Posts Tagged ‘anime’

The academic poster is one of the different ways you can share information about your subject. For the humanities, a least, this format forces you to really think about how you might convey your topic in a visually arresting way.  The science subjects have had ownership of this part of the academic landscape but things are changing.

The Humanities Resource Centre at the University of York, where I am based, run a competition every year for PhD students to submit a poster which: –

  • Offers a clear ‘taster encounter’ with your research project for a non-specialist audience
  • Has a quickly appreciable dramatic visual impact

I thought, as my research looks at Anglo-American films and anime which have a distinct visual style, this might be a fun way to rethink my research.

I knew from the start that I wanted to design a poster which would emulate, in some way, a movie poster – bit of a no brainer there. I also want to use text in an interesting way. Initially wanted to use a word cloud to present key words from my research, perhaps to replace the face of an iconic figure such as Rick Deckard (Blade Runner.)

posthuman word cloud

Word cloud of key terms related to my PhD

In the end I borrowed the style of text from The Matrix; vertical acid green trails of the film titles in the posthuman noir corpus fill the background of the image. Meanwhile for the main titles I chose a font which would emulate those used on Blade Runner posters in the colour red, which stood out against the dark background and symbolized the violence of the genre.

I also wanted to use images from both Anglo-American film and Japanese anime. I toyed with using one to be a shadow of the other – which didn’t work quite as well as I wanted – but settled on using the two figures as mirror images of each other. For the figures I picked Rick Deckard as the main image and his mirror/shadow would be formed by a robot from Ghost in the Shell.

To match the moody, dark tone of posthuman noir I had to keep my own poster fairly dark – in hindsight I feel was a mistake as it only really reads well when A2 sized or larger.

I’ll let you judge for yourselves whether this image works as a window into my research…

PhD Poster two

My PhD poster

 

I entered the poster, not thinking it would do well but happy that I had been able to view my research differently. A month or so passed and I found out it had come joint third. Not too bad for my first attempt at an academic poster. If you want to see the poster that won, and other entrants you can here.

 

 

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Last week I re-watched Transcendence, (Wally Pfister, 2014) a film which I didn’t hate at the cinema but which I felt in many ways let itself down. There was a lot of potential in the idea, but as with most posthuman films, especially those which involve some form of collective consciousness, it pulled back from the brink, relying on a traditional A.I. = evil clichés for the climax.

 Transcendence Trailer

Transcendence failed to generate a lot of interest in the box office, firstly because it wasn’t the sci-fi action-er the trailer indicated it might be, not a cardinal sin in my opinion, but this probably resulted in false expectations for some audience members. Secondly, and more importantly, because the film has a tendency to undermine itself through the way its characters easily and conveniently change their life stances.

….. From here on in there are spoilers for Transcendence and Ghost in the Shell …..

Watching Transcendence this second time I found myself, for the most part, firmly on the side of A.I. /Will Caster, as this computer program/human uploaded consciousness pursued its agenda to develop technologies which would regenerate desolate landscapes, and damaged human tissue. What exactly was wrong with the way this program enabled blind men to see? Or disabled people to walk? Was this getting a little too close to playing God and thus playing down the Frankenstein hubristic line?

Martin is healed/enhanced by A.I. Will Caster

Martin is healed/enhanced by A.I. Will Caster

Sure, at points, Will Caster/A.I. went a little overboard and took measures which fixed the damaged humans beyond what was required. The scene where the previously beaten up construction worker single handily lifts gigantic girders, caught on someone’s smart phone footage, oozes with humanity’s fear of the other. The construction worker has become one of ‘them,’ posthuman, something that with physical enhancement might begin to follow an agenda parallel, or even at odds, to normal/traditional humans.

This is the perennial concern of the posthuman movie, exacerbated in Transcendence by the fact that all the characters enhanced by Caster/A.I. are also networked together and to him/it.

Collective consciousness or the networked hive-mind appears as a prospect of true terror in posthuman movies across most of the west. In societies that pride the autonomy of the individual above the collective this method of becoming posthuman is often demonised. Although many movies and stories offer the mantra that “there is no ‘I’ in team” British and American science fiction continues to rally against future societies which encourage too much collective integration. There may be no ‘I’ in team, but don’t be too team oriented either for therein also lies danger (Will Robinson). Whether this is a throwback to the fears of collective societies of cold war communism, or a reflection of self-orientated neo-liberal values, the negative attitude to collective consciousness seems here to stay.

This is one of the major areas where attitudes differ between Anglo-American and Japanese popular media. In the Japanese anime that I look at for my PhD I have found that there is a more positive portrayal of networked minds. There are many complex social and philosophic reasons for this which I may go into in another post stemming from the religions of Shinto and Buddhism, and from the way Japanese society has constructed a sense of collective identity, post the Second World War.

