Worth Fighting For : In 'Tekkonkinkreet,' two orphans battle yakuza gangsters to save decaying Treasure Town.
A universe of moist-eyed urchins and automatons prepares to invade the Central Coast during this weekend's Anime After Dark festival.
By Curtis Cartier
For Dekker Dreyer it all began with Voltron. Before there were Transformers or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, there were five piloted robot lions that combined to form the mighty Voltron, which defended the universe on American television sets every week during the mid-'80s. Watching bug-eyed and grinning, Dreyer was hooked. This was new. This was exotic. This was Japanese.
From there it only got worse. Akira, Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion--all the anime classics and plenty of underground gems turned into more than just a hobby for Dreyer, and today he's the founder of the Anime After Dark film festival, which he brings to the Golden State Theatre in Monterey this weekend.
Even people who've never watched an anime film in their lives could probably pick one out of a lineup. The oversize eyes, spiky hair and wild emotional outbursts of the stereotypical anime film have become as familiar to Americans as gangster flicks have become to the Japanese. But anime isn't just made up of giant robots, panty shots and furry sidekicks. In Japan, animation was developed in the early 1900s in place of live-action movies because of budget and actor limitations. While Americans were filming Casablanca, the Japanese were drawing Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors, not because they liked animation but because they couldn't afford anything else. And they get the last laugh. Today anime is a multibillion-dollar enterprise around the world and, along with sushi, is likely the most common glimpse Americans have into Japanese culture.
"Back when I was teenager, anime was a weird fringe thing that you had to look around hard to find bootlegs, and sometimes it would be only subtitled," says Dreyer. "It's come a long way, and today you can find a whole section of clothes in Target dedicated to Naruto."
Films from the Naruto series, like the Pokémon or Dragon Ball Z franchises, have appealed to a massive young population and are responsible for catapulting anime into the mainstream. These titles, however, are not what Dreyer will be screening at Anime After Dark.
"It's not cartoons. It's not space monsters. What it is, is just good foreign movies you can appreciate on their own," says Dreyer. "These are stories of the human condition, and a lot of them have won critical acclaim from all over the world."
Anyone who's seen a Hayao Miyazaki or Masamune Shirow film knows exactly what Dreyer is talking about. Titles like Spirited Away are complex and beautiful fairy tales weaving love, religion, magic and tragedy through a psychedelic visual feast. Others, like Ghost in the Shell, deal with serious topics of humanity, technology, sex and violence in a futuristic cyberscape.
For Golden State Theatre owner Warren Dewey, Anime After Dark is exactly the kind of boundary-pushing event he's hoping to host more often.
"I'm interested in film. That's why I bought the theater," he says. "I remember when someone gave me a Miyazaki film and it blew me away. I'd like to move more into these kinds of areas where it's not Gone With the Wind but something more edgy and contemporary."
All Your Film Are Belong to Us
Translating a film produced in Japanese into English is entirely different from doing the same for a French or German film. If European and American cultures are apples and oranges, Japanese and American cultures are apples and orangutans. But for actors Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt, scheduled speakers at the festival, helping to turn a Japanese story into an American classic is exactly how they make a living.
"Being a voice actor, you have to match lip movement, match the emotion and inflection," says Platt. "When you're talking about reviewing a culture that is completely different from your own, it's fascinating. You're playing by completely different rules."
Platt and Lowenthal, besides being colleagues, are also married and serve as proof to nerds worldwide that anime fans can indeed get laid. And while geek institutions like Dungeons & Dragons or Star Trek offer little in the way of female satisfaction, anime covers every genre. Platt says once Lowenthal screened a few titles for her, she gave it a chance and is now just as hooked as her husband.
"For the longest time growing up I thought I was doomed to a life of nerddom," says Lowenthal, who voices Sasuke Uchiha in the überfamous Naruto. "But I've always had a sense that anime is a little more intelligent than a lot of American films. There's no spoon-feeding in these movies."
ANIME AFTER DARK runs Friday-Sunday, Nov. 28-30, at 6pm at Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St.,Monterey; $12 day passes/$29 weekend passes ($20 for students). For film schedules visit www.goldenstatetheatre.com.
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