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  • Kurenai no metalsuits, "Anime to wa nani ka/What is animation"
  • Ueno Toshiya (bio)
    Translated by Michael Arnold

Seeing the World as a Storyboard

I once saw Oshii Mamoru's storyboards for the film Mobile Police Patlabor 2 (Kidô keisatsu patoreibaa 2 za mûbii, 1993). I have not seen many storyboards, so I cannot say very much about them, but these were obviously drawn with great detail and subtlety. It looked as if you could make a piece of animation just by moving them. The same storyboards were later included on the second Patlabor Digital Library CD-ROM (1995) in a way that makes it possible to actually view the drawings moving in sequence, so now anyone can appreciate the same sensation.

When I saw the drawings, I started to wonder if Oshii looks at the world as if it were like those storyboards—if he views reality as if it were animation from the start. To Oshii, animation is not necessarily just a reflection or copy of reality; it is in itself an independent reality. For him, the world and reality itself are structured and schematized as animation. This is none other than a fundamental principle for watching Oshii's films, and I would like to consider this issue from several angles.

In general, people who do outstanding work in art and expression are [End Page 111] always creating and inventing their own unique worlds within that form of expression. Impressionist painters translate the world as a collection of light and pixels. Hard-boiled novelists invent reality as a set of overlapping actions and objective facts. Filmmakers reformulate the world as if it had been generated as a movie from the start. This much is self-evident.

It may be useful to refer to an often-used example from biology. Ticks have a world of their own—a world perceived by ticks—and dolphins have a world perceived by dolphins. Those creatures' worlds are structured according to their own forms of perception. In a similar way, various expressive cultures are formalized according to their own unique views. A superior mode of representation is one that differentiates (makes unique) that form and structure. Naturally, that includes the process of dismantling and distorting that form and structure as well. Thus, is it really so strange for a filmmaker to look at the world as animation from the start?

Actually, there is nothing unusual about the attempt to compose the whole reality of this world as animation and capture it in drawings. It is possible to translate any person or thing into animated drawings; surely this is what all works of animation really try to do. Regardless of whether the images are highly fictionalized by visual distortion or drawn to a relative degree of photographic realism, if the goal is to gaze at reality as animation and recompose the world through that vision, it is a very commonplace activity. This is because the only questions are the delicacy and accuracy of the animated drawings.

It is well known that the original meaning of the word animation is to activate or give vitality to something—to give life, to breathe life into an inanimate object or substance. Consequently, the term has carried with it an extremely Western, even Christian, connotation. This is the reason why animation using objects, such as dolls, puppets, or clay, is so common in the West. Perhaps this is also why conventional cel animation is relatively primitive in the West. In contrast, the technology and visual detail of animation in Japan is unusually sophisticated. With the exception of the gold or green color of characters' hair and the exaggerated shapes of their mouths and eyes, animation in Japan simulates reality to an excessive degree. (This is especially striking in reflections of light and water or the depiction of details in vehicles and mecha.) It does not aim for the simple reproduction of reality [End Page 112] but the hyperreality of things with no referent, things that are "more realistic than reality." Even if this condition partly grew out of an inability to use the type of massive special effects budgets that Hollywood does, it is something that we...


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