The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 44 – The Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu

Episode 44! This week we’re doing something completely different: talking about 13 short films from the mind of anime giant Osamu Tezuka! Listen and enjoy! If you’re interested in seeing this neato collection, you can get a copy here at Amazon. It’s also available on disc from Netflix, too! 🙂

Music Notes

Intro:

  • Jerry Goldsmith – The Construction
    • Explorers: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack (Amazon)

Outro:

  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Piece of Crap

If you’ve got feedback, throw it into the comments below or email it to me via the contact page! We’ll include it in a future show!

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste http://silveremulsion.podbean.com/feed/ into whatever reader you’re using, such as iTunes.

Stephen reviews: Black Jack (1996)

blackjack_1Black Jack [ブラックジャック] (1996)
AKA Black Jack: A Surgeon With the Hands of God

Starring Akio Ohtsuka, Mayo Suzukaze, Yuko Mizutani, Ai Orikasa, Shin Aomori

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


Black Jack is one of my favorite Osamu Tezuka characters. Upon first reading the manga, I was struck by the parallels he had to American superheros. Just like a superhero, he has a code name while the general public has no idea what his real identity is. Just like a superhero, he operates outside the law, saving lives through a kind of vigilanteism. He has superhuman skills that allow him to perform amazing feats no one else can. He doesn’t quite have a cape, but he’s got a cool trenchcoat that looks like one. He’s even got a kid sidekick that he rescued from certain death. (One character in the film refers to Pinoko as his daughter, but that’s not actually true. However, her origin story is too complicated and irrelevant to the film to bother getting into here.) The only real difference is that Black Jack doesn’t fight crime; he fights disease.

He’s an unlicensed surgeon that can perform any surgery on pretty much any living creature, and his villains are the illnesses that threaten their lives. I wondered even after my first encounter with the character whether Tezuka was making a deliberate critique of the comic book superhero, or if it was all just a coincidence. There’s definitely something to be said about Black Jack’s inherently peaceful means of saving people. With the kinds of superpowers showcased in the comic book industry, why do they almost never seem to be used in constructive ways? A superhero claims to be saving the world, but even though that is true, saving the world usually turns out to be a massive fist fight that levels half of Manhattan. Was Tezuka subtly wagging a finger at the superhero genre for proclaiming violence as the sole means of solving the worlds problems by creating his own superhero that did the exact opposite? I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure, but watching this movie made me contemplate these questions more than ever.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Black Jack (1996) →

Stephen reviews: Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature (1984)

bagi_1Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature [大自然の魔獣 バギ Daishizen no Majyuu Bagi] (1984)
AKA Baggy

Starring Saeko Shimazu, Kazuhiko Inoue, Kazuteru Suzuki, Tomie Kataoka, Masaru Ikeda, Yuzuru Fujiki, Kousei Tomita, Katsuji Mori

Directed by Osamu Tezuka


It seems impossible to overstate the influence Osamu Tezuka had on anime. When I began watching Bagi and it not only featured a sexy, furry catgirl, but then had her attacked by a tentacle monster, my immediate thought was, “Man, there’s nothing in anime that Tezuka didn’t do first.” I hasten to add that this tentacle attack was in no way sexual. That particular depravity wouldn’t appear in anime for several more years, but looking back from today it’s hard not to immediately think of the ickier applications. While I have no supporting evidence that Bagi spawned the sexy catgirls and tentacle monsters that would later ingrain themselves in the anime industry, I don’t know of any earlier uses of either. Though that may only be because this and previous eras of anime are poorly represented in the west (nor would it surprise me to find out that it was simply an earlier Tezuka story that did originate the ideas).

Bagi also surprised me by being an even further departure from Tezuka’s usual style than Prime Rose. While Tezuka’s trademark humor, pacing, and cameos were much reduced in that film, Bagi almost entirely discards them. I’m not sure if this was some fluke of design, or if his style was just evolving. Either way, Bagi feels very little like a Tezuka film. His earlier films, even in their most serious moments, were joyful romps, filled with fun and adventure. Most of that has been filtered out in Bagi. I was a bit sad to lose the zany approach of older Tezuka productions, but this was balanced out by the fact that Bagi is a very well-made film. Due to the more focused narrative, it has a much weightier and more dramatic feel.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature (1984) →

Stephen reviews: Bremen 4: Angels in Hell (1981)

bremen4_1Bremen 4: Angels in Hell [ブレーメン4 地獄の中の天使たち Bremen 4: Jigoku no Naka no Tenshi-tachi] (1981)

Starring Mari Okamoto, Hiroya Ishimura, Kei Tomiyama, Naoko Kyooda, Makio Inue, Chikao Ohtsuka, Kousei Tomita, Nachi Nozawa

Directed by Hiroshi Sasagawa & Osamu Tezuka


That Angels in Hell subtitle makes this sound like the next entry in a long running action series, possibly starring Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually another Osamu Tezuka children’s film made for the 24 Hour TV specials, so expect some early ’80s made-for-TV quality animation. The movie is based on the German fairy tale, The Bremen Town Musicians (or Band of Bremen depending on how you like to translate it). As I am a big fan of folklore adaptations, I got pretty big kick out of this one.