(An interesting aside in relation to posthuman noir… Many of the Japanese posthuman characters who are framed as outsiders, both in their nature as posthumans as well as their position in society, are brought doubly back into the fold by the end of their narrative journeys, they regain human emotions and are reintegrated into Japanese society. More on this in a future post, although more on this idea of the tragic loner character separated from the rest of society is explored in chapters on Japanese film noir in International Noir.)

Ghost in the Shell poster

Ghost in the Shell poster

I wonder if these differing positions will have an effect on the live action version of Ghost in the Shell which is currently in development. This film is already courting controversy in the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, who may have proven her action heroine and sci fi abilities (see my post on Lucy) but who isn’t Japanese like Kusanagi. But in relation to the question of collective consciousness, I wonder if the live action version of Ghost in the Shell will follow the original film ending with Major Kusanagi merging consciousness with The Puppet Master villain, losing the individual personality to become part of something greater? We will have to wait and see.

On a slightly different, but related, level I found re-watching Transcendence provoked questions on the possibility of a human ever being able write a truly posthumanist film. (If anyone has suggestion on films which can really be classified as posthumanist I’d be excited to hear.) Is it ever possible to think beyond our anthropocentric concept of the universe? And do we really need or want to?

These thoughts are particularly pertinent to me right now as I have begun to work on the first feature film screenplay for my PhD. Often with my current idea I wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew as I try to think of ways to think beyond some human binaries, beyond notions of current human embodiment and what the intangible elements that make humans human might be. When I began this script I wondered if I would be able to write a posthuman noir script that might even be posthumanist, but the further my research goes the more I realise these two things might be incompatible. The agenda of posthuman noir is not to push a posthumanist revolution, but rather to re-enforce a humanist standpoint.

If I attempt for posthumanism do I fail in writing a story that explores the theme of posthuman noir? I guess I will find our when I get there, but at the moment I just need to concentrate on keeping my strange posthuman noir train on the rails.

 

Lucy poster

Lucy poster

Lucy, by Luc Besson, has just been released UK cinemas to a mixed response. Let me put my cards on the table right now, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Is it perfect? Of course not. Very few, if any, films are perfect. In fact I’m not sure if I can think of any ‘perfect’ piece of entertainment—although that debate is open if anyone want to put a candidate forward.

However, what Lucy does quite nicely is package the ‘high theory’ of becoming posthuman inside the easier to swallow pill of a fast paced, violent action movie.

Lucy [Scarlett Johansson] a foreign student in Taipei, inadvertently becomes a drug mule for some terrifying Korean gangstars [ lead by Min-sik Choi] when she shacks up with the wrong guy [a stupidly dressed Pilou Asbaek—Kasper Juul to Borgen fans—with a junkie’s infectious nervousness]. From there on things go from bad to worse for Lucy until the bag of drugs in her stomach is damaged when she resists a would-be rapist and the new drug enters Lucy’s system sparking her evolution to superhuman and beyond.

 

***SPOILERS follow, although I say nothing of the ending***

From the start Besson makes some interesting editing/directorial choices. Lucy, in the hotel reception waiting to hand over a briefcase to the gangsters is intercut with a cheetah stalking gazelles on the plains. Lucy and the gazelle’s situations are equally and obviously hopeless but, of course, life fights to stay living. This is one of the pervading themes of the film.

The intercutting of documentary footage, predominantly of animals and natural settings, continues throughout the movie. Initially jarring, when it accompanies the lecture given by Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) on the ‘science’ of this sci-fi it begins to make more sense. Yes, this is a pretty simplistic way to deal with the ideas of how increased use of the human brain capacity could influence a human’s position in relation to the world around them, but it makes the central conceit accessible to all viewers. Although, the tone sometimes overbalances on the tightrope between understandable and patronising.

Lucy manipulates hair length and colour

Lucy manipulates hair length and colour

Knowledge is power, is another of Lucy’s themes. Unlocking the potential to use more than 10% of her brain, the eponymous protagonist learns to control herself to the point of being able to order her metabolism to spontaneously grow and change the colour of her hair to escape detection; then control the world around her seeing the signals of mobile phones [a gorgeous visual] and manipulate gravity; and finally she cracks the one constant that defines existence: time.

