Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Visit To The Carnival Part One:

And so this last weekend came to a bit of a head when the roomie up and asked to watch something she hadn't seen from my collection. Even though I know she had caught scenes and images from it in the past, it only felt right that on a cool, stormy night that we break out the warm tea, the heater set to medium high, and pop a classic anime omnibus into the player.

And this time, it is 1987's ROBOT CARNIVAL that exploded upon her eyes.

A true artifact of a very different era, Kazufumi Nomura Studio A.P.P.P. went all-out to present a Japanese equivalent to Disney's Fantasia with this one, enlisting the talents of some of the medium's heaviest hitters, and fashioned out one of "Bubble Japan's" singular anime events. All while utilizing a core theme, the use of machines often as stars/co-stars of each short piece, the anthology film weaves a tapestry of techno-wonder, fear, and possible concern for the future of a nation enamored with its newfound place in the world.

Oh, sure we've seen large scale art projects like this make it out in the form of Meikyû Monogatari (Neo-Tokyo)(1989), MEMORIES (1995), and even more recently with the Genius Party projects. But we have yet to experience a project quite on this scale, and with so much budget to burn. And featuring a nearly fully electronic musical scoe by the likes of Miyazaki fave, Jo Hisaishi, as well as Isaku Fujita, and Masahisa Takeishi. We are talking a lavish production for its time, and without the constraints of contemporary industry desperation. We are talking anime unhinged, and totally free. There are simply too many moments from each segment that evoke multiple thoughts that it only felt right to do more than merely review, but to give impressions on each segment. Make noise on which shorts I still treasure, as well as scratch my had at the ones that never quite worked for me.

So if you're looking for a more focused overview of ROBOT CARNIVAL, please partake of Justin Sevakis' classic Buried Treasure writeup! What I'll be doing here is something closer to a commentary on feelings old and new that surfaced after this latest viewing.

Firstly, let me go ahead and start by skipping the brilliantly comic bookend piece created by the legendary Katsuhiro Otomo & famed Key Animator, Atsuko Fukushima. We'll go ahead and share words regarding this increasingly relevant entry at the end of this special as I hope to get some more appropriate words saved for it. While still an integral part of a still impressive whole, it really does deserve its own special section of the shelf.

So for now, let's venture into the initial short of this odyssey of sight and sound by looking at elusive animation demigod, Koji Morimoto's Franken's Gear. Morimoto is a name that can be more famous had he taken the safer route ala many of his contemporaries (Oshii, Otomo, Kitakubo,etc.), but remained somewhat a phantom figure in anime circles. Fans may remember certain iconic shots and sequences in popular works such as AKIRA, some of Sharon Apple's dazzling animation in Macross Plus, but most recent fans may remember his stunning work in the Animatrix short, BEYOND. More comfortable with visuals, and implication, Morimoto delivers one of the more middle of the road efforts with this wordless tale of a wacky elder scientist, and his attempt to create mechanical "life".

Almost minimal in a silent era manner, the short takes place in what seems to be a hidden castle as a violent storm brews just outside. This setup allows Morimoto and staff to create this stark world of darks and lights. A shadowplay of sorts with lightning allowing stark casts of light to creats shapes around the rickety, and almost collapsing laboratory is created, giving the whole piece a strange sense of life. With the architecture and equipment constantly being affected by the winds outside, the animation is spared no expense as nearly the entire frame is in some form of forced motion. And as the scientist lowers himself into the dark bowels of the lab, and sees that his creation seems to be rising, it is both evocative of a certain Universal monster's birth, and yet with this volatile background that shifts and weaves, making it a feast for the eyes to see just what isn't moving.

It is only here that the bloatedness of the piece reveals itself, and we are given less to follow storywise. At its base, this is a quick gag, exposing the futility of man's inability to better understand their creations. (something that can be applied to children as well as machines) And as a one-joke premise, there really isn't much to talk about. And seeing as how we are looking at pure animation rather than narrative, all we're left with is the experience which while is fun to watch, isn't terribly compelling to start the film off with. And again, being a fan of Morimoto's works, this comes off as less a signature work, but rather an interesting curio piece for those interested in anime history.

Stay tuned for next time as we leap headlong into DEPRIVE & Yasuomi Umetsu's PRESENCE.

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