Thursday, 20 October 2011

Ghibli Shorts – Night of Taneyamagahara, On Your Mark, Ghiblies, Sora-iro no Tane and CMs

(more to come when I get the extras with Ghibli ga Ippai)

種山ヶ原の夜 / Taneyamagahara no Yoru / The Night of Taneyamagahara
The honest truth is that if not for the fact that this was a Ghibli short film, directed by superb background artist Oga Kazuo, I would not have bothered. It’s a little folk story by Miyazawa Kenji, the mind behind the wonderful Gauche the Cellist and Night on the Galactic Railroad, but is only a tiny fragment of a story and barely animated.

Very much like cheap educational television animations and Jackanory-style storytelling programmes, it is less a piece of animation than a series of still images with the camera panning over them while a soft voice reads out a story. In this case, the plot is that when a man falls asleep in a group on the Taneyamagahara mountain, he dreams the grass and oak trees are talking to him, asking him to care for them when he buys the land, and not to cut too many trees down to make charcoal. Just as he is coming to an agreement, he steps on a young lightning god by accident and is punished. That’s about it. There’s a nice, wistful mood, yes, but very little to identify with or see progressing.

And honestly, while the art is lovely in terms of its backgrounds, they’re not the visual spectacle of Iblard Jikan and the human characters are clearly intended to seem ordinary and unglamorous, but end up not very appealing at all. Plus, perhaps unsurprisingly, when much of your screen time is devoted to talking leaves, things get a little dull and repetitive.

オン・ユア・マーク/ On Your Mark
Wow - the music video Studio Ghibli made for Japanese Rock duo Chage & Aska’s song ‘On Your Mark’ in 1995 is so unutterably beautiful that I was stunned. So much story, so many fascinating questions raised in such a short time that it’s got to be the best non-performance music video I’ve ever seen.

(originally written 1.9.06. Even now when I see clips of the short video appear in things like AMV Hell it takes me aback how high the quality is, particularly for a mid-90s piece of Japanese animation, and how ambitious it was)

ギブリーズ/ Ghiblies 1&2
It’s been a long while since I watched the Ghiblies shorts – about five years – but they still make me smile. Crude 4-koma-like art not so distant from that of Tonari no Yamada-kun or Sazae-san portrays the everyday lives of the Ghibli workers – albeit fictionalised into the ‘Giburi’ studio, based on the joke that the way ‘Ghibli’ is said in Japan (‘Jiburi’) is a misreading of the Italian word, which should have a hard ‘g’. With a great little bassline in the second short and some fun jumps into a more realistic style and CG experiments, it records what are clearly funny moments from the office.

Only a few minutes each, they’re well worth the watch for any fan, if perhaps a little baffling for the uninitiated.

そらいろのたね/ Sora-Iro no Tane / The Sky-Colored Seed + Nandarou
Funny, childish little animations for Nippon Terebi, these little animations are cute bits of nothing. Nandarou, meaning something along the lines of ‘Thingy’ or ‘wassat?’. In the TV spots created for their 40th anniversary in 1992, it variously shoots out mini versions of itself, reabsorbs them and eats some characters of the studio logo before turning into various other, similar-looking things. Oh, and one where it goes all huge and CG. These are just little bits of fun for a few seconds each.

Sora-Iro no Tane was created at the same time, directed by Miyazaki. A cute, colourful animation looking like a typical kids’ cartoon, it has a bit more substance than Nandarou, albeit still being somewhat hallucinogenic. A small boy trades his toy plane for a sky-coloured seed from an anthropomorphic fox. The seed sprouts into a house at first big enough only for a little chick. It keeps growing, until a cat can fit in, then the boy, and soon elephants and numerous other creatures want to be included. The fox decides the trade has been unfair so swaps again so that he can have the whole house to himself, but the edifice gets too close to the sun and pops, presumably teaching him his lesson. A minute and a half of innocent fun.

Various commercialsThe Nisshin Seifun commercial is probably the best thing Miyazaki Goro has yet worked on. Storyboarded by him and directed by Katsuya Kondo, it’s about a silly fat cat chasing a butterfly drawn in a nice line-art style. A fun bit of frivolity.

Miyazaki Hayao’s House co. commercials are probably the most richly animated snippets for TV the studio has made. The lovely little clips show 50s kids from the point of view of adults, delighting in catching sight of (presumably) their parents. Beautifully done and endlessly adorable, they’re indispensable viewing for fans. An odd, warbly song from a Ghibli seiyuu about the chicchana onna no ko called ‘Okaasan no Shashin’ (mother’s photo), though, which if anything I’d have changed.

Umacha, or ‘Delicious Tea’, were two short ads for an iced tea from Asahi. Oddly, it was made in tandem with a live-action version. It’s done in the Yamada-kun watercolour style, and essentially the idea is that the tea is very refreshing. Directed by Tanabe Osamu, they seem to me somewhat throwaway, perhaps reflecting a lack of input from studio writers.

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