Lucy manipulates her metabolism

Lucy manipulates her metabolism

Despite the concepts of life beyond the flesh, transcendence and actual posthumanism—a move from anthropocentric [human at centre of everything] to an entity in tune with animals, nature, time and technology—the old fears of losing the body make an appearance. Professor Norman sets up a binary of choice for cells: immortality or reproduction. If the environment is adverse cells chose immortality, which in the case of Lucy means dissipation, a merging with the surroundings. The result is an unnerving body dissolving sequence in the confines of an airplane bathroom, already the site of terror for many flyers. The confined space contrasts with the reaction of Lucy’s body and brain which want to continue expanding. A warning that the flesh can only push at the boundaries so much before the strain results in destruction. Is the message ultimately conservative, as is often the case with science fiction?

The integration of technology into the body and dissipation into omnipresence that appear in Lucy have strong visual and thematic nods to two cult anime properties, Akira [Katshiro Otomo,1988] and Serial Experiments Lain [Yoshitoshi Abe, 1998]. In one of the final sequences of the film, Lucy’s body extends and distends into sinuous vines of black cables to form a supercomputer, which resembles an anime meets H.R. Giger design. This is both beautiful and unsettling which plays on our fear of the distortion of the human body, the fear of the other and the monstrous.

Here’s a long clip from the dub of Tetsuo’s terrifying loss of control and bodily mutation.

Yet there is a dispassionate control to Lucy’s transformation/integration of technology, as opposed to the violent, terrifying integration which overcomes Tetsuo at the climax of Akira. Is this a comment on the strength of the female, who undergoes numerous natural bodily changes and penetrations, to adapt to these evolutions in a way the male cannot? Besson certainly does favour female protagonists who take agency over their environments and kick serious ass, one of the reasons I went to see the film in the first place.

One of the major flaws of the film is the issue of emotion. Once Lucy gains control of her body’s responses she is driven by a need to pass on knowledge, to survive and follow through her evolution to its full conclusion but she loses her emotional responses.

A tearful phone conversation between Lucy and her mother marks her emotional peak. Overwhelmed by being able to feel, hear and see all around her as well as recalling all memories, even the taste of her mother’s milk, this is Lucy at her most vulnerable. She is also on a hospital bed, being operated on to remove the package of drugs. Here Lucy is shown completely without control; she has not gained a handle on the new sensations bombarding her and she is at the mercy of the surgeon’s scalpel. This forms a sharp contrast to the rest of the movie where slows Lucy gains control over everything.

This dispassionate, detached tone starts seeps into all elements of the movie which starts to remove the audience from their emotional involvement in what happens. We want to see her succeed, but we don’t feel her need to.

Parisian cop Pierre De Rio

Parisian cop Pierre De Rio

Like so many posthuman characters she becomes an automaton on a mission. This should be balanced out by the human characters around her. The instinct is there as Lucy is partnered with a French detective Pierre Del Rio [Amr Waked] in Paris to collect the other samples of the drug and evade the Korean gangsters. But Del Rio is also too hard, perhaps it is in the casting but he does not provide the more ‘feminine’ emotional counterpart to the rational traditionally masculine position that Lucy occupies. There is not enough time for them to generate a spark, one that would lend a stronger explanation to why Del Rio is prepared to form a last line of defence in a fight to the death to protect Lucy while she gains final evolution.

Despite the loss of emotion, Lucy is still worth a watch for the smart, concise way it engages with questions of human evolution, becoming posthuman and the sheer joy of the action sequences and gorgeous locations.

Imagine a world where your psychological condition is constantly monitored; where you, and everyone around you, are placed in a perfectly suited job perfectly; where crime is pretty much a thing of the past. This is the Tokyo of Psycho Pass, watched over by the benevolent/intrusive eye of the Sybil System – the computerised system that monitors the psychological conditions of on all the citizens within the Tokyo environs.

Of course this isn’t the idyllic utopia that the concept suggests, refusal to seek treatment for a cloudy ‘psycho pass’ [the name given to people’s mental health] can result in time in a dentition centre, or psychotic outbursts due to the fact the citizens of Tokyo can no longer tolerate even the slightest amount of stress. Those with severely clouded psycho passes are locked up, considered to be latent criminals aka it’s only a matter of time until they give in to their immoral urges and commit a crime.

Poster for Psycho Pass

Poster for Psycho Pass

The protagonists of this show work within the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation division. Akane Tsunemori is a new Inspector, assigned to a team in the pilot episode. Meanwhile Shinya Kogami is an Enforcer, one of a select few latent criminals who have been released from detainment facility under the mentality of ‘use-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief.’ In this way the inspector’s psycho passes are protected from the corruption of needing to think like the criminals they are trying to arrest.

Oh and I should probably mention the gun too, the dominator, a weapon controlled by the Sybil System which can change modes depending on the level of force the Sybil System deems necessary. The trigger is locked on people whose psycho passes are within safe levels, next up is a non lethal paralyser mode followed by the lethal uber-destructive body-exploding mode for those who are no longer worth saving.

