Osamu Dezaki: In Brief Rememberance

No doubt, some of us will probably be saying “The King is dead, anime has died, there is no point watching cartoons anymore,” when Hayao Miyazaki eventually passes on.  And certainly, when Mamoru Oshii kicks the bucket, countless anime fans, pretentious film buffs, and intellectual wannabes will spend some time in mourning (others will likely breathe out a long-awaited “finally,” I’m sure).  We’ve already witnessed the reverberations of Satoshi Kon’s untimely demise just last year, and those who were around will remember the sorrow left in the wake of Osamu Tezuka’s death.  Other accredited figures associated with anime will surely leave remarkable hollows in their wake, at least for those familiar with their works.

Osamu Dezaki, as unsung as he remains in the West, is one such director.  He died earlier this week from lung cancer, at the age of 67.  His best known works include the first television adaptation of the legendary boxing manga Tomorrow’s Joe (Ashita no Joe, 1970), the well-received if off-balance 1983 film Golgo 13: The Professional, as well as numerous television series and OVAs aimed at Japanese and Western markets throughout the seventies, eighties, and nineties.  Quite frankly, his body of work speaks for itself; his heavy involvement in Rose of Versailles (Berusaiyu no Bara, 1979), Aim for the Ace! (Ace wo Nerae!, 1973-onward), and the aforementioned Tomorrow’s Joe is unmistakable.  Intriguing shot compositions coupled with his creative editing rhythm immediately grounded Dezaki as a solid director, particularly after the broadcasting of Rose of Versailles.  Although most recognized for popularizing dramatically placed still-shot watercolor prints—a technique that became a staple of the industry for decades, in part because it was such an easy cost-cutting technique to fill screen time—Dezaki’s directorial method and innovativeness was far more reaching than that.  Disregarding some of the more noticeably outdated animation techniques, much of his work has aesthetically aged remarkably well precisely because of how thoroughly pervasive his style turned out to be.

I haven’t seen everything the man did, so take this brief memorial for whatever that admittance is worth.  But of the works of his I have seen—both the great and the lackluster—I can’t deny that they left impressions.  My personal favorite is the woefully underappreciated Brother, Dear Brother (Oniisama E…, 1991), which detailed the exploits of a somewhat naïve girl’s first year of high school, depicting all the wonders and sorrows that surround the rumor mills, school queens, and the sorority club that went with it.  Like many of Dezaki’s more renowned television series, Oniisama E… is an adaptation of a comic by the same name, one originally written and illustrated by Riyoko Ikeda, the same woman who wrote and illustrated the acclaimed comic Rose of Versailles.  What originally attracted me to the title was its rich color pallet, intricate background illustrations of a suburban Japanese setting, and of course, Dezaki’s directorial flair.  The quality of the former aspects is fairly standard for Madhouse’s output, but it probably goes without saying that there remains a world of difference between the colors and shading styles of, say, Oniisama E… and Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Ninja Scroll film, which was released only a year later from the same studio.

Although not a groundbreaking series, and certainly not without its flaws, Oniisama E… is still a remarkably solid work in terms of design and execution.  The narrative is usually where most criticisms are leveled—and certainly not without some validity—but personally speaking, I find that most of these criticisms are aimed at aspects of the work that simply make me like it more.  Its ridiculously melodramatic depiction of (for the most part) what are otherwise mundane high school events is downright hilarious at times, often breaking whatever suspension of disbelief that the viewer may have built up in favor of overdramatic narrative synchronicities.  But as entertaining as its depiction of emotionally unstable characters battling against misunderstandings and severe psychological problems—things that shoujo series and comics often depict, to the point of collapsing into endless clichés—much of its writing remains so thoroughly over the top that it can be difficult for some viewers to take it remotely seriously.

And the thing is that these aspects are key features to many of the works Dezaki directed.  The only reason they’re sometimes considered detriments to Oniisama-E… is because they’re techniques of melodramatic emphasis used within the context of a relatively mundane story about various high school dramas.  In something like Rose of Versailles, which concerned the life of a rather masculine-profiled woman around the time of the French Revolution, a flair for the melodramatic is practically expected.  Period dramas almost always contain no small amount of over the top writing.  But to use the same sort of writing in a story about sorority standings in “modern day” Tokyo is generally something that many viewers seem to discourage.

But I digress.

I’m almost a week late with this “eulogy”, if such a menial post could pass as such.  It’s difficult to find the words appropriate to memorialize someone who managed to have a reasonably profound effect on my life, yet I never even had the chance to meet the guy.  But it was Dezaki.  He may not have been one of the foremost “Greats” of the industry, but he certainly walked among many of them.  He may not have produced profoundly life-changing material or intensely personal introspections into the nature of being, and the stories he adapted and set to motion weren’t even terribly incredible works of art, either.  But they were entertaining and memorable, and that’s what matters.  As a fan of some of his works, and as a broader fan of anime and film, I owe him at least these couple pages of praise in the wake of his passing.

RIP Osamu Dezaki
18 November 1943 – 17 April 2011

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About Merridian
Merri lives with his wife in the USA. He is a happy human being. He wrote for Forced Perspective while the project was active, and he is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of QNUW. His newest project is YNRI // Transcendence, dedicated to poetry, short fiction, and artwork.

One Response to Osamu Dezaki: In Brief Rememberance

  1. Jonathan Henderson says:

    This is sad news. As a kid I remember loving the two Golgo 13 films, and I recently rewatched them and even if they have their share of juvenile tendencies, they were very stylishly directed. Dezaki may not have had a lot of artistic taste, but he definitely new how to direct with personality.

    RIP.

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