23 August 2014

Legend of the Forest, Part 2 (森の伝説 第二楽章, 2014)

At the inaugural biannual Hiroshima International Animation Festival in 1985, the legendary animator and manga-ka, Osamu Tezuka (手塚 治虫, 1928-89) won the Grand Prize with his experimental shot, Broken Down Film (おんぼろフィルム, 1985).  Thus it is fitting that his son, Macoto Tezka (aka Makoto Tezuka/手塚 , b. 1961) was able to complete Legend of the Forest, Part 2 (森の伝説 第二楽章/Mori no Densetsu, Daini Gakushō, 2014) in time for the 30th anniversary of the festival.  Tezka had announced his plans to make Part 2 at Hiroshima 2008, but many factors delayed production including the earthquake in 2011, and the fact that the animators were also involved in the production of Studio Ghilbi’s The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki, 2013) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata, 2013), not to mention Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (2012).  At the screening on the opening day of the festival, Tezka joked that just like his father, he is always missing deadlines.

Happily I can announce that the film was well worth the wait.  Before I review the new part, let me first summarize the background of the film: Legend of the Forest is an unfinished work by Osamu Tezuka (read my review).  Inspired in part by Disney’s Fantasia (1940), Legend of the Forest was intended to be a film in four parts, with each part corresponding to one of the four movements of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op. 36 (1878).  Before his untimely passing in 1989, Tezuka had completed parts 1 and 4.  He left behind a synopsis and notes for Part 2, but no sketches.  Part 2 was to be made using classical Disney animation methods, such as those found in Pinocchio (1940) – which also screened at Hiroshima Thursday as a tribute to Ward Kimball who was International Honorary President at Hiroshima 1992 – and Bambi (1942). 

The soundtrack is the original recording of the Andantino movement of Symphony No.4 by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra under Kenichiro Kobayashi which was used by Tezuka in the two works he completed.   With only the music and the notes by Tezuka as a guide, Tezka instructed the animators to make a film using traditional animation methods but in their own style.   The resulting film is very much a modern take on classical animation style. 

Just like the nature sequences in a Disney film of yesteryear, Legend of the Forest, Part 2 opens with a dramatic sweep into the forest.  Deeper and deeper, through layers of leaves the “camera” moves until we discover a female mayfly (カゲロウ/kagerō), trapped in a spider’s web.  A male mayfly spots the damsel in distress and flies to her rescue.  The drama that ensues, and the danger that they encounter as they float down an unpredictable river is beautifully rendered with an eye to detail. 

The mayflies have been anthropomorphized and resemble fairies, but the other creatures that they encounter have been drawn in a realistic fashion.  The character design is the work of former Mushi Pro animator Akio Sugino, famous for his collaborations with the late Osamu Dezaki, on board for character design.  The characters have sweet and very expressive faces without being too “kawaii”. 

The most impressive aspect of this animated short is the movement, not only of the characters, but also their environment (leaves, water, etc), and the movement of the “camera” through spaces.   It is pretty clear that the animators spent a lot of time listening to the music and imagining the sequences.   The film is truly a delight to watch and filled me with the kind of wonder I felt the first time I watched Fantasia.  The film is a wonderful homage to both Tezuka and classic Disney animation. 

At the screening, Macoto Tezka announced that he plans to also direct Part 3 himself.  According to the notes left by Tezuka, the animation for the scherzo should have no story, but be experimental in the style of Norman McLaren with puppets in the style of Jiří Trnka.  Tezka suggested that Part 3 would have a mixture of abstract and puppet animation and that the resulting film will be more in the style of Macoto Tezka himself than that of his father. 

There was no full credit sheet distributed at the festival, so I will add those details when they become available.   

The next opportunity to watch Legend of the Forest, Part 2, will be September 5-14, 2014 at the Brillia Short Shorts Theatre in Minato Mirai (Yokohama).

Official website: http://tezukaosamu.net/
Catherine Munroe Hotes 2014