Wow, that took a long time to set up. And by now you are probably wondering what western text this is an adaptation of. Brave New World, perhaps? 1984? Both these texts are quoted in various episodes and the antagonist even carries copies of these books around with him. But no, I offer up that Psycho Pass is actually a cyberpunk version of Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes? Really? Yes, really. Now Mr Holmes has been riding on the wave of an extensive revival in recent years with the BBC’s contemporary adaption Sherlock, CBS’s also contemporary, but transported to America, Elementary and Guy Ritchie’s rather more violent masculine, steampunk film versions. Even I have had my hand in the Holmes cookie jar, with a theatrical site specific version of The Speckled Band which was performed at The Treasurer’s House, York and Ripley Castle. [Here’s the trailer for those interested.]

Why so much interest now? Well I think all these adaptations tap into the sense audiences these days are constantly being forced to act like the great detective in their everyday lives. We are bombarded with infinite information that we have to analyse and investigate to find the truth, or our truth; the useful from the red herring. But more on that another time, perhaps.

Now how is our cyberpunk, sci-fi show, this Blade Runner meets Minority Report via Brave New World, related to the great detective?

Well, like many crime stories it owes much to the format established by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A genius detective, who might be a little sociopathic or at least bad with people; his loyal, emotionally understanding companion, who might also be pretty good with a gun; and finally a sociopathic, manipulating criminal mastermind as the big bad to be eventually faced and hopefully defeated, often at the cost of our great detective’s own life.

Shinya Kogami - Cyberpunk Sherlock

Shinya Kogami – Cyberpunk Sherlock

Shinya Kogami is our Sherlock, once a normal Inspector, he let his obsession to solve the case and his ability to think like a criminal get out of hand, leading to his demotion to Enforcer. As a latent criminal, he works with the police, but he is not one of them. In this capacity he can do things a rule abiding officer could not. His deductive powers, keen ability for observation and ability to see the bigger pattern from the minutiae also place him firmly in the Sherlock mould. In particular episodes he is not afraid to abandon the constricting law system to pursue the criminal and the truth.

Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami  aka Watson and Holmes

Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami aka Watson and Holmes

Kogami find his loyal, emotionally switched on, moral back up in the form of Akane Tsunemori. This Watson is a woman, but refreshingly her gender is not made the main interesting point about her. She never acts in a traditionally ‘feminine’ role. [Unlike Lucy Liu in the pilot episode of Elementary.] There may be a current of attraction between Akane and Kogami—isn’t there always something a little more between Watson and Holmes—but it is never made a main plot point. Instead Akane is a stalwart of the right, moral decision. From the pilot where she shoots her Holmes to defend an innocent woman, who the system has wrongly deemed unfit for existence, she is set up as the defender of justice. Not to mention a sharp shooter, who misses Kogami’s vitals when she paralyses him.

Shogo Makishima aka Moriarty

Shogo Makishima aka Moriarty

And finally the third side of the triangle: Moriarty. Shogo Makishima is the asymptomatic [he commits psychologically damaging things without any effect to his psycho pass] Homme Fatale. Yeah, you read that right, homme fatale, the man who turns up and emotionally manipulates the protagonist into a downward spiral that could result in his death. Move over Irene Adler, it’s Moriarty who really gets under Sherlock’s skin. [Somewhere the fan girls all cheered, but that gay romance isn’t exactly what I’m getting at.] Even Makishima’s character design fits this idea of the Homme Fatale. He is seductive, but with a sense of elegance; his movements are sensual which is even evident in his fighting style in the gripping scene where he and Kogami face off for the first time.

Makashima, like Moriarty, acts as an enabler for others. As the scanners never pick up a fluctuation in his psycho pass he can move at will, setting up the perfect situations for those who would normally set off the Sybil System’s alarms. This reminds me of a quote from Sherlock Holmes in the story The Final Problem:

“The man pervades London, and no one has heard of him. That’s what puts him on the pinnacle in the records of crime. I tell you Watson, in all seriousness, that if I could beat that man, if I could free society of him, I should feel that my own career has reached its summit, and I should be prepared to turn to some more placid line in life…”

The final episodes of this show draw on the narrative structure of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty’s explosive encounter at the Reichenbach Falls, and spoiler alert, may have a similar conclusion.

