This week: Fantascope ~tylostoma~
Yoshitaka Amano creates a lonely world of few colors, and even fewer people.
I have seen this film once before some time ago, but I was not in a position to write about it at length in any way like I have a space for now.
For an extended series of projects, publisher Gentosha and Toei Animation managed a program entitled Ga-nime which began in May 2006. Using a mashup of the characters for “painting” and “animation,” the goal was to develop and curate a collection of auteur driven works which would utilize extremely minimal animation. Participants employed a wide variety of methods, through 3D computer modeling to claymation techniques, with the unified traits of having limited motion. The website for the initiative can still be found here. In a sense, one can view them as an experimental gallery of exploring how to use careful dabs of animation for effect and atmosphere of particular frames, while also attempting to portray a vocalized narrative. Consider Ga-nime as like Naohisa Inoue’s Iblard Time (Iblard Jikan) or Takashi Ishida’s Gestalt (Heya/Keitai). Just often with far less animation use, and with eyes towards a bit more overt plots versus the more abstract objectives of those two works.
Though I by no means mean that in a derogatory sense in either direction. This is yet another part of exploring what animation can do in all of its facets.
Yoshitaka Amano, who has in his career famously co-developed Angel’s Egg (Tenshi no Tamago) with Mamoru Oshii, illustrated the Vampire Hunter D novels of Hideyuki Kikuchi, and has designed numbers characters and logos for the Final Fantasy line of video games, is the original creator of two Ga-nime pieces. In 2007 came Bird’s Song (Tori no Uta), while first in 2006 arrived Fantascope ~tylostoma~.
The short film, lasting only just over a half hour, begins with Amano at a workstation desk contemplating via inner monologue the qualities and history of an old conch shell from childhood as he paints some of the the very frames in the production we as viewers are about to see unfold.
This performs several substantial tasks, right from the get go. For one, if an interpretative part of the aim of the Ga-nime works is to place significantly more forward attention on the artistic technique in individual painted (or whatever method selected) frames, why not then also some of the application of said craftsmanship? As the primary toolset being used here is that of ink wash paintings, it assists to demonstrate a lot of the expressive fragility of the process. Which is to say, this painting style does not readily allow the applicator to go back numerous times to correct perceived finer errors or the like.
Ink wash paintings thrive on their ability to capture the essence and spirit of their subjects rather than just showcasing their direct appearance alone, especially via limited use of brush strokes so as to promote the gradients that would make up said ethereal qualities. If the painter goes back over things too many times, these finer aspects would be increasingly drowned out. Light and dark shades must be managed carefully, and in many instances a painter may have limited options to go “fix” something once it is put to page.
It bleeds directly into the core narrative of Fantascope ~tylostoma~, where our unnamed lead character within the story itself recounts a tale of eternal life, loves, loss, regrets, or lack thereof regarding past actions. Without seeking to give too much of the narrative away, so short in the film and limited are its characters, I feel the artistic methods employed in the production of the work synergize very well with its narrative course and themes. That of if something stark and vivid expressed in a moment could ever be taken back, or if one would even want to do so. To have that hanging over their head in one way or another as they explore the emptiness in so much of the page and visual population of their world.
Thematically, I find it a fitting symbolism between the finished product as a piece of plot and story, and how it was assembled.
It should also be noted our leading man is by and large narrating his story to a singular young woman in the present, and his tale is largely about him and a woman from his past.
These women are expressed and represented through ample displays of white, while his figure is always heavily covered in black ink. I do not think it too far a stretch where one could even momentarily consider their roles as vehicles of the respective parts which make up an ink wash painting, as these characters speak and reflect on past actions.
The imagery and thematic roles of the conch shell itself, from the name of the entire work, the live action start, and on to the end, is almost paramount. The one in his hand is mentioned by Amano to be similar in shape to both a mushroom and a skull. Inherently, a simultaneous representation of life and death. So too has the conch been at points used as a charm for safe childbirth, and at others placed in coffins of the deceased during ancient Roman times for the hope of an eventual transmigration of the soul.
The male lead within the movie flies a ghost ship in the shape of a conch as he goes about his years of travel, appropriate for the notions of questions or curses of eternal life within a cycle of death and rebirth.
I had mentioned the Ga-nime works are exercises in limited animation application, and while the centerpiece of Fantascope ~tylostoma~ is very much on its static paintings there are indeed portions which do move around.
Aspects like rain coming down, fog stewing and meandering about, and some water animation effects by the sea, those are present and seek to reinforce atmospheric elements surrounding the characters. Even animated drapes of fabric overhanging structural openings, there is a charged or seductive nature to such a thing in setting a tone through how little so much of anything else in the film is physically moving around. Given the stillness that permeates so much else, I do feel one’s personal reactions to these can be quite varied however. The what seems to be pre-rendered CGI water for instance would not look terribly out of place as a basic effect included in many modeling programs. Instances like the aforementioned bed fabric flow, produced by digitally squeezing and stretching the painted element in question to give it motion, could seem cheap or distracting.
This is an area where I feel the intent was that, in implementing the animated elements, to do so without having to employ multiple cels for character animation. So as to also make the motion around their static selves seem more alien and stark. Traditional ink painting right up against a few low level but modern computer techniques. It fits within the spirit of the the Ga-nime program as a whole, and there are potential symbolisms to read through their use, though it is by all means a tricky spell to weave. A viewer may take them as more distracting and jarring before even getting to those extended levels (even if that may have well be a point in and of itself), and I can not say I was successfully lured in by all of them in the heat of the moment either.
However, Fantascope ~tylostoma~ is at the very least a vessel through which many may see a display of traditional painting methods they may have not had much (if any) prior exposure to. A general animation viewer. Someone from more of the video game side of things. And many others who may be curious about Yoshitaka Amano’s involvement. In such a situation, Amano himself, by being seen at work in the introduction of the film is in its own way a kind of small demonstration. Then attempting to guide viewers through a narrative over a whole gallery of such works via a short film. These are techniques we do not get to see much in animation or motion pictures, especially in a digital era.
If one were to come to view it merely out of passing novelty and leave with nothing more, I would still say it accomplished some of its objectives regardless of what they may think of the actual narrative. Were an audience member walk away with a niggling sense of “Well, that was interesting, but…,” it still opens the doorway that they would perhaps want to see these art methods or styles taken for additional spins in different ways within their movies and similar media. Likewise to those who come out of the experience one step further, completely fired up by what they saw. Personally, I would peg myself as somewhere between the latter two areas.
As both implicit and explicit aspects of the film’s plot deal in life, death, and return, an invitation to come back again and perhaps use these tools in new ways and progress even further, to reflect and refine, would still be taken as a great credit to its journey.
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.