Friday, March 30, 2012

My Top Animated Films Which Should Be In The Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection is THE premier home video company and has been since its creation in 1984.  They've spotlighted numerous directors and hundreds of films and given them the best possible treatment for home viewing.  Only one of those films has been animated.  That film was Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 landmark, Akira.  This film was only released on Laserdisc, as the rights have passed on.  I don't understand fully why Criterion hasn't released any animated films.  Perhaps because there are so many live action films which have been neglected or never gotten a proper release in America.  This is certainly true, yet there are plenty of animated films which I know need a proper release Stateside, especially since we don't know the condition of many of them if more attention is being paid to live action films.  So here is a list of films which I think are more than adequate candidates for the Criterion Collection.

#1. Allegro non Troppo (1976)

One could call this Italy's answer to Fantasia, however its more like Fantasia's antithesis.  What is accomplished here is something that extends farther than what Disney was able to accomplish.  Director Bruno Bozzetto also uses live action sequences to move from segment to segment.  However, these are humorous and extremely tongue in cheek.  The animated shorts themselves are amazingly diverse and colorful in their styles.  The most famous, a nod to the Rite of Spring segment from Fantasia, is a gorgeous and grotesque parade of prehistory set to Ravel's Bolero.  Many of these shorts, such as the latter and the Firebird Suite segment, contain a sharper, usually more satyrical edge than Disney had.  The segment with the homeless cat, set to Sibelius' Valse Triste is a real tear jerker that also integrates some stylized live action.  There does exist a current DVD edition, but I'm sure Criterion would do an excellent job and probably dig up some great new extras for it.

#2: The Plague Dogs (1982)

I hope its not a surprise that one of the saddest films I've ever seen happens to be animated.  Based on Richard Adams' novel, this is a spiritual sequel film to Watership Down (1978) also directed by Martin Rosen.  This is about as bleak an animated film as you're likely to see.  In spite of that, this world is lovingly rendered, having the most beautiful animal animation I've ever seen.  The features on each dog  are delicately drawn and painted and their mannerisms captured perfectly. The story doesn't falter either, successfully making the canines compelling in their struggle.  Though the ending is somewhat open, it ends on a positive note, (literally) with an uplifting song by Alan Price.  The story of this film on home video is a long but disappointing one.  Since the film has many disturbing and none-too kid-friendly scenes, it was cut down for the U.S. release.  There has never been an uncut release of it on DVD here, so it would be prime time for Criterion to release the full version.

#3: The Mushi Productions Animerama Trilogy (1969-1973)
In the 60s, the legendary Osamu Tezuka, started his own production company, named Mushi Production.  After leaving Toei animation, Tezuka needed another company to output his creativity through.  Mushi primarily created television programs based on Tezuka's manga.  However, in 1969, Mushi Pro released 1001 Nights, a theatrical animated film aimed at adults.  Mushi Pro would go on to release two other animated features before briefly going bankrupt in 1973. The second film made, Cleopatra was co-directed by Osamu Tezuka and Eiichi Yamamoto, who also directed the two other Mushi "Animerama" films.  Cleopatra is a remarkable piece of animation.  It uses every style imaginable from animating cartoon faces over live action actors to abstracted forms making love.  In one standout scene, in celebration of Antony and Cleopatra's arrival in Rome, a brief history of art is given.  Each artist's most famous works, from Goya to Dali are reproduced and animated faithfully to the style that they were made in.  For instance, Degas' dancers are rendered in a gorgeous pastel style.  Also in the film are anachronisms and absurdist humor galore.  The third and final Animerama film, The Belladonna of Sadness, is the most decadent but also the most beautiful.  Art by illustrator Kuni Fukai is integrated with smooth animation to create a unique experience in the history of the medium.  Bizarre and elegant imagery help the narrative flow along.  It is a shame that these films, Belladonna especially, have fallen into neglect.  Criterion should release 1001 Nights, Cleopatra and The Belladonna of Sadness in either an Eclipse set or something similar to their America Lost and Found: The BBS Story set, for these films are certainly lost treasures to be found.  

