I used to define Japanese anime as “something I would never watch”.
Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Dragonball, and Naruto — I was never interested at all. Maybe it was because I could not imagine complex storylines and philosophical topics depicted in anime. But to be totally honest, they all just seemed like cartoons for kids, plagued by the added task of reading the subtitles.
I was wrong.
Through my visit to Tokyo back during the interim session, I couldn’t help but notice the vast and fanatical anime culture of Japan. There were shops, even big malls, solely specialized in dealing with anime goods, along with statues and other landmarks dedicated to their creators. In Odaiba, for example, I was greeted by a huge, life-sized Gundam at the entrance of a building. I also visited Kiddy Land, one of Tokyo’s most famous and popular five-story toy store at Haraju. People from all ages shopped for the stuffed toys, action figures, and statues of anime characters.
“I can see that they are really passionate about their anime culture,” says Elizabeth Frey, a freshman at SAS who has recently traveled to Japan during Spring break. “There were many people dressed up as characters in the city for anime conventions.”
Japanese anime traces back to the early 20th century– the age of silent films. Although most were lost through the Tokyo earthquake in 1923, the oldest surviving is Namakura Gatana (Blunt Sword) produced by Jun’ichi Kouchi in 1917.
A short snip of Namakura Gatana (Blunt Sword), depicting old, Japanese anime style and art.
Fast forward to the 1980s, anime started to become mainstream in Japan as Gundam, Dragon Ball, and Macross boomed in production. Spirited Away, a Studio Ghibli production directed by Hayao Miyazaki, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2002 and the Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003, fulfilling worldwide success and popularity.
On my plane ride from Japan back to Singapore, I decided to watch my first Japanese anime movie, Your Name, (Kimi no Na wa), which is categorized as a romantic fantasy-drama anime film. Being the fourth highest-grossing film of all time in Japan and the highest-grossing anime film worldwide, Your Name is currently being praised for its emotional impact and beautiful storyline.
Mitsuha Miyamizu, a high school girl living in the countryside of Itomori, wishes she were a handsome boy living in the bustling city of Tokyo. Taki Tachibana, on the other hand, lives a busy life of part-time jobs and studying in the city. One day, Mitsuha and Taki suddenly switch places– Mitsuha in Taki’s body and Taki in Mitsuha’s body. As this incident continues to happen randomly, the two begin to develop a strong connection, which romantically evolves over time.
I was surprised by how captivating the movie was. The emotional impact was so mesmerizing that it persists as one of the best movies I’ve watched. The scene with the comet is probably one of the most gorgeous graphics I’ve ever seen in my life. The bright, luminous blues and purples flashes against the dusky sky, creating a gloomy yet beautiful picture. Everything was created with exquisite detail. My eyes were constantly drawn to the luscious greenery, beautiful skies, and breath-taking land/cityscapes that were present throughout the film.
But how are these beautiful scenes and animations created?
Anime is a diverse art form with distinct production methods that have been adapted over time in response to emergent technologies. It consists of an ideal story-planning mechanism, combining graphic art, characterization, cinematography, and other forms of imaginative or individualistic techniques. Luckily, I also had the opportunity to learn about the animation process at The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, a famous animation and art museum of Miyazaki Hayao’s Studio Ghibli.
As I stepped into a room with walls pinned with beautiful sketches and illustrations, my eyes grew large in astonishment. It was breathtaking. Sensational. Overflowing with detail and vibrant color, the exhibition showcased how talented filmmakers are. I realized that the animation industry contains huge contributions from artists who create such magnificent settings and pieces. I also encountered a stack of thick notebooks, which I soon found out were storyboards. It was something that I could never compare with my two-paged storyboards I created back in middle school during video class. To produce an animation film, so much time and effort is needed. I wanted to appreciate these precious pieces for hours.
“I realized that it’s very meticulous,” says Nini He, a freshmen member of my interim trip. “I noticed that anime is truly intertwined with art. Exploring through such an immersive museum and learning about how Hayao’s films were created was a very special experience.”
Japanese anime contain some of the most unique story lines, worlds, and characters. It touches people from all ages, regularly teaching and exploring major thematic issues towards human existence. Fortunately, through exploring Japanese anime, I have gained a greater appreciation and understanding of what goes into creating an animated film. I have recently watched and enjoyed another Japanese anime movie, A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi), and I’m happy to say that I’m definitely looking forward to viewing many more.