- Member: WalterScott
- Studio: Graven Image
- Title: Undiscovered Countries
- Premiered: 2006-09-23
- Peter Gabriel More Than This
- Anime Weekend Atlanta 12, AWA 12 PRO CONTEST (2006-09-23)
Winner of Best Dramatic, Best Sentimental, and Grand Prize at AWA 2006 Pro contest
Judges Award, Best Drama, Anime USA 2006
Wow. I am really moved by the positive reception this video has gotten, not to mention the awards. Four awards is plenty so I don't plan to send it to any more conventions unless as non-competing.
Undiscovered Countries is hard to explain or sum up in just a few words. I'll try a few now and then the intrepid among you can read the blow by blow further down.
The core of it to me is essentially Buddhist: the idea that you if you can let go of your ego and just feel connected to everything and everyone around you, then you will not even fear death, because you and the world are inseperable and the world is eternal. The video is a tribute to two genius creators who explored these ideas in their lifes work, which were then the basis for several anime.
If you enjoyed it then I encourage you to do two things:
First, buy the original sources! I called it Undiscovered Countries because the sources are so huge in Japan but relatively obscure in English speaking fandom. The Galactic Railroad and Spring & Chaos R1 DVDs are still in print. The Phoenix TV series is supposedly licensed by Media Blasters but isn't out yet. However several volumes of the manga have been translated and put out by Viz. The music is from a recent CD of another creative genius: Peter Gabriel, who is better known for songs he put out twenty years ago.
Second, please give me feedback - op, star, pm, im, email, whatever - this video in particular is so subjective that I'm really curious as to what people got out of it. And constructive criticism is also fine!
Fair Warning. This is possibly even more non-linear and conceptual than my usual. If you don't care for non mainstream anime and/or "artsy" videos then this is not the amv you're looking for. Move along!
The impetus to U.C. was actually rather dark. I had a bad health scare last year which got me onto the Up CD, which is basically a song cycle about the fear of death. "More than this" is a kind of mystical song in which, to me, Gabriel seems to be trying to convince himself of an afterlife. So there were two sets of anime source, that I had been wanting to use for quite some time, which I saw as tying into this theme, and in the end I used both:
- Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix cycle. This is a set of interrelated, often epic stories set in historical Japan and in the future, with characters being reincarnated from one story to another, and the immortal Phoenix watching over all and occasionally intervening in the characters lives. The general themes are of humans pride, lust, and vain desire for immortality, as well as the beauty and interconnectedness of all life.
My love for this series goes back to seeing Fred Schodt's excerpt translation from Karma in Manga! Manga! more than 20 years ago. I've been following the Viz translations and recently discovered that several volumes had been adapted to anime - some in a recent TV series, and others in various films and OAVs back in the 70's and 80's. I got hold of R2s of the TV show and of the Space and Karma OAV - the latter didn't have subtitles, but they hew close enough to the manga so it doesn't matter. Karma is my favorite part of the series, and Rintaro's movie, while condensing the story quite a bit, is still beautiful looking and quite powerful.
- Anime inspired by the life and work of Kenji Miyazawa, an early 20th century writer of children's stories and mystical poetry. I used the anime of his short story Night on the Galactic Railroad, which is a surrealist journey beyond death, and Kenji's Spring (aka Spring and Chaos), which shows part of Miyazawa's life. Both of these anime are easy to spot in the amv because the main characters are depicted as cats.
So the other meaning of Undiscovered Countries is, naturally, Hamlet's "fear of something after death". But a funny thing happened as I planned and developed this video. It became a lot more about wonder and appreciation of life ... seeing the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Partly because the song is ultimately an optimistic one, and also because there was so much that was strange but beautiful in the anime sources that I wanted to bring out.
In case you're still totally confused, here's a bit of a walk through the video and some of the images I used, and the themes I was trying to bring out.
0:01 - 0:10 - (title) - going clockwise, we have Giovanni, the protagonist of Railroad; the Phoenix; and a vision of Toshiko, Kenji's sister who died of tuberculosis, who is shown in Kenji's Spring.
0:10 - 0:26 - (night) - I woke up... - Miyazawa lies under a lamppost in an epileptic trance, thinking about his character Giovanni, whose spiritual journey begins at night. So I'm blending images from Railroad and Spring.
0:27 - 0:52 - (ascent) - I walked... - In Railroad, Giovanni walks out of town and up a hill to get a spectacular view of the milky way at night. Kenji's Spring shows this to be based on Miyazawa's personal experience, and shows him making this ascent first with his best friend, then later on with a young student. I interweaved all these scenes and also pulled in a similar scene from the beginning of Karma where the sculptor Akanemaru beholds a great cherry tree atop a mountain.
0:53 - 1:20 - (vision) - So much more ... - mostly scenes from Spring here. The psychedelic shot of Kenji the cat's face is where to me this video really gets going. Miyazawa is shown as an eccentric visionary who can quite easily 'trip out' in broad daylight when observing a tree and some birds. We see more foreboding visions of his sister Toshiko also.
1:20 - 1:29 - (friendship) - I'm all there ... - the reddish cat is Giovanni's friend Campanella (cute, aren't they?). Here I'm relating their bond to Miyazawa's closeness with his sister and with his best friend.