#4: Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984)
As some of you may know, I already wrote about this film and how much I love it.  To be brief, Macross is an important icon of Japanese pop culture.  This film in particular is well loved over there and it shows (in July its getting a special edition Blu-ray release).  The story of these characters just reverberates with people the world over, whether it be through Macross or Robotech.  This film encapsulates so much of a bygone era that its almost painfully nostalgic.  Kentaro Haneda's brilliant score elevates this and Haruhiko Mikimoto's delicate character designs give the film a timeless, yet aged feel.  You'd be hard pressed to find a film with more gorgeous cel art than this.  Combining an excellence in animation execution, music and story, Do You Remember Love? deserves higher attention than just old school anime clubs.  The only thing preventing a domestic release has been the ongoing tension between Harmony Gold and Big West (as I've explained before) but perhaps Criterion could step in and as a mediator for both and get this released.  Also, since this film is being made off a pre-existing TV show, perhaps a primer could be included in the package, such as in the booklet or a featurette, giving a brief synopsis of the original Macross series and characters.  I'll never say never about this film. 

#5: The End of Evangelion (1997)
Let's get all the anime out of the way, shall we? I could go on for days with it on this list.  Evangelion is both loved and hated equally.  Much of this is due to the confusion about the show's intent.  What the director, Hideaki Anno, intended was to speak to the Lost Generation of those in Japan and also to the otaku, or fan boys who hide in their own world and don't connect with people.  Its a really powerful message he has and its even more so in the theatrical conclusion to the show.  End of Evangelion is really quite excellent in its narrative, even when things get into insane territory in the last act, there are still concepts that can be grasped.  What the film finally has to say at the end is worth hearing.  The use of live action footage towards the end to point directly at the audience is something not many anime directors are bold enough to try, but Anno is clear about his purpose and who he specifically wants to see it.  Animation wise, this film is impeccable.  The big fight scene in the middle is one of the best animated in any country.  The sense of weight and scale entirely palpable.  Yet again, however, this film works best when in context of the series, thus a primer would be necessary.  However, I maintain that it is very much necessary to right the wrong which Manga Entertainment committed in 2002 with their awful transfer of the film.  A better transfer of this film must be seen over here, and who better to do it?  

#6: Angel's Egg (1985)

One last anime on this list, and this one's a doozy.  I was first introduced to this film by a friend, who knew of it through the art of Yoshitaka Amano, who did the character designs for the film.   The director, Mamoru Oshii made what is arguably the most personal and mysterious Japanese animated film ever with Angel's Egg.  This was apparently a culmination of Oshii's musings over Christianity and the doubts and questions he had about it and faith in general.  Whatever the total meaning, it is truly a thing of beauty.  The incredibly deft character animation and eerie, slow pacing in the silent, foreboding world, makes for a unique atmosphere.  The film is short and not much can be drawn from it, save for after several subsequent viewings, yet it stays with you, haunting you with its imagery and achingly gorgeous music.  If Criterion were to even get into releasing certain anime, this would be a good place to start. 

#7: The Short Films of Jan Svankmajer
Partially connected to the Czech New Wave but a filmmaker all his own, Svankmajer's films are at once disturbing and charming.  I first saw his films a couple years ago and was spellbound by their alterations of reality in such a striking and unforgettable manner.  A wide range of subjects are covered and analyzed in his short films, from childhood, human relationships and even sports games.  The films of his released on home video have been spread over a few distributors, usually in what seem to be film to tape transfers.  If Criterion could somehow transfer these from some original elements and organize most or as many short films of his into one collection, then it would be worthwhile.  

I'm going to end this list here, as this was just food for thought, and hopefully someone from Criterion will see this and take note of the great films which they're missing out on.  There are definitely many animated films I've failed to mention, these are just the ones at the front of my mind.  Perhaps I'll make a list of live action films for the same purpose, but for now this is the most important and most pressing issue.  


  1. Not sure why. I guess it goes back to how much I loved to get out the home movies and projector when I was little and watch them. Either with the whole family or myself. Now, I love being able to bring those memories to life and make them available for viewing today and sharing with family and friends. 8mm Video to DVD transfer

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  3. Processing your own film can also be a very fun experience, especially once you know what you're doing (and it's not really that hard, especially when processing black and white film) - it also saves quite a bit of money, as photo labs that still do film are able to charge pretty ridiculous amounts for processing and printing/scanning filmmovies 123