Publisher Tokuma Shoten has a long history with anime in general and Space Battleship Yamato in particular. Between Animage magazine and the groundbreaking Roman Album book series, Tokuma made frequent use of Yamato to capitalize on the insatiable hunger for anime coverage. Animage is still with us today, but the Roman Albums have waxed and waned.
In 1998, Tokuma revived the term to categorize a new magazine named Gazo as a Roman Album Animage Special. A description of this publication was helpfully provided in English: “Animation, Cinema, TV Drama, exist in this, All sorts of film creator’s magazine.” In total, five issues were published on an erratic schedule from December 1998 to September 1999, with a followup Mobile Suit Gundam special in January 2000. At that point, Gazo ceased publication, and Tokuma put the idea away until August 2008 when a very similar magazine titled Animage Original continued the Gazo mission.
Many prominent names appeared in the pages of Gazo, including the anime world’s honorary ambassador, Ryusuke Hikawa. You may not recognize his name, but as a Star Blazers/Yamato fan, your life has certainly been touched by him. He once went by the name Tatsuya Nakatani, and was arguably the pivotal figure in the birth of anime fandom as we know it today. (Read that amazing story here.) As of this writing, he serves as a publicist and creative consultant for Yamato 2199.
For every issue of Gazo, Hikawa wrote a regular column titled Prescription of Anime. With this, his goal was to peel back the curtain and enlighten readers on the subtleties of the art form. For example, he used Mobile Suit Gundam to explain the crafts of layout and writing, and examined various 1970s robot anime in the study of kinetic effects. By writing a “prescription” for his readers, he helped them to get more out of their experience.
He turned his attention to Yamato in issue 2 of Gazo, which was published in April 1999. This time, the subject was a complex one indeed: the interplay of thoughts and images as delineated by a single frame of film. It gave him an opportunity to examine the various formats of film itself, using the evolution of Yamato as an example.
Here is that column in full, translated into English for the first time.
When you watch an anime, you might follow only things you can see in the film. You might think what you see is everything. The “frame” is something you can see only when you look at it with insight. I consider the meaning and role of frame by using Space Battleship Yamato as the subject.
Prescription of Anime: Seeing invisible frames
Composed and written by Ryusuke Hikawa
Things you can’t see in plain sight.
Language is subtle. There are several words for “seeing.”
“Seeing” is the state in which light strikes the retina of the eyeball. “Observing” is the processing of information in the brain that was gathered by the eyes, combined with other factors such as sound, memory, and the passage of time, until it is digested by overall judgment. The people who enjoy a film are called the “viewers.”
“Seeing but not observing” is a factor of anime, and there are many unexpected blind spots. “Observing” it is a prescription that increases the pleasure of it.
By making full use of our eyes, which aren’t knotholes after all, let’s fulfill a prescription that will make it more fun. In this part, I’ll talk about something you always “see” visually, but don’t notice or may not be aware of in your surface consciousness. It is called the “frame.”
Frame and Aspect Ratio
The frame is a border surrounding the movie screen at the top, bottom, left and right. Since our consciousness is oriented toward the content projected within the frame, few members of the audience think about the border itself.
A filmmaker may see a scene by looking at an object through a rectangle made by the thumbs and forefingers of both hands. In the true human field of vision, life is random and its circumference is vague. On the other hand, the characteristic device of a movie is, without exception, to cut a photograph into a rectangle. That is the frame. The finger-frame is training that changes the original viewing angle of a human being into that of a film.
I became interested in the existence of the frame in anime at the time of the first Space Battleship Yamato TV series. In the time before books, anime fans would photograph a TV screen directly in an effort to preserve the work somehow. The image varied somewhat when compared with a friend’s TV screen.
When I saw the layout paper that was used for a scene, the words “safe frame” were printed on it, a handwritten designation by the director who decided on what would be included in the cel image at the time of photography. The TV screen is not necessarily the device that projects the “true screen” that was designed by the animator, the evidence for which is the cut-out surroundings of the frame.
