originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/685934...
Hey friends. It’s week 108 of Animation Night! That’s 22 × 33.
That means we should indulge in some silly numerology. 108 important number in Hinduism, Jainism and especially Buddhism, although the exact significance it has seems to be a little vague and depend who you ask. So it seemed to me a good time to screen something Buddhist.
^ this is unrelated to what we’re showing tonight i just think it’s funny for the buddha to shoot out a load of missiles. thanks again Fate!
As it happens, we’ve hit a number of more or less Buddhist works of animation already. There is of course the profound, brilliant, moving, beautifully tragic Heike Monogatari (Animation Night 91), the delightful, visually stunning and gut-punchingly tragic Houseki no Kuni (Animation Night 97), the wildly varied [but mostly tragic] adaptations of Tezuka’s Phoenix (Animation Night 80), and then the inventive and history-steeped Kyōsōgiga (Animation Night 98), which breaks the pattern by not being all that tragic.
…look, Buddhism loves ephemerality. That’s kind of the whole deal, it’s the religion where you’re trying to stop being immortal! Anyway I love it when fiction makes me sad so these have all struck a strong chord.
Is that it for Buddhist animation? Well, those may well be the best ones out there, brilliant artists who are not trying to merely channel religious doctrine, but the particular philosophical and aesthetic preoccupations and enigmas that you receive when you grow up immersed in Buddhism. But like, of course, Buddhism is one of the major religions of Japan, the country where most of the animation is made. So there’s much more! In fact, here’s a list of Buddhist monastics in anime.
Tonight I have two little oddities of animation that centrally involve, in some way, the Buddha and Buddhism. Let’s start with Tezuka.
(Unfortunately I can’t find any gifs of this film, so this trailer is all I can give.)
Thanks to @peridee, today I became aware that Osamu Tezuka (AN 80, 83) made a widely-loved manga titled Buddha about the life of Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as Shakyamuni or simply the Buddha - the guy who founded the whole religion. This being Tezuka, this was not a simple telling, but full of Tezuka’s usual humour and strong emotion, as well as a chance to channel his own philosophical feelings on life, death, rebirth. Tezuka was not a Buddhist, but to write about the Buddha, and the human suffering he wrestled with, was clearly deeply important to him.
Tezuka’s Buddha ran from ‘72-’83 in the magazine Comic Tom, making it one of his last manga, coming late in his career after he took on more gekiga influence. It seems to have received a ton of praise, and has tens of millions of copies printed… but unfortunately it’s not on most of the scan sites. He never got the chance to make a film of it (if he’d even wanted to, I don’t know!).
Decades later, his old production company Tezuka Productions continue on, basically dedicating themselves to maintaining and adapting his works, even colouring them. So in 2011, it seems the time came to adapt the first volumes of Buddha under the direction of Kozo Morishita, with Toei contracted to create the animation. This film was titled 手塚治虫のブッダ－赤い砂漠よ！美しく－ (Tezuka Osamu’s Buddha: The Red Desert! It’s Beautiful, or Tezuka Osamu’s Buddha: The Great Departure in the official translation).
(Not the first time Toei has been hired to make a religious movie either - the last time being for the far-right “Happy Science” cult! That’s quite a story though so we’ll tell it another time.)
I can find a great deal of info about the story behind this film’s production. But we can make some observations of the final product. Instead of Tezuka’s instantly recognisable style, character designer Hideaki Maniwa adopted a much more modern visual style. Since Tezuka’s manga begins with several volumes about a low-caste boy, Chapra, before introducing Siddhartha himself as a child; the timeline of the manga is rearranged to have the two stories developing in parallel. The general tone is changed to be a lot more ‘serious’ and remove the more comedic elements.
Looking at sakugabooru, you’d get the impression of it’s full of seriously impressive character animation. Yet reviews of the film, generally by fans of the manga, are mostly negative: at best calling it empty spectacle that loses the emotional heart of the original, at worst absolutely ripping it to shreds, as in David Cabrera’s review on Anime News Network. Is this fair? I’ve never read Tezuka’s manga, so I won’t be able to judge it as an adaptation. However, it does sound like a bizarre approach to adapting a Tezuka manga - as if the image of the ‘Godfather of Manga’ demands a certain level of pompousness!
Nevertheless, I’m curious about the attempt. Perhaps, with suitably lowered expectations, we’ll find a lot to enjoy in this film.
A sequel - the second in a planned trilogy - arrived in 2014, subtitled 終わりなき旅 Owarinaki Tabi, or Endless Journey, under the direction of Toshiaki Komura. As an especially weird marketing gimmick, they got the Dalai Lama to record a TV spot expressing his approval of the film. (I’m sure he watches a ton of anime.) Despite old Tenzin’s blessing, the film seems to have made less of a splash than the first, and if there is to be a third and final part, no news has come out.
This second movie is quite hard to find a source for, so I can’t promise I’ll be able to show it.
Now, this wouldn’t be Animation Night if I left it at that! So for a very, very different take on Buddhism, let’s turn to independent animator Ujicha, who practices a type of animation called gekimation (after gekiga manga). This is a type of cutout animation that apparently briefly flourished in the 70s, with e.g. Cat-Eyed Boy based on the manga by Kazuo Umezu of The Drifting Classroom fame.
If anime proper is a stylistic evolution from traditional animation, the source of ‘gekimation’ is quite different: it’s designed to take after kamishibai street theatre, as Sébastien Raineri writes for Pen magazine linked above:
More heavily inspired by the techniques of kamishibai than by those of classic animation, gekimation is intended to be the film equivalent of this travelling paper theatre, in which stories are told by scrolling through illustrations in front of the viewers. For the cinema, the artist draws and cuts out silhouettes that he films like puppets being moved by hand in miniature settings. (…)
His hybrid style of animation is the result of painstaking work, a combination of viscous liquids and cuttings of paper painted by hand. Each silhouette is unique, used for only one shot and surrounded by hundreds of accessories, which explains why the time required to make a film extends to over three years. Nevertheless, Ujicha continues to draw on this form of animation inspired by Japanese puppet theatre to create tales that are ever more violent, extreme, and absurd.
Kamishibai-inspired cutout animation applied to horror stories, such as Yamishibai (Animation Night 25), is always a blast, all the more so with some creative and juicy body horror. And it’s interesting to hear of another solo animator working for years on a limited animation horror project after, well, the incredible Shōjo Tsubaki (Animation Night 77). The film I’m planning to show here is Ujicha’s first full-length film, titled The Burning Buddha Man, in which (if I’m reading the summary right) a girl investigates disappearing Buddha statues only to find them start to merge with people such as her parents to form monsters.
Does it have much connection to Buddhism, like philosophically? …….eh probably not that much but it’s got ‘Buddha’ in the title and it’s about Buddhist statues so that is more than enough for this tenuous theme night anyway, especially since the whole style of it sounds so fascinating.
Animation Night 108 will start after I’ve had some sleep, hopefully hitting around 7pm UK time start at our usual twitch.tv/canmom. Definitely taking a few risks on these picks, but I’d rather do that than only ever watch mainstream safe options, so let’s give these takes on the Buddha a shot!