This Week: Iblard Time (Iblard Jikan)
Studio Ghibli’s short direct to video film about the paintings of Naohisa Inoue.
Not about the artist or their creative process, mind you.
All paintings, all the time.
Naohisa Inoue, previously a graphic designer and high school art teacher for almost twenty years from the early 1970’s through 1992 before going fully freelance, has based a sizable portion of his independent artwork portraying scenery from his fictional world of Iblard. Taking elements of Surrealism, Impressionism, and even sprinklings of things from modern city architecture movements or urban planning, his vision of Iblard is that of a place capable of invoking a kind of nostalgia for a reality that never existed in our own world and yet feels like a dream we may have had for it at one time or another.
As one of the original strengths of Impressionism in the late 1800’s was an angle to compete with the growing use of photography by highlighting a more personal subjectivity of a moment through its application of color and lighting over presenting raw reality as it was, it is a valid school of approach to mix with others even in today’s highly ubiquitous camera climate.
Inoue, as a reach he did not expect to see pan out, made an invitation for Hayao Miyazaki to come and see one of his Iblard gallery events back in 1994. Not only did the famed animation director attend, but even purchased one of the paintings (Upward Draft, which shows up in Iblard Time) for the animation studio cafeteria. If you have seen 1995’s Whisper of the Heart, you have also seen some of Inoue’s artistic sensibilities there, as the fantasy sequence in the film also uses some of his works.
All of this is to say, Inoue has had a bit of a surprising history with Ghibli and its staff over the years. Iblard Time, as a video directed by the artist himself with the help of the same studio and seeing release in 2007, was surely not a thing we would have ever suspected he would be in a position to do all those years ago.
What Iblard Time is can be likened to walking into an art gallery with some combination of a childlike escapism and adult focus on technical craftsmanship.
Broken up into eight subsections, it collects a variety of Inoue’s paintings of his imagined world from years of work, and provides them a gentle new life through animation effects. Grass and flowers sway in the wind, tides rolls in and out, and people walk through their doors or otherwise go about their daily lives. All this, set to nothing more than a few musical tracks to fit the tone of each subdivided area of the collection. There is no dialogue, and no real story aside from the one an observer may imagine for the fantasy of such a world as it is presented to us.
In a way, this does fit the notion of what many of us may have done in an art gallery at one time or another: beyond just staring at a painting as a static object, one dreams up scenarios using it more as a window. The people moving around, or cloud cover drifting across the sky as a scene in motion. And since the video is a linear path, we can take the gallery in as the artist and director here most intended. There is no wandering around showroom floor space aimlessly, or needing to wait until a particularly crowded piece frees up more for a thorough personal viewing. The pieces then are able to have a palpable progression arc, and in how they are organized and grouped together there is a definite sense of build as we move from the most pastoral scenes on inward towards more dreamlike architecture and out again towards the end of our day here in Iblard. There is a journey, albeit an unstated one, akin to us being a passing tourist in this world.
Strangely, for the care needed to make things like ocean waves and grass blades move while also retaining their more painted and brushstroke look, mechanical objects are rendered in polygons. This applies to things like a flying machine or several public transport cars, so it is minimally used and I can understand the desire to go with something with perhaps a more “metallic” look for such needs. They stand out more, certainly, either to an effect of great touch or kind of jarring depending on the viewer. I happen to find them a little distracting, visually, and would have prefered to keep more in line with the more traditional animation techniques applied to the people. But, I can see a desire by the artist to perhaps want to separate these elements from one another, so I can at least understand the decision.
On that more human front, there are some swell transitions as characters morph from a painted static figure to ones full of life or move from being their animated selves into the lifestyle of a planted canvas location. So in that particular wonderment area it looks super sharp. These are paintings of not only a world we may have wanted to walk around or explore, but so too to see those within them do the same in our stead.
A key potential criticism of this work is, certainly, that one could see it as little more than a series of animated wallpapers in a slideshow.
That would be a real shame, I feel. Again, the experience of Iblard Time is like going to an art gallery and being able to see visualized the kind of things one may have fantasized about the paintings doing. And we have a noted artist at the helm, being able to craft how he may have even envisioned them as a place people live. But, there are no personalized characters to speak of, for sure. No overt direct narrative for a viewer to stay gripped to their seat with. While a short film sold direct to video as an OVA, it does not have many aspects of cinema one may be looking for as leisure entertainment in the comfort of their home. And that is in a way valid, should one walk away thinking it was one of the most boring pieces of animation they ever saw. But I do think that means one can easily approach the production in a way that does not play to its strengths.
At its core, Iblard Time is an attempt to blend Inoue’s heavily Impressionism oriented style with some additional punches that animation can provide it as a means of accenting the existing paintings.
To make their world, which seems at points just as valid as ours, come to life that little bit more. Not everyone has the, well, time as it were to go to art galleries or exhibitions, after all, and perhaps at times an art gallery needs to come to them. Rather than merely having a collected coffee table book to offer, this film provides an alternative option in a way that is both different than going to the physical gallery installation or buying such a hefty hardbound tome for the home.
For that matter, Iblard Time is further different from even his own website for his work and universe, which offers its own tidbits of his creative process, diary, and even browser based jigsaw puzzles. It is a series of distinctions of experience which allow the location one consumes his work in to feel a bit different in terms of personality or setup, to perhaps walk away with a sense of something just a little bit different even if they have seen the same painting before. Certainly, in animated form this video would be the most headliner example of that notion.
Much like Mamoru Oshii’s Open Your Mind (Mezame no hakobune), which I commented on a few months ago, I feel this is a work that needs to be enjoyed in as dark a room one can manage.
Perhaps late at night, on the biggest screen one can have at the ready, with a sound system up and having put some tea on. To think very little of what happened during the rest of your day, and to instead perhaps ease into one in this world, if but for a little while. To see this place, impossible as it is and yet seemingly out of a daydream feeling you definitely had that one time staring out at the ocean or forest.
Maybe you are clad in pajamas. Maybe you dressed up for the experience like it really was a gallery show. Either way, one is probably watching a work like this alone.
Perhaps then, removed as one is from so much else in the real world, that whole subjectivity argument from the original Impressionist movement to differentiate itself from photography becomes more relevant than ever before when then further applied into this modern world of animation and video.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.