1977 was the year Space Battleship Yamato was shown in the cinema. As a fan, I saw the film many times in various Tokyo theaters. That’s when I understood that the aspect ratio of top, bottom, right and left were different in a movie theater. Specifically, there were scenes in which meters on the ceiling of the bridge did not appear on the movie screen. This occurred because the theater was showing a film in Vista size that had originally been made in standard TV size.
Here, I will briefly review the method for widescreen movies.
The standard size of movie screens was based on a golden mean from the time of its birth. To attract audiences back from TV in the 1950s, the widescreen format was hammered out in different ways by each movie company.
Cinescope has a width of nearly twice that of the standard. This is based on the theory that a human’s natural viewing angle is rectangular, and the method was expanded into a 70mm Cinerama system.
The theatrical version of Space Battleship Yamato recreated the history of film in a short time, adopting and running through each widescreen method. When seeing the Yamato theater version on video, it’s very interesting to watch it with an awareness of the aspect ratio. But it’s not a simple story, because the true format of the frame and aspect ratio were not necessarily preserved.
So how does the condition of the real frame differ from what was preserved?
Examples of the screen aspect ratio in the Space Battleship Yamato movie series
Yamato and Adapting it for a Theatrical Frame
Space Battleship Yamato became a hit because of the movie version. From this flow, it was decided to make the first sequel, Farewell to Yamato, for the cinema.
Yamato and the original battleship it was modeled upon were both oblong from the beginning. It was the sense of the filmmakers at the time that the wide movie screen would be a better fit than a TV frame. The hope was born that Yamato could be presented in Scope size to fill the screen from left to right.
However, when the project was announced, it was clear that it would be in Vista size. At the time, even the Toei Manga Festivals [Editor’s note: anthologies of short films derived from popular TV shows] were presented in Scope size, so this was hard to understand.
There were several possible reasons. The biggest reason may be that it was thought the film would be diverted to TV, the opposite of the first movie. Another reason may be the great importance attached to product development. If a film is diverted to TV from Scope size, the trimming of the image would be substantial, and the composition of a frame would be destroyed. If this premise was assumed, it would have been necessary to make the screen image similar to TV proportions.
Product development for the first movie began from cutting down a 35mm print of the film in order to produce photographic material for books or cards. Since a film made in Scope size is compressed from right and left using an anamorphic lens, frames cut from that film would make all the characters very thin. So, in consideration of multimedia expansion, the reasons to avoid Scope size are numerous.
The animation and painting of Farewell to Yamato were done in standard format and a compromise was achieved by sometimes masking the top and bottom of the frame for Vista size in the theater; thus the problem was solved. The layout was conscious of both frame formats, and took care not to conflict with the theatrical presentation.
Before long, this way of thinking and this production method became mainstream in the industry as a whole. Yamato not only started a boom, it brought various “defacto standards” into the anime industry.
It also concealed one of them.
What is Warp Dimension?
In 1980, the third feature film titled Be Forever Yamato kept a “secret until public exhibition” that was called “Warp Dimension” in the marketing campaign. The hero’s kamikaze attack was a surprise ending in Farewell to Yamato that was also kept secret, which created great publicity. This time it was said that “something will happen” on screen during the movie.
The real nature of Warp Dimension, in accordance with story development, was that the screening format itself would change during projection. Midway through the film, we were rushed into an abnormal dimension in space, passing through the center of a dark galaxy and reappearing in another space filled with light called “the New Galaxy.”
With precise timing, the sound changed from monaural to 6-channel stereo and the aspect ratio expanded from Vista to Scope size. The vastness of the New Galaxy was expressed by spreading it across the big screen with light and sound. The sight of curtains audibly pulling apart on both sides during the movie was pretty surreal. But it was more surprising to see that most members of the audience did not recognize this event.
I saw the movie in theaters several times during its run, and the audience was quite calm. They didn’t even make a stir. It seemed Warp Dimension was only lukewarm after all.
