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Japanese animation focus of NY Moma film series


Beginning July 10 and running through September 5, the Museum of Modern Art, one of New York’s venerable film institutions, will present the most comprehensive overview of Japanese animation yet seen, in a 33 film series that includes many films and television works that have never before been seen in the United States.

With anime master Hayao Miyazaki’s HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE currently captivating international audiences and his Oscar-winning SPIRITED AWAY an instant classic on DVD, the moment is ripe for an appreciation of the anime art form. The series, which will chart the history of the genre from the 1960s to the present, is organized by Barbara London, Associate Curator, Department of Film and Media, with Fabienne Stephan, Andrew Maerkle, and Anri Yasuda. This exhibition is supported by Walt Disney Studios, The Japan Foundation, and The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art.

Anime is the catch-all term for the genre of animated film that developed out of manga (printed comic books) and retains the raw energy of that popular format. First attracting young children, the films’ sophisticated use of graphic techniques and mature subject matter has widened its audience. In fact, anime has more in common with graphic illustrated novels such as MAUS than it does with kiddie fare, and relies on an aesthetic sophistication and stylization that now intrigues both critics and audiences around the world.

The films themselves often deal with up-to-the-minute subjects such as the environmental conservation movement, the overlap between humans and robots, and growing up and the mayhem that comes with transition. It reflects the Japanese cultural experience of the past 50 years, as the country develops a technologically sophisticated culture in the aftermath of the devastation of World War II, while exploring, in often fanciful storytelling, the disconnect between technological and financial progress and the erosion of spiritual values in modern Japanese society.

Feature length film highlights in the series include: Highlights from the series include SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN HARLOCK (1982, Tomoharu Katsumata), a futuristic tale of the original space pirate, who confronts an alien force that threatens humanity; BEAUTIFUL DREAMER (1984, Mamoru Oshii), a surrealistic tale of a high school student’s bizarre relationship with an alien princess devil; AKIRA (1988, Katsuhiro Otomo), an allegory of human will and friendship set in an expressionistic neon-lit urban landscape of the future; GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995, Mamoru Oshii), an icon of new anime's cyberpunk aesthetic set in a future metropolis pits a bionic follows bionic policewoman and a renegade computer; and A PLACE PROMISED IN OUR EARLIER DAYS (2004, Makoto Shinkai), a futuristic fairy tale about two boys who try to revive their comatose friend, whose sleep is linked to a secret that will challenge their world.

While theatrical anime features have become box-office sensations both in Asia and around the world, the bulk of innovation and creativity in the anime world comes in the form of television series and short form work that is seen on DVD or via the Internet. The MOMA series brings to its large screen some superbly dynamic works from a new generation of anime masters.

Short form highlights in the series include: ASTROBOY (1963, Osamu Tezuka), a seminal television series that followed the stories of a robot who fights for humankind and discovers his own human tendencies; HINTORI (1966, Rousuke Takahashi), an epic tale of a mythical bird and man’s unending quest for immortality; GALAXY EXPRESS (1978, Nobutaka Nishizawa), a sci-fi adventure of intergalactic exploration with parables of psychology and the human spirit; DRAGON BALL (1986, Daisuke Nishio), the film that popularized the anime genre in the US is a reworking of a classic Chinese tale about a monkey boy and his encounter with a wish-granting dragon; PLEASE SAVE MY EARTH (1994, Kazuo Yamazaki), a surrealistic sci-fi tale about seven teens who discover they are reincarnations of alien scientists who had been studying Earth from a hidden observatory on the moon; REVOLUTIONARY GIRL (1997, Kunihiko Ikuhara), a martial arts saga about a cross-dressing boy who must fight to win her prince at a special school for fighters.

Other highlights, having their US premieres in the series, include SAMURAI 7 (2004, Toshifumi Takizawa), a sci-fi of the classic Akira Kurasawa epic THE SEVEN SAMURAI; SAMURAI CHAMPLOO (2004, Shinichiro Watanabe), another futuristic take on the samurai legend that couples a violent samurai with a traditional swordsman; ROBOT CARNIVAL (1987-2005, various directors), a collection of work by the best anime robot designers that pairs inspired drawing, unconventional plots and a dynamic soundtrack to create the latest word on sci-fi music video; and INTERSTELLA 5555, a Japanese-French co-production that follows the story of four musicians from another galaxy featuring, featuring outrageous futuristic music videos from new wave band Daft Punk.

Anime’s growing popularity and its intoxicating melding of innovative imagery, socio-political concerns, meditations on the human spirit and punk rock musical soundtracks make it one of the most interesting and challenging film movements of the moment.

Sandy Mandelberger
Industry Editor


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