-simplified.
A few of Uyedaís favorite anime films are "Samurai X," "Ninja Scroll" and "Ghost in the Shell." He has a theory on why the craze is catching on in the States.
"People are getting used to seeing it now in our culture and they like it because itís not Disney," said Uyeda. "Itís everything we go to the movies to watch. Live action and emotions are captured in this type of animation, and I think people are attracted to that. There are no limits."
Uyeda goes to Japantown for anime and Japanese comic books, known as ďmanga.Ē Another place students like Uyeda and senior Jason Mitchell, an art major with an emphasis in animation, go for their anime fix is online. Imports can be bought from websites like Amazon.com.
Mitchell remembers seeing "Sailor Moon" on UPN as a kid. He liked the colors and use of shadows, but said it was the content that kept him interested.
"Thereís a lot more censorship restrictions in the United States," said Mitchell. "A lot of stories get neutered because they feel like the public wonít respond very well, while if Iím getting something thatís imported it comes from another culture and there arenít the same censorship issues."
Mitchell thinks there is more freedom in Japan to develop stories that appeal to adults, and he also thinks Japanese animation is getting even more coverage in the press.
"Itís interesting to see things like 'Ghost in the Shell 2' in the theater," said Mitchell. "When 'Ghost in the Shell' came out in '95 it was dubbed and had a limited release in the States starting on the East Coast and gradually worked itís way here. Nine years later the sequel has a national release with it playing in more than one theater in the Bay Area."
Thatís nice to see, he said, especially for people like him who love it and want to see it on the big screen.
Adult themes mixed with stylish animation resonate with students. But unlike popular American animation, the lessons learned may be different.
"Anime taught me about different perspectives; bad isnít necessarily bad and good isnít always good," said Cho, who thinks American cartoons are too predictable.
In anime, she said, the plots are more complex and the line between bad and good is often blurred. "The stories are more complicated," she said. "Just like real life."
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