Today is the 53rd birthday of Masaaki Yuasa, one of the most recognizable directors in the anime industry for his unmistakable visual style. This June will be the fourth anniversary of the founding of his studio, Science SARU, with Korean animator and director Eunyoung choi, which has released its first fhree productions in the last 12 months, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Lu Over The Wall, and, most recently, Devilman Crybaby. Whether you’re a longtime fan of his work or want to know what all the recently craze surrounding his name is all about, you can celebrate his birthday and his inspirational career with us by checking out some of his other amazing works on VRV!
This is a guest post from Peter Fobian.
If you want to know more about Yuasa, there may be no better place to start than his directorial debut on the silver screen with the feature film Mind Game. Main character Nishi lives a life full of regrets, especially when it comes to his childhood sweetheart Myon. When an unexpected reunion with her ends tragically, Nishi has a near death experience that makes him decide to live his life to the fullest, which, in this case, ends up meaning really weird. The experience of watching this film can only be described as surreal, in addition to fantastic elements, the artistic style and even the medium shift rapidly, often between cuts in the same scene. This is definitely one of the most obtuse of Yuasa’s works but is a fascinatingly unrestrained showcase of visual creativity and narrative themes common to his later work.
Taking place in the same universe as last year’s The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, The Tatami Galaxy is a similarly rowdy, whimsical take on the nightlife of Kyoto with elements of magical realism. Each are based on novels by the acclaimed Japanese author Tomihiko Morimi (who also penned the novels that inspired the Kyoto-based anime The Eccentric Family). The unnamed protagonist of The Tatami Galaxy is a university student in pursuit of the raven-haired beauty Akashi, aided and tormented in turns by the impish Ozu. The Tatami Galaxy is fast talking and fantastically visual, assaulting you with the protagonist’s staccato narration and rapidfire conversations as he comedically navigates the different clubs and subgroups of Kyoto, punctuated by dreamlike sequences of visual metaphor or outright supernatural happenings.
Ping Pong tells the emotionally driven story of the Katase high school ping pong team and the relationship between its two main personalities, the childhood friends nicknamed Peco and Smile. Peco is a fun-loving, skilled player with a winning mentality while Smile is self-serious and tremendously talented but lacks the drive to win. They, along with the other members of the team, strive to get better by overcoming the physical and emotional roadblocks barring them from excellence. From a raw directorial standpoint, Ping Pong may be Yuasa’s greatest work, immaculately paced and composed. Despite its many subplots surrounding the other members of the team, the series never loses its central narrative thread and no scene feels extraneous. A tight production orchestrated to lead into raw moments of emotionality delivered by impressionistic visuals intense character animation.
If you’d like something a little more bite-sized, Yuasa was one of the episode directors on Shinichiro Watanabe’s arthouse wonderland series Space Dandy. The 16th episode, titled “Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby”, was written, directed, and storyboarded by Yuasa. A tremendous undertaking for one individual in the context of any syndicated anime series. Fans of Yuasa will immediately recognize his simplified, loose, gestural style fuzed with the typically highly detailed Dandy visuals and designs. The episode follows Dandy’s escapades after an accident with a teleportation ray sends everything from his neck up to a strange world where he befriends a fish from the Planet Girlfriend named Baked or Boiled… or Carpaccio.
That’s it for our Masaaki Yuasa Marathon. Hopefully you’ve come away from this mind bending experience with a love for his works just a great as ours, or at least an appreciation for the frenetic pacing and unique visual style that had made him so recognizable and an icon in the anime industry. With Science SARU starting to churn out new productions there’s definitely a lot more to look forward to.
Happy Birthday, Yuasa.