As seen on TV

Nuclear neurosis and anti-Americanism color "anime" overview.


The Little Theatre runs Jan. 10-27

"SUPERFLAT," on view through February at the UW's Henry Art Gallery, is a mind-blowing ensemble of comic-book and animated-film inspired work by a generation of young TV-saturated Japanese artists. This sidebar series, put together by the Henry and Northwest Film Forum, is designed to introduce non-Japanese to the raw material behind the work in the show. We ought to be grateful, but most of the material assembled is only of historical interest for any but the most desperate devotees of Japanese pop culture.

Japanese animated film—anime— came of age around 1980 with the emergence of Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, whose productions (climaxing in Princess Mononoke) raised the creative bar for animators everywhere. Unfortunately, three-quarters of the material in the Northwest Film Forum's three-week series was created in anime's formative years, and much of it—stuff like Alakazam the Great and Speed Racer—is barely of historical interest now.

Also cobbled together from TV serials, Space Battleship Yamato (1974) is a little more interesting, but only the animators' way with laser beams and explosions hints at the glorious visual hallucinations the form would later deliver. 1979's Galaxy Express 999 is revered by fans of the genre as a quantum leap in animation technique. Non-specialists will mainly note that where Space Battleship Yamato posits a reconditioned WWII battleship as a space vehicle, Galaxy Express 999 uses a railroad train. In both films, the nuclear war neurosis that still dominates Japanese TV anime is already in full flower.

Jumping entirely over the glorious '80s-'90s noon of anime, the series concludes with a compilation of three-minute segments of The Fuccon Family, originally aired as part of last season's cult late-night TV hit Vermillion Pleasure Night. Composed from still-photo frames depicting three Western store dummies and their attempts to cope with life in contemporary Japan, the snippets are undeniably zany but soon wear out their welcome through knee-jerk anti-bourgeois (and -American) animus. If this is the direction anime is headed in Japan, South Park is the new vanguard of the form.

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