Friday, 11 March 2011

Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii

Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii
Brian Ruh | 2004-06-12 00:00:00 | Palgrave Macmillan | 240 | Movies
Upon its US release in the mid-1990s Ghost in the Shell, directed by Mamoru Oshii, quickly became one of the most popular Japanese animation films, or anime, in the country. Despite these accolades, Oshii is known as a contrarian within anime, a self-proclaimed "stray dog", with a unique cinematic vision. Working in both live-action film and animation, directing everything from absurdist comedy to thrillers to meditations on the nature of reality, Oshii defies the confines of genre and form. Stray Dog of Anime is the first book to take an in-depth look at his major films, from the early days working on Urusei Yatsura to Avalon, his most recent feature. Ruh details Oshii's evolution as a director, paying special attention to his personal style and symbolism, resulting in a unique guide that will appeal to anime fans and cineastes of all kinds.

I wrote a review of the book "Cinema of Mamoru Oshii: Fantasy, Technology and Politics by Dani Cavallaro", describing it as "comprehensive, even if a bit dense." Well, Brian Ruh's book "Stray Dog of Anime" accomplishes the same goal that Cavallaro set out to accomplish, only minus the thick academic language. This is not a slight to Cavallaro's work, which should help bring Oshii's genius into the line of sight of Western Academia. However, for the rest of us who appreciate an intelligent yet more accessible style of writing, there is Ruh's book.

What's interesting is that Ruh's book captures the same format as Cavallaro's, walking the reader through Oshii's work in chronological order. Ruh follows a helpful outline approach that offers an introduction, description, synopsis and, finally, analytic commentary on each film. Ruh's dissection of each film is presented in a conversational format that is without pretense. Readers like myself will especially appreciate the Oshii interview excerpts throughout the book. In fact, I bought both books hoping to find not just a critical look at Oshii's films, but also some insight from the man himself. It's always a good feeling to come across an outside view of a movie or film director that is in line with my own. I really appreciated how Ruh takes notice of Oshii's maturation through each film, with Patlabor 2 being something of a pivotal point in Oshii's more subdued yet enriching approach to how dialog and mood is captured and conveyed in his films.

Unfortunately, my favorite Oshii film -- Innocence -- was not yet finished at the time of the publishing of this book, so you won't find any discussion about this film. But it is a minor miss for an otherwise well written, comprehensive inspection of Oshii's other works.

If you can afford it, buy this book and Cavallaro's together.

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