With no less than three Production I.G films in this year’s REEL ANIME 2013 program, our man in Japan, author Andrez Bergen, takes a look back at the output and influence of this most prolific and talented animation studio.
A long time ago, while conjuring up some superbly detailed artwork, my friend intimated that God resided in the details.
Not being Christian per se, and without a religious millimetre illuminating anywhere on my body, I didn’t have a clue what this guy was on about, or which dippy deity he referred to. The only thing similar I’d heard was that Old Nick (you know, the Devil) was in those same details.
Which rendered me somewhat confused.
That is, I until around 16 years ago — when I first watched Mamoru Oshii’s enthralling anime feature Ghost in the Shell (1995).
While the original manga pages — titled Kōkaku Kidōtai in Japanese, written and illustrated by Shirow Masamune — pushed quirky as much as cerebral, light-hearted and a trifle perverted, this animated movie interpretation by Oshii, of Patlabor fame, was dark, a tad more intelligent, and the most innovative cyberpunk romp since Akira (1988).
It also led to an obvious Wachowski siblings’ homage with The Matrix in 1999.
Truth is, Ghost in the Shell knocked off my cotton socks to hammer home the studio behind the film — Production I.G — as my favourite Japanese anime company. It’s a lofty perch that I.G retains nearly two decades later.
Here’s where I get to lob in some silly puns relating to the introductory ‘theme’: God knows I.G deserves it, and by Heaven above they go for the jugular of those little details, glean ‘em, tweak ‘em, and quite often leave you gob-smacked, gasping for more with each successive experiment in style, form and technology. Halle-bloody-lujah.
To start with, there’s so much damned depth to I.G productions.
Not just the background animation or those aforementioned little details; it goes beyond the superlative character designs, the tight direction and slick production values; the depth lingers somewhere beyond this production company’s penchant for risk-taking along with clever marketing panache.
They’ve got to be doing something right to have established themselves at the forefront of the severely stiff competition that is the Japanese animation industry, and further to have maintained that position.
Likely this has to do with the talent involved at the studio.
Mamoru Oshii does rear foremost in my mind. It’s been two decades since Patlabor 2 and his ongoing collaboration with I.G has been phenomenal — Oshii mused in an interview with me that it’s “like Manchester for Manchester United… They know the pitch in whatever condition and situations.”
Oshii stunned audiences with the Ghost in the Shell sequel Innocence (2004), and twenty-four months later battered the senses with the whimsical, cut-up pastiche that was Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters.
In pre-production for Tachigui, the actors (many of them Oshii’s mates and peers at I.G, such as Kenji Kamiyama and musician Kenji Kawai) endured 30,000 snapshots, which were then rendered via computer into a surreal, digital version of Balinese puppetry that criticized Japan’s post-World War II historical direction through its focus on the evolution of the country’s fast-food culture.
Over the years Production I.G have won praise for their involvement in groundbreaking productions like (obviously) the Ghost in the Shell franchise, Patlabor 2 (1993), Jin-Roh (1999), FLCL (2000-01), Dead Leaves (2004), and The Sky Crawlers (2008). But the company also has been involved with some of the more successful and riveting visual forays into animated series for TV, screened both in Japan and foreign markets.
Tipping an iceberg of titles have been xxxHolic (2006), Blood-C (2011), and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002-03) and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG (2004-05) — both series of GitS directed by Kenji Kamiyama, one of those aforementioned guest stars in Oshii’s Tachigui feature.
Le Chevalier D’Eon (2006-07) related the true-life tale of an 18th Century French envoy, diplomat, spy, lover… and the best-known cross-dresser in history. For the director’s chair I.G invited Kazuhiro Furuhashi (Getbackers), who confessed an unhealthy interest in the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe — resulting in a series that peered into the darker recesses of the closet.
Ghost Hound (2007-08), made to celebrate I.G’s 20th anniversary year, boasted perhaps the scariest ever opening episode vignette — involving a body and a fly — that reminded me of Davids Lynch and Fincher having crossed paths. Surprisingly based on another manga tale by Shirow Masamune (Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed), this journey starts off in subdued fashion, but don’t let that fool you — within moments there’s a close-up of that fly perched on a dead girl’s lips, some weird soundscape muzak, and you know you’re in for a treat. This was the best anime I saw on the telly in 2007.
The vamped-up script (by Chiaki Konaka, of Hellsing and Parasite Dolls fame), the eerie soundtrack (by Yota Tsuruoka, who worked on Vandread), the animation style, the cut-up flashbacks and the surreal dream sequences… all these things conspired to make it bloody brilliant, an unsettling joy reminiscent of Twin Peaks.
“When people ask me about Ghost Hound, I usually answer with a joke that this is an anti-Harry Potter story,” series scripter Konaka told me — somewhat ironic, given that Kensho Ono, the voice-actor for main character Taro, also did the vocal workout for Harry Potter in the franchise’s Japanese dubs.
Continued in Part 2…