Kogami and Makashima

Kogami and Makashima

Another, final interesting point to raise is the similarity of the settings. The dark, twisted alleys of Victorian London metropolis are, plus some more tech, pretty much the same squalid urban spaces that criminals in sci-fi noir inhabit. But like Sherlock Holmes, Psycho Pass’s settings also include the higher end of society, elite academies [like Sherlock story The Adventure of the Priory School] and the palatial homes of the rich and famous. Of course the urban labyrinth has been home to the detective and his criminal antagonists since Edgar Allen Poe, so it is only natural that in its futuristic guise it plays host to a new set of villains and heroes.

My only final note is that at some point in the future I might blog about Psycho Pass in even more detail as it is one of the shows on my PhD viewing list.

My former PhD buddy and York writer extraordinaire, Helen Cadbury, invited me to take part in this blog tour about writing process. [Click on her name above to see her answers to the questions below.] I find it fascinating to see how different writers work, there as many processes as there are writers really, and I must admit I might be trying out some of the other bloggers techniques to overcome my own moments of procrastination.

Apologies in advance, this blog is the end of this particular chain. I haven’t had the time to seek out other blogger writers to nominate. So my little branch will be filled with blossomy details of my process and you’ll have to backtrack and try Helen’s other nominee, who hopefully will keep the vine alive.

So to the questions…

1) What am I working on?

I’m what I think might be termed a magpie writer, or a writer with a severe case of creative ADHD.

Writers are magpies, stealing the shiny stories from everyday life - image from here

Writers are magpies, stealing the shiny stories from everyday life – image from here

I tend to have more than one project on the go and perform a complex juggling game with deadlines. At present I’m working on…

A feature film script for a sci-fi cop thriller with a genetic modification twist.

A very british horror radio play [think Wicker Man].

In the early stage of a play commission for Christmas…

Anything else..? Oh yeah my first screenplay for my PhD by creative practice, that’s a sci-fi noir with a posthuman twist too….

As you can see I have an issue with focusing on one project. [Side note: this does not include all the shorts, flash fiction pieces and the medieval web series I’m working on.]

Is all this healthy? Probably not, I was on verge of a creative mental meltdown around Christmas 2013 and vowed never to work on more than two projects at once… see how well that worked.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

We all bring our slightly different experiences to everything we write, so in a really simple answer to this question my work differs because it’s mine, it’s focused on my own skewed view point of the world.

As  for a more complex answer…I’m not sure. As I write scripts in genres like sci-fi and action adventure, which usually have female protagonists that in itself is a difference.

Fighting aliens and saving cats - image from here

Fighting aliens and saving cats – image from here

Think about the last time you saw a strong female lead in a sci-fi film, there’s Ripley from Alien franchise but in the last couple of years the tent pole films have all been about guys – Star Trek, Oblivion, Elysium, Iron Man 3…

One strong influence on my work in the last decade has been Japanese Anime, since seeing Spirited Away I’ve been hooked. There is a real freedom in the blend of genre tropes, characters and styles in anime that I love and that makes me think more freely about what can and can’t go into my writing in particular genres. I talk about this in detail in an interview for One&OtherTV here. Anime also makes up part of my PhD research so I can see it continuing to influence and inspire my work in the future.

 

3) Why do I write what I do?

Again there’s a simple answer: because I find these genres fun and exciting to create in.

And a more complex version… I used to think I had to write things that were worthy or overly complicated and, let’s face it, full of pseudo intellectual pretentiousness. Being a bright kid at school I was quickly encouraged to abandon children’s fiction for the ‘classics’ both modern and older. I got stuck somewhere in the Victorian period [not that I’m complaining, my stage plays have been adaptations of Victorian/Edwardian Literature which I still love].

Young Sherlock Homes poster - image from here

Young Sherlock Homes poster – image from here

Growing up I had loved action adventure films like Indiana Jones, Young Sherlock Holmes and sci -fi Blade Runner, surely if I wanted a career in writing I couldn’t do things like that, could I?

After studying for my MFA in California I realised that I was being an idiot. Of course I could write whatever I wanted – I have to say a big thanks to a professor out there who ran a ‘writing for the family audience’ screenplay class which knocked most of my pretentious attitude out of me.

4) How does your writing process work?

As I said in answer to the first question my process is one of juggling multiple projects. I think I like to have at least two on the go to flip between if my writing on one is getting stale or I reach an plot/character impasse. I’m a great believer in the power of the subconscious to solve any writing problems if it is given enough time/space/material. I’m a huge consumer of story in all forms, films/tv/anime/comics/fiction/plays/newspaper articles, I feel I have to understand what is out there if I’m going to add to or subvert a genre.

