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Electric Pinocchio IV: The Origin

What was it like to work with director Yoshinori Kitase?

I have been working with him since Final Fantasy V. When he joined Square, he told me he initially wanted to become a film director, but that he thought this would be impossible in Japan. The previous version of Final Fantasy could be called puppet shows compared to this one. It’s a real film requiring innovative effects and various camera angles. His experience studying cinematography and in making his own films has contributed a lot to the making of the game. He is the director of this game. (From an interview with Final Fantasy VII producer SAKAGUCHI Hironobu.)

SAKAGUCHI comparing the Final Fantasy games previous to VII to puppet shows is interesting both when looking at the plot twists outlined in the last installment of this series of articles and when looking at the in game character presentation. FFVII indeed applies many cinematic techniques which hadn’t been possible in the predecessors but the characters themselves look more like puppets than ever, a fact that was “remedied” in the next sequel, Final Fantasy VIII, where the characters for the first time are realistically proportioned at all times.

Bunraku

I have drawn connections to the one particular Western puppet that is the namesake for this series of articles but of course the Japanese have their own puppet tradition that predates any influence Pinocchio could have had. The traces of Pinocchio we find in the works presented here mix with this older tradition and it’s time to have a look at bunraku, the traditional Japanese puppet theater.

Chūshingura

As we can see in these youtube videos, the movement of the puppets is very life like but the facial expressions are lacking animation mostly. FFVII has a similar presentation and aesthetic, using very fluid motion compared to the 2D sprites of earlier FFs but hardly animating the facial expressions (except in some more detailed pre-rendered cutscenes), which was the most important way to express emotions in the 2D FFs. Instead body language is emphasized as in bunraku plays.

Bunraku players have to train ten years as the feet before moving up to controlling the left arm. Another ten years before they finally “level up” to become the main actor who controls the right arm. (from a Japanese TV show about bunraku)

The themes of the bunraku literary tradition also found their way into FFVII. One of the most popular bunraku pieces, the Chūshingura, tells of the 47 rōnin of Akō who follow their lord into death, by having their revenge on the daimyō who ordered him to die. This story is heaviliy entangled with the ideas of bushidō, the way of the samurai, being loyal to your master and prepared to die for them.1 Of course it also questions where this loyalty lies exactly, to one’s immediate lord or the lord of one’s lord. As it favors one’s immediate lord it can also inspire rebellion so the events portrayed in this story weren’t exactly welcomed by the rulers of the country. All these bushidō values are questioned in FFVII, the game has the player confront a part of their tradition by turning them into a bunraku puppet and ultimately dispenses with some of these traditional ideas.

The birth of Tetsuwan Atom

Cloud being manufactured to be a substitute for Sephiroth (although he ends up being one for Zack, by his own choice), him becoming an electronic puppet, this echoes the great superhero classic of post-war Japanese comics: Tetsuwan Atomu (Atom with the Iron Arm, 1952) or Astroboy, as he’s called outside Japan, was a substitute for Dr. Tenma’s son who died in a car crash. In this manga TEZUKA Osamu continues to draw upon concepts from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) which had already inspired his earlier work of the same name (1949). That one also had a robot protagonist but only in Tetsuwan Atomu the robot became a substitute for a deceased family member. Instead of the wife Hel it became the son Tobio that was “resurrected” as a robot. But like Cloud by Hojo, Atom is judged to be a failure by his father Dr. Tenma and is discarded accordingly.

Hyakkimaru’s father sacrifices his son for his ambition (from Dororo)

One of TEZUKA’s later works, Dororo (1968), set in the sengoku era of the warring states, reimagines Atom’s story in the past rather than in a sci-fi future. The hero of the story, Hyakkimaru, is a pre-modern cyborg, born without 48 of his body parts claimed by demons who grant his father rulership over Japan in exchange. Hyakkimaru’s missing organs and limbs are replaced with prosthetics which make him actually stronger than any human but yet he seeks out the demons to reclaim his lost organs. Every time he defeats one of them a superhuman ability granted by mechanics is lost and replaced by an ordinary biological one. In a reversal of typical bildungsroman and RPG narrative Hyakkimaru actually grows weaker by seeking to become the human he was never allowed to be.

In this regard Hyakkimaru’s goal resembles that of Pinocchio who als wanted to become an actual human. It still is a bildungsroman in the true sense of the word, growing up to become an adult (or human, as children are treated as objects in the Pinocchio narrative). The story of Dororo ends prematurely before Hyakkimaru achieves this goal though. His sidekick Dororo, after which the manga is named, drops out of the story when she is revealed to be a girl cross dressing as a boy,2 Footnote preview: Gender ambiguity abounds in other works cited here as well. Atom’s predecessor Micchi, hero of TEZUKA’s Metropolis, had a switch to change his gender at will. Cloud cross dresses as a girl to rescue Tifa from a brothel. And of course Pino in Wonder Project J is succeeded by a female version Josetto, just one of many female robots in Japanese comics, Gally and Arale having been our firs... with Hyakkimaru continuing his quest alone, his remaining bildungsroman untold in the pages of the manga.

  1. Of course it also questions where this loyalty lies exactly, to one’s immediate lord or the lord of one’s lord. As it favors one’s immediate lord it can also inspire rebellion so the events portrayed in this story weren’t exactly welcomed by the rulers of the country. []
  2. Gender ambiguity abounds in other works cited here as well. Atom’s predecessor Micchi, hero of TEZUKA’s Metropolis, had a switch to change his gender at will. Cloud cross dresses as a girl to rescue Tifa from a brothel. And of course Pino in Wonder Project J is succeeded by a female version Josetto, just one of many female robots in Japanese comics, Gally and Arale having been our first examples. []
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