NOTE: Although this Japanese Import DVD is NTSC, it is coded for playback in Region 2 only. In order to watch this disc, you'll have to have either a player coded for Region 2 or a Region Free DVD Player.
As a longtime Studio Ghibli fan, I was stoked to hear they had a new short film coming out on DVD in Japan. Directed by their longtime background artist, Kazuo Oga, Taneyamagahara no Yoru (Night on Taneyamagahara) was made in celebration of the 110th anniversary of the birth of author Kenji Miyazawa. This new animated film is an adaptation of Miyazawa's 1924 play of the same name, and it was intended as a companion to the new DVD of the 1982 adaptation of the writer's famous story Cello Hiki no Gauche.
Unfortunately, I didn't do enough research, and when my copy of Taneyamagahara no Yoru arrived, I was dismayed to discover it had no English subtitles. Not one to be dissuaded easily, I figured I'd soldier on. When I was a teenager, before the days of DVD, Japanese anime was a lot harder to get in North America. What did come over here was usually bootlegged on VHS and passed from person to person, until what my friends and I ended up with was a ninth generation video of an untranslated cartoon. This was how I had first seen the uncut Nausicaa and Laputa, and I had gotten through them just fine. Sure, I missed some subtle points, but as long as the storytelling was clear, I could make out what was going on.
The only problem is Taneyamagahara no Yoru is all subtlety.
I'll admit it. I'm beaten. I couldn't make heads or tails of what Taneyamagahara no Yoru was about. Part of it is it's just not a story you can put together without knowing what is being said. Rather than a point-A to point-B plot, it's a lyrical reflection on the various weather patterns on Taneyamagahara mountain. Miyazawa's poetry lingers on the subtle changes in clouds, for instance, and while there are some mystical elements--talking trees, leaf people, bratty children representing thunder and lightning--there's not a lot of physical business to witness.
Kazuo Oga's choice for the visual style of the film is probably right for the material, but it ends up making Taneyamagahara no Yoru even harder to penetrate for the foreign language viewer. The short subject isn't animated in a traditional sense; rather, it's more like a detailed storyboard. Oga puts his talent as a background artist to use, painting a series of still images. While small details like a campfire are manipulated to create the illusion of movement and the camera does zoom in and out and pan across the pictures, the characters are static. The style lends to the poetic feeling of the film, to be sure, but it definitely requires a more concentrated viewing than I could give it.
Even so, Oga's work is so gorgeous, I didn't actually mind spending the half hour looking at his paintings. I took viewing the DVD more as a meditative exercise than as engaging with a narrative. In that sense, Taneyamagahara no Yoru is lovely.
Also included with Taneyamagahara no Yoru is a bonus CD with the two songs from the soundtrack performed by Ensemble Planeta. They are short songs with slightly New Agey female vocals, and thus not likely something I'll listen to much without the visuals of the movie accompanying it.