I’ve always been someone who is inspired by visuals so my process involves trawling photos and the internet for images that I can modify to become locations in stories or objects that can become macguffins [or mcguffin or maguffin]. In the same sense I like to travel, visit museums, walk in the countryside. I can’t over emphasize how important this is to my work for generating ideas to not be cooped up in only one space. Not being able to come up with an idea is an alien concept to me, I’m constantly inspired by the world around me, both the real physical world and the digital one. Having the time/brain capacity to get all these ideas down in correct format is more of an issue for me.

Research is also pretty key to my work, whether I’m creating in speculative futures of my own imagining or recreating the landscapes of the past I like to put in the time to research properly. Maybe this is because I’m one of those irritating people who will read/watch something and complain when the details aren’t right.

Image reference board for one of my previous projects

Image reference board for one of my previous projects

As for getting stories on paper, since I got into screenwriting about 5 years ago I’ve become an uber-planner. I like to have a detailed outline done before I start any script pages. This way I can work out a lot of the plot holes and iffy character motivation moments before I’m in love with the pages I’ve written.

Recently I’ve gotten into a habit of writing first drafts in 2-4 weeks. It’s really important to get to the end of the script, because until then you really can’t start to edit and turn the story into something that’s actually good. The first draft is never any good, I’ve pretty much gotten over the mental hurdle of realising this, so I vomit it out as quickly as possible [after research preparation] so that I can start cleaning up and feeling better about the story.

My final point on process is something that is occurring as I work further into my PhD by creative practice. I am becoming more aware of the reasons behind my creative decisions. Not in an overly analysing way, it isn’t detrimental or freezing to my process. I feel I have a pretty good gut instinct for the stories I tell, the locations I place scenes in, but now I am beginning to really understand why my gut tells me to do these things. Perhaps that has nothing to do with my PhD and is just my maturing as a writer, still it has occurred after I’ve started to really pick things apart for my academic research and so I feel they must be linked.

So I think that’s it… again I apologise that this is the end of this particular chain but I hope you’ve found this interesting or at least mildly amusing.

In part one I set up the reason for my visit to the Kubrick Archive and highlighted one of the first drafts of the A.I: Artificial Intelligence script which Ian Watson wrote. In part two I discover just how many permutations of the story Ian Watson did… Short answer: a ludicrous number.

Filled with a delicious lunch from the Japan Centre, including a matcha green tea [a real energy boost] I descended once more into the archives to try and make some more sense of the process through which the film A.I: Artificial Intelligence was created.

For my second day trip to the archive I placed the boxes of materials in as close to chronological order as possible and picked out the earliest box. Most of the materials, which were not in order, [why would anyone want to make my life easier] were from drafts in 1990.

Through reading a series of faxes I began to see how the writing relationship between Ian Watson and Stanley Kubrick worked. It seems that almost every day Watson would fax a new iteration of a section to Kubrick, which would be read, notes made and faxed back with ideas for changes and edits.  As a writer the very idea of working like this made me want to collapse with exhaustion. I’ve had experiences of turning out very quick re-drafts of treatments but nothing on this scale—I think this went on for about eight months.

Ian Watson has a fantastic article on his own website about his time on A.I. which gives more of a sense of the pressures and inventive freedom of working with Kubrick which can be found here.

What continued to surprise and delight me as I read through the numerous iterations of A.I. was the sheer inventiveness of Watson. There are some thoroughly wonderful visual and thematic ideas that just never made it near the end film—ideas that I would love to turn into movies in their own rights.

There are robot oracles stuck in abandoned reactors, where the area around has turned into a crystal encrusted tomb; Rouge city as noir a gangster controlled nightmare Las Vegas with dark secret revolving on eternal life; there are robot cults of various types who worship or sacrifice David, our little robot boy. The crystalline imagery does make it to the final film as the Blue Fairy statue frozen in ice after many centuries have passed.

Any of these ideas sound more interesting than the final film? Yep, that’s what I thought. Although at the same time I see how much of a risk they would have been to film; robot popes, I’m imagining, have always been a hard sell. Then there is always the question of audience, it seemed that Kubrick initially wanted this to be a general audience film that the whole family could see… it is clear that some of these darker, sordid drafts didn’t conform to this image. Nor did the final movie which got awarded a 12 certificate in the UK or PG-13 in the USA.

Another fascinating element that emerged from trawling through these different drafts is how Watson would get attached to a motif which would appear in various versions, each time slightly changed, to fit the new agenda. I’ve found I have a tendency to do the same thing when I’m writing. I get attached to an image or a concept which doesn’t work, I cut it out and then when another story comes along I try to mold my cut motif into the new story.

