Spirited Away

mark schilling 0934611501 at jcom.home.ne.jp
Mon Mar 24 08:10:47 EST 2003

Jonathan is right in wanting to see animation treated with more respect by
the Academy and the film world at large. I don't, however, see "Spirited
Away"s animation Oscar as a consolation prize, but the highest honor
Hollywood can bestow -- with the emphasis on "can."

Fact: Animators deserve more recognition than they commonly get.

Fact: If their films are included in the Best Picture category they will get
recognition in the form of an Oscar maybe once every twenty-five or fifty
years -- maybe. Entire generations of animators will grow old and gray
before one of their number gets his or her 45 seconds at the awards podium.

Put these two facts together and you have the case for an animation Oscar.
The documentary folks are in the same boat, but are any demanding inclusion
in the Best Picture category?

In the real world, you can only play the hand you're dealt -- and animators
are always going to be drawing for that inside straight.

Mark Schilling
schill at gol.com

----- Original Message -----
From: Jonathan Clements
To: Undisclosed-Recipient:;
Sent: Monday, March 24, 2003 6:00 PM
Subject: Spirited Away wins Oscar -- a little extra food for thought

(from my column in Newtype USA, Feb 03)

Ghetto Heaven
Hooray for cartoons. There's an Animation Academy Award. For too long, we've
been regarded as a second-class medium while live-action Hollywood pap
scoops the accolades. But we're still out there in the cold, we're just in a
different kind of cold.

Magazine schedules being what they are, as I write I don't know if Spirited
Away has even been nominated for an Oscar. But whether it has or not, it's
being considered in the class of Best Animated Movie, a new category whose
inaugural appearance in 2002 was won by Shrek.

Around the time that Shrek was getting the Best Film That's Not A Real Film
Award, last February's big news was the richly deserved success of Hayao
Miyazaki. After the disastrous performance of Princess Mononoke in Germany,
many local critics didn't even bother to go to the Berlin Film Festival's
screening of Spirited Away, a decision they came to regret when the
international jury unexpectedly gave it the prestigious Golden Bear. While
German pundits tried to bluff their way through interviews ("Err. ja, ze
movie is very good. But I don't know why, because I have not seen it!"), the
film's staff were on hand with some thought-provoking comments.

Producer Toshio Suzuki, the man for whom the word "canny" was probably
invented, laid part of the credit at the door of the American Motion Picture
Academy, thanking them for raising the status of all cartoons with the newly
created Animation Oscar. Well, that's what he might have meant, but Suzuki
is also the joker who presented Harvey Weinstein with a samurai sword and a
note that said "No Cuts." The fact is that the German judges were prepared
to praise Spirited Away simply for being the best Film they'd seen, whereas
America's Oscar voters are obliged to stick it in the Cartoon ghetto. Was
Suzuki having a little chuckle at the Americans' activities - changing their
own rules to keep a mere Japanese cartoon from threatening Hollywood on its
home turf.?

There was once a time when the Japanese seriously considered submitting Isao
Takahata's Pompoko as a contender for Best Foreign Movie at the Oscars. Did
you see that? Best Foreign Movie. Not Best Foreign Cartoon, not Best Thing
That Isn't A Real Film, not Runner-Up Prize For Not Having Christopher Lee
In The Cast, but Best Foreign Movie.

Movies have always been about artifice, the creating of new worlds, and
finessing our own reality. Short actors are made to look taller, tall actors
are turned into hobbits, doddering oldsters have backflipping stunt-doubles.
Long years lived breath-by-breath are snipped and chopped and edited into
their visually-appealing highlights. Animation does it in a different,
hyper-real way, but it is a way that is still legitimate. Defenders and
apologists of the Animation Oscar will tell you that the new category is an
admission of that, a "two thumbs-up" to the entire animated medium. Don't
get me wrong, there are people in and outside the Academy who genuinely feel
that this is an incredible victory for animation. There are people who
fought tooth-and-claw to get that category accepted, and deservedly bigged
themselves up when it finally was.

But do you think this is a victory for animation? At a time when Hollywood
films use unprecedented amounts of special effects, so-called "live-action"
movies comprise vast digital sequences? With Final Fantasy: The Spirits
Within, we got our first glimpse of movies in the 21st century, with the
supremacy of the actor eroded by the onslaught of the "vactor." Ben Affleck
got to sit in a movie theater, popcorn in his lap and his arm round J-Lo,
and see a virtual actor who looked remarkably like him in a movie that he'd
never actually worked on. Entire cast members (Yoda, C3PO.. Dumbledore) now
only exist in computers. For a long time, producers have told us that films
are real, and that actors are real people, and irreplaceable. But with every
doubling of computer power and every leap in digital software, the boundary
between real and virtual slips away. Just exactly how much of The Matrix is

Here, take this red pill.

There's never been a better time for taking animation out of the ghetto, but
instead, the Academy have built a wall around it. As the last bastion of the
movie musical, cartoons already sew up Best Song on almost every occasion.
Nobody disputes the quality of their writing - Shrek was also nominated for
Best Adapted Screenplay last year. But with Miyazaki on the American scene,
"cartoons" are now officially giving "real" movies a run for their money in
the big-hitter categories. There are people who want to see that threat
neutralised, before it defeats them in the publicity stakes.

You think I'm mad? Why is it the Germans get to call Spirited Away a great
Film, while we get to say it's a worthy Cartoon?


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