Animated Classics of Japanese Literature: The Izu Dancer/The Dancing Girl/A Ghost Story (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Luis Cruz
Review Date: Friday, January 06, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, February 11, 2003



What They Say
The Izu Dancer by Kawabata Yasunari
A young student falls in love with a traveling dancer, but societal differences may tear them apart.

The Dancing Girl by Mori Ohgai
A Japanese man working in turn of the century Berlin fathers a child with an impoverished dancer. But political difficulties force him to choose between his career or the woman he loves.

A Ghost Story by Koizumi Yakumo
A blind lute player chants the old legend. His music attracts the attention of the dead, who request a special performance.

The Review!
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: C-



CPM brings a taste of Japanese literature to the masses with two love stories and a creepy ghost story.

Audio:
The only track present was the original Japanese mono audio; music and dialogue are crisp and balanced well. Given the age of the title, the audio track was surprisingly free of any hiss, distortion, or other issues that would detract from the viewing experience.

Video:
Produced in 1986, the print for this title was remarkably clean bearing only a few noticeable instances of scratches and other print damage. Also, the digital transfer did produce any noticeable artifacts making for an enjoyable visual experience. While not as lush as modern day titles, the colors were warm and bright matching the unique animation style used.

Packaging:
A collage of images from the stories is set against a parchment paper background on the front cover. The "Animated Classics" title is prominent across the top with the individual story titles and their authors just underneath. The back cover features the requisite screenshots, synopses, and disc details in a clean, readable format.

Rather than an insert for the chapter listings, the case is transparent allowing the reverse side of the cover to contain black and white images, the chapter listings, and a production credits.

Menu:
The menus feature a static image to the left of the screen with the menu items to the right with music looping in the background. Transition delays are negligible allowing the viewer to quickly access the disc content.

Extras:
The extras are divided up between content accessible by a stand-alone player and by a DVD-ROM player. Stand-alone players can only access brief biographies of the authors along with a quick synopsis of the actual story. The DVD-ROM content is simply a few screen captures from each story along with the script used.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As a child of the late '70s and early '80s, some of my fond memories revolve around the many animated attempts to educate our young minds. I can still recite many a tune from Schoolhouse House Rock and some of the more obscure shorts. I can also fondly remember how animation introduced me to a number of Western literary classics like The Hobbit and Chronicles of Narnia. While anime has introduced the Western world to some of its iconic stories, few titles from Japan have introduced the literature one might study in school in a similar fashion. Central Park Media is looking to change this by introducing the 1986 Animated Classics of Japanese Literature series to the US market.

The first story on this volume is "The Izu Dancer" and revolves around Mizuhara, a college student who travels across Japan with a family of minstrels. Kaoru is the youngest daughter of the family, and the two begin to fall in love with each other. However, the difference in their class status precludes them from being able to act upon this love. Mizuhara eventually leaves to return to university; the story closes with Kaoru waving forlornly after Mizuhara's boat.

Tragic love is also the theme of the second story "The Dancing Girl". The year is 1885, and Toyotaro Ota has been sent to Berlin to work as a translator. His life is forever changed when he meets Elise (or Ellis as the subtitles have it), a ballet dancer whose father recently died. She and her mother were left with no money to bury him, and Toyotaro decides to lend them the money. Eventually, they become smitten with each other, but the relationship is just the leverage jealous coworkers needed to have Toyotaro fired.

However, a friend gives him a job with a local newspaper, and Toyotaro weds Elise. The pair soon conceives a child just as Toyotaro faces a difficult crossroad in his career. His friend manages to set up a lucrative translator position for Toyotaro, but he must sever all ties with Elise and return to Japan. Toyotaro's final decision destroys the life he had with Elise and leaves him to bear his guilt to the grave.

These two stories complimented each other quite well; both highlight the impact those around us and our own decisions have on our relationships. While both stories do tend to the melodramatic, they are situations the audience can identify with easily. Sometimes what we want the most is just out of reach, and sometimes we have to decide what is most important to us, and that decision can sometimes be disastrously wrong.

Rounding out the volume is an eerie ghost story appropriately titled "A Ghost Story". Long ago, the final battle between the Heike and Genji Clans took place off the shore; the Heike Clan was sent to their deaths in the dark recesses of the water. Many decades later, a blind monk named Hoichi has become a proficient lute player skilled in telling the story about this ancient battle. His music attracts some spectral visitors from the lost Heike Clan and puts Hoichi in mortal danger.

Oddly enough, this story was penned by a Greek immigrant that married into a samurai family and wrote many books on Japanese culture. If the notes about the author did not exist, one would be hard pressed to believe that the story was not written by a native Japanese. The animation style is not one often seen in anime and feels more like a piece of Western animation. However, it blends the visuals and the narration perfectly capturing the creepy ambiance of the story.

The animation of the two love stories is also superb and slightly non-traditional; while Elise looks like the standard anime female design, it appears great care was taken to make the Japanese characters resemble the figures seen in various pieces of Japanese artwork. But it is the stories that impress the most; the love stories were bittersweet but struck a relevant chord in me. And a well written ghost story is timeless at any time of year. This volume is a good introduction to why the anime of today tends towards certain themes.

In Summary:
This volume of Japanese classics does a fantastic job of introducing the viewer to some of the works that influence the themes and stories seen in today's anime plots. Tragic choices, unfulfilled love, and the supernatural make for three captivating stories. Combined with a style that breaks from the traditional anime look, the characters and settings feel like authentic Japanese paintings come to life. At the recent price point, everyone should pick this title up and discover that the Japanese culture has a rich history of literature that revolves around something other than fan service and big robots.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Mitsubishi 27" TV, Panasonic RP-82, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and optical audio cable



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: C-
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Central Park Media
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Animated Classics of Japanese Literature