1:30 - 1:53 - (portents) - It started ... - more awareness of death creeps into the song lyrics and into the images. This is all from Galactic Railroad. The train arrives and carries Giovanni and Campanella on their metaphorical journey. Miyazawa wrote the story around the time of the Titanic sinking and he weaves the event into his story. Then I show Campanella saying goodbye to Giovanni....
1:53 - 2:13 - (pride) - Now we're busy ... - these lyrics seem to match Phoenix very well so we shift to that now. We start with images of human pride and denial of death, as Akanemaru works on his sculpture and supervises construction of an enormous Buddha statue. Then we see the end results of pride: destruction and death. The nuclear war scenes are from the Future chapter. I also overlay the crying Buddha from Karma, and also a burning village from Dawn.
2:13 - 2:46 - (wonder) - More than this... - Now I go through several Phoenix stories and show people encountering the Phoenix herself. Akanemaru sees her just at the end of Karma as his body disintegrates in a fire, and the Phoenix is herself reborn in fire. I run through scenes from Dawn, then Space, then Future. The old fellow with the beard (not Gandalf!) is from Future.
2:46 - 2:54 - (cycles) - I'm all there ... - It wouldn't be a Tezuka story without some fellow with a big nose, would it? In this case, the big nose character is Saruta, who is reincarnated across the cycle of Phoenix stories, from Dawn to Future and nearly everything in between. This is illustrated with these terrific manga scans, which were not done by me -- I took them from a very nice television documentary on Tezuka and Phoenix that came as a bonus track (with subtitles!) on a Hong Kong DVD edition of the Phoenix TV series. (The rest of my Phoenix footage is all from R2 DVDs, but the documentary isn't included in them!)
2:55 - 3:23 - (karma) - and it's all right ... - For the bridge section I wanted to linger a bit on Gao, the one armed sculptor who is the incarnation of Saruta in Karma and Civil War. I really only hint at his story here, which is one of great suffering but also of enlightenment. [Just go read the manga already!] The images are either from Rintaro's OAV or from the borrowed scans of the original manga. It looks like Gao is under the same cherry tree that Akanemaru came to at the beginning of Karma....
3:24 - 3:47 - (mystery) - much more ... - still in a kind of quiet section of the song so I show some mysterious and strange images - first from the Space OAV, where the Phoenix has resurrected an astronaut inside a space capsule, which is now serving as a kind of womb... (if you read the manga you'll see that the story is even weirder than the image.... the astronaut is fated to grow old, then regress back to infancy and back again, in an endless cycle...)
then Giovanni stares at a crystal showing the constellations (see! I didn't forget the cats)... and Miyazawa is lying in a field hallucinating... again....
3:48 - 3:57 - (connection) - I'm all there .. - another borrowed manga scan, showing how the Phoenix story cycle spans many centuries... with images of romantic or maternal love from various chapters. The fear of death makes another visit, though, with another vision of Miyazawa's (the floating skeletons).
3:57 - 4:26 - (struggle) - So much more ... - now that the music is building up I try to make the images more dynamic. Just as a band will introduce its members as they near the end of a set, this seemed like a good place to label the sources, so that the viewer can get clued into what they have been seeing. A key bit of context that I don't really get across is with the Dawn scene, where the character Takeru climbs out of the pit. He has actually been living at the bottom of that pit his entire life and is seeing the world for the first time.
4:26 - 4:46 - (nature) - More than this... - now the intensity goes up further - I show a lot of primal forces of nature from Dawn and from Future.
4:46 - 5:21 - (synthesis) - More than this ... - so here's the big finish. I'm trying to suggest that the visions of Miyazawa and Tezuka encompass both a religious/spiritual as well as a scientific/humanist view of reality. Both had something of a scientific background - Tezuka was a doctor before turning to manga, and Miyazawa studied geology. The crucifix scene is from Railroad, where the train makes a stop for all the Christians to get off and go to their own heaven. Then the train moves on to the "true" Buddhist heaven (!). The Buddha statue is also an ironic image. In much of Phoenix, Tezuka disparages the statues and much of organized Buddhism as a tool of state power and domination.
Now I show images of life's evolution from the end of Future, overlaid on images from the TV show opening, which could be interpreted as showing evolution or a cycle of reincarnation, or both. Then we see Kenji's vision of the galactic railroad from Spring, here imagined as a foreshadowing of human space travel and also as a DNA spiral ascending to heaven. To close out this vision of human destiny and possibility I then put in the final image from Space where the reincarnated astronaut, now a baby, makes its home on another planet.
So we end on a note of optimism. Individual lives are short, even civilizations may die and be reborn, but all lives are connected, and just as Takeru escaped his pit, we may as a species be able to climb out of the cradle of Earth and reach the stars. Damn that sounded like a term paper didn't it? Sorry.
The end credits show photos of the real Miyazawa, then the anime depiction of him. The footage of Tezuka is also from the TV documentary.
Of course, you're free to form your own interpretations and associations. I mean, I only made the video. It's out of my hands now. Hope you enjoy it!