Bell Tower at Reschensee - Image fro http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reschensee

Bell Tower at Reschensee – Image fro http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reschensee

I’ve been trying to get the town under the man-made lake at Reschensee into a screenplay for about four years now. The location has been in my mind far longer, from tales my grandparents told of this underwater town and others like it. At one time or other this place has featured in three projects, from which it has been cut each time because, although it is beautiful/ haunting/ making a statement of man vs nature, it has never been quite right. I’ve always felt that I’ve been shoe horning it in somehow. One day, Reschensee you will be the location for a touching romantic moment or more likely, a stirring action sequence. I did see a Miyazaki, The Castle of Cagliostro, which has a similar location in after I wanted to write about this place, so at least someone has managed to make the image work.

With Watson it is a different image, a pit that bores deep into the ground that repeats. It is a source of eternal torment and punishment a la Dante’s Inferno, or a mysterious location which could great immortality. See how the image modulates in the different iterations, same location, very different purpose.

It’s the same with characters. Often as I start a new story my gut tells me I need a character in a particular moment to move the plot along, but that character might be drastically changed by the time the drafting process is over. The same thing happens in Watson’s drafts for A.I. The boy robot, David, and his friend Gigolo Joe need a sympathetic helping hand to push them on the quest, that much is clear, but who that character is alters dramatically from journalists to recluses.

There was so much potential in that tiny box, only a fraction of the creative output that went into the movie. To a lover of science fiction, Watson’s drafts are a real demonstration of the power of an imagination to generate different variations under pressure of tight deadlines. I’m the kind of writer who also functions best, sometimes, when the deadline looms like the blade of a guillotine.

Whether this brief trip to the archive was completely useful to my own research is up for debate. There was one very noir version which I would love to find in its entirety to read, and perhaps there is a conversation to be had with Ian Watson about it in the future, and I would love to know which anime he recommended to Stanley Kubrick.

However, visit has inspired a desire to read multiple drafts of the film scripts from my core texts: Blade Runner, Gattaca, Dark City, The Matrix to see how they developed into the final films. Perhaps there are gems in these drafts that, due to various elements of economics or risk, never made it to the final product.

As a screenwriter it has made me think about early drafts and that perhaps I need to be more inventive, maybe I need to go that extra step outside the box and be more experimental in the early story stage. Because even at my strangest, I have nothing on some of the things I’ve read in the Kubrick Archive.

To finish here’s the theatrical trailer for A.I.

Location: University Archives and Special Collections Centre
London College of Communication
Elephant and Castle
London
SE1 6SB

Website: http://www.arts.ac.uk/study-at-ual/library-services/collections-and-archives/archives-and-special-collections-centre/stanley-kubrick-archive/

Here is part two of the blog series where I take a look at creative adaptation through showcasing some anime adaptations of western books. In the first post of the series I explained a little of my love for anime and then analysed Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo.

This time I’m looking at one of the most well known anime adaptation of a western book, Howl’s Moving Castle [2004] directed by Hayao Miyazaki based on the book of the same title by Dianne Wynne Jones [written in 1986]. I’m tackling this next because a) this is the adaptation that got me thinking about this little series and b) I have just finished reading the book, kindly lent to me by the person who also sparked the idea for examining anime adaptations.

English version of the trailer

Howl’s Moving Castle follows the story of Sophie Hatter, aged 18 until she falls foul of The Witch of the Waste who places a curse on her, aging Sophie to around 90. Unable to stay at home, Sophie sets out to find a way to break the curse and finds herself  pretending to be a cleaning lady in the Moving Castle owned by Wizard Howl, a selfish character who eats woman’s hearts, apparently. Soon Sophie is involved in breaking more curses than just her own.

Poster for Howl's Moving Castle

Poster for Howl’s Moving Castle

Doesn’t that image fill you with a sense of charmed whimsy? Of course it does. Miyazaki’s visuals for this film capture the spirit of Jones’ novel perfectly as does the swirling score by usual Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisashi. [My favourite tracks on the OST have to be Flower Garden and The Boy Who Drank Stars.] The attention to detail that Miyazaki demonstrates in all of his films, the idyllic country imagery and panache for animating magical worlds really brings the flavour of Wynne Jones’ writing to life.

Howl's Moving Castle Poster

Howl’s Moving Castle Poster

And that is the secret of a successful adaptation in my mind, not to mention the thing you will be told over and over by teachers of screenwriting. Capturing the essence of the book is the trick. It is nigh on impossible to get the visuals to match the varied pictures the readers will create in their heads, but if you can convey the feeling the book creates for the reader than a good sixty percent of the battle is won in the adaptation. Of course there will be people who disagree with this, after all, the creative medium is a subjective one. No right or wrong answers here, only opinions and debate – and box office sales figures if you are cynical.