The film clearly exhibits Disney’s influence on Tezuka’s style. There are several scenes in the wilderness that look like they could have come right out of Bambi. Likewise the humor is a more Western style of slapstick that doesn’t carry the same absurdist tone that most comedic anime use. Where it seriously departs from Western animation is in its blunt depiction of warfare. No American TV station would ever allow bullet-riddled corpses in a children’s time slot, which rather misses the point. G.I. Joe can glorify war for children all day long, but a film like Bremen 4 that depicts war as a terrible tragedy would probably cause a nationwide scandal. I, however, think it would make a fine children’s film (because we all know how much children love watching subtitled foreign films).

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Bremen 4: Angels in Hell (1981) →

Stephen reviews: Fumoon (1980)

fumoon_1Fumoon [フウムーン] (1980)

Starring Hiroshi Suzuki, Mari Okamoto, Minori Matsushima, Junpei Takiguchi, Chiako Ohtsuka, Ryoko Kinomiya, Kousei Tomita

Directed by Hisashi Sakaguchi


I’ve been having a blast with these Tezuka films, so I’m a little sad that this is the last one on my list. Hopefully more will become available someday. I’m also a little disappointed with this one because it doesn’t quite live up to the fun of the previous two.

The humor takes a back seat this time, so it didn’t leave as strong an impression as the others did. I think what really took me out of it was the obvious nature to its moral. It hammers home the anti-war, anti-pollution message a little too hard for me. Maybe that’s just a personal problem, but the same themes had already been addressed in Bander Book and Marine Express without losing any of the fun and charm. If you’re a fan of movies with a message, then you won’t find much to fault here, but I prefer it when the moral of the tale is not applied with a sledgehammer.

This isn’t to say that the film is bad by any stretch. It still sets up an intriguing premise and carries the plot along with ample new developments to keep things from getting stale. In fact, judging by the plot structure, the narrative arc is every bit as solid and gripping as the others, perhaps more so. It just felt like the whole time it was telling me, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Fumoon (1980) →

Stephen reviews: Undersea Super Train: Marine Express (1979)

marineexpress_1Undersea Super Train: Marine Express [海底超特急マリン・エクスプレス Kaitei Chō Tokkyū Marine Express] (1979)
AKA Seabed Express

Starring Junichi Takeoka, Kousei Tomita, Nachi Nozawa, Mari Shimizu, Hisashi Katsuta, Fumi Koyama, Chikao Ohtsuka, Kaneta Kimotsu, Toshiko Ota

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


I’ve got another Osamu Tezuka film lined up for you. Marine Express doesn’t have the same crazy aliens that Bander Book reveled in, but it still has all the wacky antics that gave Bander Book its charm. It also has a more cohesive plot that more than makes up for any lack of strange wonders.

It starts out as a murder mystery in which the bodies dissolve into nothing, making it difficult for detective Ban Shusaku to convince people the murders are actually happening. The short, pudgy detective takes on the mysterious assailant in an epic martial arts battle that leaves trees broken and toppled. Old ’70s animation couldn’t keep this scene from being fantastic fun and it immediately absorbed me into the film, and the rest of the movie kept me just as eager to keep watching.

When Ban later sees one of the villains board the experimental Marine Express, he slips aboard himself. The Marine Express is taking its first test run across the bottom of the ocean from California to Japan, and the whole affair is fraught with skulduggery, hijackings and more recurring Tezuka characters than I could count.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Undersea Super Train: Marine Express (1979) →

Stephen reviews: One Million Year Trip: Bander Book (1978)

banderbook_1One Million Year Trip: Bander Book [100万年地球の旅 バンダーブック Hyakumannen Chikyū no Tabi – Bander Book] (1978)

Starring Yuu Mizushima, Mami Koyama, Masatō Ibu, Iemasa Ieyumi, Kaneta Kimotsuki

Directed by Osamu Tezuka


Osamu Tezuka has a large catalog of creations beyond his most famous one, Astro Boy. Bander Book may be one of the more minor entries in that catalog, but it isn’t without some significance. This was the first of a series of TV movies made once per year beginning in 1978, so it kicked off a series of films that helped bring Tezuka’s creations to a new generation of viewers.

Tezuka’s visual style takes some getting used to. Despite having defined the genre, his designs look very little like anime as we know it today. It carries a very cutesy and childish impression that reflects his own influences from western animators such as Walt Disney and Max Fleischer. Since this is a children’s film, the art style fits naturally here. Although, Western audiences will no doubt be startled by the nudity. There’s some cultural disconnect here. Japan never considered bare breasts to be particularly taboo until American influence after World War II changed things. Nowadays, I wonder just how much the nudity would surprise even Japanese viewers.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: One Million Year Trip: Bander Book (1978) →




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