Friday, October 3, 2008

Tokyo Marble Chocolate

“In spring, we have fun under full-blossomed cherry trees, eating and drinking and romping around with our friends. Then, of course, you need to be careful not to quaff too much booze...

Right before it made its debut at the 20th Tokyo International Film Festival last October, Tokyo Marble Chocolate whipped up a wee bit of a local cinematic feeding frenzy and sold out all seats to the show within one day. I know, 'cos I missed out on that screening.

It's no surprise, really, when you take into account the caliber of talent and the subtle ingenuity behind this two-part animated sensory banquet masquerading as a contemporary Japanese love story.

While that might sound kind'a sappy or dangerously teary, think again, and you can tuck away the Kleenex.

The director is Naoyoshi Shiotani, who previously worked on Blood+ and did the key animation for The Prince of Tennis. Even more impressive is that fact that the anime production studio behind the experiment is Production I.G, famously responsible for the animated sequences in Kill Bill: Vol. 1, and Mamoru Oshii's superlative Ghost in the Shell movies.

Scripted into an appropriately love-lorn recipe by Masaya Ozaki, Tokyo Marble Chocolate's pre-baked inspiration was cooked up by two resident BMG Japan musicians (Japanese rapper and hip hop artist SEAMO, a.k.a. Naoki Takada, and J-Pop duo Sukima Switch, lesser known as Takuya Ohashi and Shintaro Tokita), and the brew put together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of BMG – just after I.G had celebrated its own double-decade.

The anime was awarded the Grand Prize in the Feature Film Category of the 12th Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival (SICAF 2008), held in Seoul, South Korea, in May, 2008.

“It's a bittersweet love story,” Shiotani told me late last year in an interview we put together for Anime Insider mag, outlining the two principle protagonists – named Yudai and Chizuru – in one very bizarre love triangle.

“It's one story told twice, meaning that you see the events from Yudai's perspective, and you can follow the very same story seen from Chizuru's eyes in the second chapter. Despite the fact that the two characters are standing in the same place at the same time, what they see and what they feel turns to be quite different. I wanted to show all that.”

This is set to be the couple's first Christmas together, yet the duo end up spending it stressfully apart, thanks in no small part to a hyperactive miniature donkey wearing a nappy (or diapers, as the Yanks like to say)...

“It's probably the most funny and absurd creature appearing in the movie," Shiotani admitted. And he's absolutely right – it's brilliant.

I like Shiotani. When I was doing a story on the Japanese all-consuming fad for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties earlier this year, he was the most down to earth and amusing respondent.

In March or April, depending on when precisely the nation's cherry blossoms (sakura) decide to unfurl, millions of people unfurl their own blankets in crammed public spaces, ostensibly there to watch the delicate, snow-like shower of flowers. Yeah, right. Mostly they want to catch up with friends, impress the boss, drink vast quantities of sake, carouse, get drunk, sing, and be raucous in exceptionally un-Japanese ways. These parties often stretch from daytime into the night (when the name is changed to yozakura), and lanterns hung up to drink by and warble prolific.

“We Japanese enjoy the different feelings and peculiarities of each and every season,” Shiotani deadpanned.

“In spring, we have fun under full-blossomed cherry trees, eating and drinking and romping around with our friends. And the sake you drink, surrounded by pink cherry petals dancing in the air, is somehow tastier than usual. In Japanese, we have even coined the word, hanamizake – which refers to the sake you sip under the cherry trees. Then, of course, you need to be careful not to quaff too much booze...”

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