Above is a collage someone put together from the film Casshern. I just saw it for the first time and it had me spellbound. I can’t say I understood it all. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure who had just died, or if they had but what enraptured me was the collage of styles that went into this, and effectively too. It seemed like a new grammar of film was being revealed. The dominant style of this anime crossbreed (the film was based on a 1973 anime) was images from the different types of graphic novels out there. Fast action would be intercut with stills, anime with live action, oversaturated colour with gritty hypergrained black and white. This was at times an incredibly beautiful film.
You can view the movie trailor here (embedding has been disabled).
The following clip has been labelled the best action sequence in the film, and it is, but this film has to be seen at least on a television screen to be appreciated. I wish I could have seen this bigscreen.
It got me thinking that in the last 20 or 30 years, the Japanese are the only filmmakers outside of Hollywood to have really pushed the stylistic envelope. Its the only place that seems to have a unique visual approach that is powerful enough to influence film globally. Which I suppose is not that amazing given their influence in other areas of design.
I remember listening to Roger Ebert placing Miyazaki films on his top ten of the year, and though liking animation I thought, really? And though not being that moved by Princess Monanoke (1997) , I went on to Spirited Away (2001) and realized that animated features could hold all the subtleties of regular fiction film. What astounded me was not only the peculiarities of it, it being very Japanese in all ways, but its adherence to traditional camera movement and the sense of natural light. And then to My Neighbor Totoro (1988), a smaller sweeter film, and one I will never forget.
And then just a few years ago I saw Grave of the Fireflies (1988), a Japanese anime about a young boy and his sister trying too survive after an air raid in which their mother is killed. Its one of the most heartbreaking films I have ever seen.
What changed my mind about these things is that I realized as I was watching Spirited Away, and now other animated films, is that at some point I forgot I was watching animation and the narrative rose up, transcending the medium, and I was just watching a film. This even happened with Grave where the characters are not particularly realistic compared to most of these others but become as real as any live actors in non animated films.