Four workers wait out the night around a campfire. Three of them are talking about different things when they start hearing strange noises. Their discussion wakes up a sleeping companion who promptly goes back to sleep only to start having dreams...
A quietly meditative and touching expose of a farmers relation to his society and his environment, Taneyamagahara no Yoru is an interesting adaptation of Kenji Miyazawa's play of the same name. Oga Kazuo provides pictures with which the play's dialogue is overlaid, enacted by Seiyuu. A unique approach, at some points approximating Kirigami animation.
Kenji Miyazawa has become one of Japan's most idolised authors. Miyazawa was a naturalist writer and poet, oft thought of as inspired by Flaubert and Maupassant, who lived a life of hardship and ignominy. Born in the rural prefecture Iwate in 1896, Miyazawa worked as a teacher and a agriculturalist, dedicated
to improving the life of the peasantry despite his consistently poor health. His writing was only really recognised post-humously; Miyazawa dying at the all too early age of 37 from pneumonia. Miyazawa's life of hardship without complaint, always working for his community, has immortalised him in Japan as a caricature of truly admirable behaviour and a signifier of Japanese spirit. Kenji Miyazawa's works are easily recognisable. Concerned with the empowerment of nature, and depicting peoples relationships- sometimes positive, sometimes negative- with nature, Miyazawa's works contain almost unlimited descriptive sensory detail and often fantastical extended metaphors. Miyazawa wrote mostly for children, however his work has been appreciated world-wide by people of all ages, creeds, and denominations.
Miyazawa has had many anime produced from stories he has written. These include The Restaurant of Many Orders, Gauche the Cellist, and Night on the Galactic Road. The fantastical ideas, the naturalism, is an easier order to achieve in the medium of anime than in film, and anime is more often communicable to the main target demographic of children. Though really, like 'Spring and Chaos', Taneyamagahara is a bit more intangible in its prose, expressing subtler ideas. Much of the dialogue found within Taneyamagahara is almost illogical in its malingering upon irresolute ideas and forms to create subconscious indelible feelings for life. Undoubtedly, this is in part due to the fact this play was originally created to be performed by the class of children he attended upon. Perhaps this will explain the unique approach in relation to the production of this anime.
Oga Kazuo is credited as Studio Ghibli's most important background artist. Kazuo is largely responsible for the amazing environmental background artwork of Totoro and most other prominent Ghibli films- presumably having retired upon working on Arrietty (he was absent from 'From up on Poppy Hill'). Kazuo is also experienced as an art director- spearheading work on films like Hadashi no Gen and Only Yesterday. Kazuo, with this adaptation of Taneyamagahara, has drawn all the frames in which our story habituates. His artwork is highly successful for having the potential to communicate the sophistication and complicity of Miyazawa's work.
Surely however, Kazuo must have been highly cognisant of the decision he was making. With only a set of pictures with dialogue, Taneyamagahara effectively becomes a narrated picture-book. While the story of Taneyamagahara is purposefully limited, and the characters developed little, what Taneyamagahara does give us is the joy of life and nature. By drawing upon our experiences with being read books as a child, Kazuo cunningly enhances the effectiveness of the animation. While this kind of animation surely is dying out, as viewers are demanding smooth and complex animation, perfectly synchronised mouth-flaps, and stimulating special effects, the contrasting simplicity works to Taneyamagahara's favour. People's fondest memories of nature are built upon experiences in the past, and the rustic qualities of this anime enhance this nostalgia, this sense of a treasured moment in time communicating with nature, with life.
Overall, Taneyamagahara is certainly successful in its portrayal of a Miyazawa work, which we can probably thank Kazuo for with his prescient utilisation of non-conventional art and animation techniques. Taneyamagahara is overwhelmingly a Miyazawa work though, so definitely while it's engagingly beautiful and scintillating, you won't find a compelling plot or particularly fleshed out characters. But you won't want these things watching this reflection-provoking anime anyway.
I don't think I could do justice to this movie the way ridojiri's review did, so I'll keep it brief and impressionistic.
I totally fell in love with the simplicity of Taneyamagahara no Yoru, the genre "slice of life" barely has any meaning to me anymore in a monotonous deluge of school-themed SoL series, but this movie actually did seem like a true slice of life, a sliver from evening until dawn with a complete view of life including drifting in and out of lucidity, in and out of dream. It totally immersed me in that regional culture, and the choices in the art direction
really made me hone in on the voice acting and the casual drawl of the regional dialect, which enhanced that aspect immeasurably for me. It seems not so much to straddle some dichotomy of rough-hewn practical engagement with reality and a drifting through dreams so much as it seems to present them as a cohesive and integrated whole. Anything more I might say ridojiri said better than I could.
I don't know why I felt compelled to write a review for this, I usually just rate things. It just...affected me more deeply than I thought it would? Like, I'm STILL smiling. It's a relaxing, engrossing work of art and I have no doubt that I'll be returning to this over the years when I want to unwind with something that's in no hurry to be itself as it unfolds. Truly amazing voice acting and soundtrack, great sound overall actually.