Unlike the last example of book to anime adaptation, Howl’s Moving Castle is a feature film which means it has a much shorter time to tell the story than the 24 episodes of Gankutsuou. It’s only natural then that characters and subplots are cut and moments modified to tell a coherent story. Gankutsuou’s strength came from having the breathing space to explore all the convoluted elements of The Count of Monte Cristo, Howl’s Moving Castle on the other hand like most filmic adaptations had to pick and chose what stayed and what went, which drawing out new themes that were relevant to the audience watching in 2004.

Brief warning that from here on be spoilers

Thematically, Miyazaki has drawn out one of the less mentioned, but still present, ideas of impending war in the book to become a major motif. It is a motivator for Howl’s actions and a way for Miyazaki to explore his own anti-war feelings around the period where American, British and European troops were involved in the contentious period of the war on terrorism, in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was not until very recently that I found out there were also Japanese troops in those regions so it is little wonder that Miyazaki who has such a strong anti-war feeling in many of his movies [starting as early as Nausicaa and The Valley of the Wind] should pull this element out.

Bombing raid

Bombing raid

War makes monsters of us all, despite good or bad intentions the film seems to say by literally transforming the court wizards into horrific flying creatures loaded in bomb bays of mega airships. [Airships, another Miyazaki visual motif and fascination that places his stamp not Wynne Jones’ on the adaptation.]

Howl loses control in action

Howl loses control in action

From a plot point of view this changes some of the motivations of the characters. Howl is running away from war and his old tutor Wizard Suliman, who is a character hybrid from the book, as she wants him to fight. The presence of warships at Porthaven replaces the fantastic magical battle between Howl and the Witch of Waste, which loses something.

But the Witch of the Waste [pictured below] gets the usual Miyazaki villain treatment; she is no longer purely evil. She is another woman who fell in love with Howl and was scorned seeking revenge, so far, so like the novel, but then she is reduced to her own old age and inducted into the gang who live in the moving castle. She becomes a lonely old lady searching for comfort and companionship and is thus redeemed through the film.

Witch of the Waste - image from http://animecharactersreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

Witch of the Waste – image from http://animecharactersreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

Other characters are changed and merged to deal with the tighter scale of a film. Sophie remains true to the novel’s protagonist, but she loses a sister, Martha, and a little of her complex about failing because she is the Eldest. However, her charm, resilience and determination still captures the heart of all around her, including many inanimate objects like the bewitched prince scarecrow. [One of the more abrupt reveals at the end of the movie which loses from the missing prince not being overtly introduced earlier in the film.]

Calcifer too remains very true to the sarcastic fire demon in the book, despite his visualisation being quite different.

Calcifer - image taken from http://howlscastle.wikia.com/wiki/Calcifer

Calcifer – image taken from http://howlscastle.wikia.com/wiki/Calcifer

“A thin blue face… very long with and thin, with a thin blue nose… curly green flames on top are  definitely your hair… purple flames near the bottom make your mouth… curiously enough the only orange flames were under the green eyebrow flames.” [Wynne Jones p.47]

Wizard Suliman has one of the greatest transformations.

Madame Suliman - a character merger of Wizard Suliman and Mrs. Pentstemmon

Madame Suliman – a character merger of Wizard Suliman and Mrs. Pentstemmon

No longer is he another visitor from our ordinary world Wales, turned magician, and come to think of it he’s no longer even male, Madame Suliman is a merger of Howl’s tutor the formidable Mrs. Pentstemmon and Ben Sullivan/Wizard Suliman the royal wizard. As the Wales-as-Howl’s-native-birthplace subplot is gone—replaced with a lonely childhood of study to make his and Sophie’s lonely upbringings relatable and provide a beautiful set piece of the flower garden on the edge of the wastes/marshes where star demons fall—it seems a natural and sensible merger of character. It does not detract from the plot for those who do not know the novel, and it is understandable for those who do know the original.

In losing the youngest sister, who was Michael’s love interest, Michael now Markl, can also become a younger character; someone Sophie can look after and who can add youthful energy to the story, and still seem ridiculous as he attempts some sense of authority. The character of the dog remains but is no longer part of the Suliman/Prince Justin hybrid the Witch of the Waste was building as her ideal man.

Sophie cleaning

Sophie cleaning

Finally I just want to draw attention to the fact that Miyazaki manages to bring in flavours of Japan to the adaptation. Sophie, when cleaning, ties her dress to keep it out of the way which is a blur of Japanese and Western styles, reminiscent of the way the characters in Spirited Away tie their uniforms out of the way to clean.

I guess this blurring of East and West sums up the magical animated worlds of most of Miyazaki’s creations. There is so much more to write but this post is already very long so, to end, here is the Japanese trailer for the movie which has a bit of a different tone to the English one.