In early home video releases, it was set to standard trimming [sides cut off] and the composition was sacrificed. More recent releases shrink the picture vertically [letterboxing], which is counterproductive to a wide screen. The film had been prepared in two formats, wide and compression (print reduction), and was very difficult to use.
As an aside, there are other movies that changed their aspect ratio during a screening. One was Brainstorm, directed by visual effects guru Douglas Trumbull, in which Scope size was used for scenes from a device that would play back peoples’ memories. Thus, the changing of a frame format can fully serve as a medium of expression.
Even a change of frame format can be a means of expression in the medium of film. Let’s focus on aspect ratio.
The Challenge to 70mm
For Final Yamato, the target was an ultra-widescreen 70mm release.
Standard film is 35mm, and 70mm is advantageous for large screens because of its particle density, creating a different force and spectacle in the picture. Based on lessons learned with Warp Dimension, there is evidence that the decision about aspect ration was made here.
But I noticed a strange case when examining storyboards and concept art for Final Yamato that was published in books. On a standard size paper, four horizontal lines indicate the frame size. The purpose is to delineate three different frame formats on one negative.
70mm is marked by the two lines closest to the center. The two lines farther from the center indicate Vista size. The photo shown here reproduces the boundary of the frame with a mask applied over it. [The whole frame represents Vista, the unmasked portion is 70mm widescreen.]
Theaters that could show the movie in 70mm were limited, so 35mm Vista size was necessary for distribution to a general theater. It had to be made perfectly in standard format in order to make home video and cut-outs from it. Thus, the portion of the image hidden behind the mask was also drawn. There are problems when frames are integrated into a shot.
I first saw Final Yamato [in a theater] in Vista size and on the home video version that came out immediately after the initial release. When the film was re-released in 70mm, it appeared in a very different standard. You can see the change in composition in the frames shown on the comparison chart, on the bottom row.
It is the scene where Kodai and Yuki tend to Shima as he is on the verge of death. In the standard version at the far right, all three characters are drawn in equivalent positions. However, in the 70mm version where the top and bottom have been cut off considerably, the layout they really wanted to express becomes clear.
The body of Shima, who is about to die, “lies” visibly across the wide screen. The hand of Kodai, shaking his shoulder, runs out of the frame and therefore creates a boundary. The movement of the hand is further enhanced and therefore makes a stronger impression on the audience. Yuki had the feeling of a mere “bystander” in the standard frame, but because she precisely fills the space on the right over Kodai’s shoulder, her presence as an observer is stronger.
Through the 70mm version, you can more easily discover the original intent of the director.
The vague difference I felt became very clear by blocking off part of the screen myself. In this case, I created a custom mask for my TV screen in order to appreciate it. If you have a widescreen TV, doing this with the center zoom is a good method. You can feel the impact of changing the frame format by experimenting with it yourself.
The original intent of the production is somewhere in the frame. Finding it is part of the fun.
Finding the Wide Frame
In addition to anime, home videos that mask the top and bottom of standard Vista size surprisingly often include foreign films. Although we are in an age of widescreen TV, it is probably an unavoidable measure with a general audience. But the usual method is currently inconsiderate. I’d prefer for them to provide an explanation of the differences or provide a visual guide before the start of the movie.
A decade ago, the standard method of converting widescreen to standard format was to simply cut off the left and right sides. This prevented a misunderstanding about the video reproduction method that was used. When there is no such indicator, we have to identify the real frame. The trick is relatively easy.
First, if the space around a character’s head is somewhat open, and if the layout seems to isolate them in a lonely space, it is definitely a sign that it was produced with an awareness of eventual screen-trimming. In many cases, a director will give priority to theater size and put the head of the character up to the very edge of the frame.
It is similarly doubtful if objects seen at the bottom of the screen are very large. When you see this, you should make a finger-frame and hold it up to the screen. If the overall composition looks stable, apply the center zoom [to your widescreen TV] immediately.
The Frame and its Physiology
The meaning of the screen changes depending on the placement of the frame. There is also an emotional reaction that changes quickly. It is a very interesting case. Let’s explore this point a bit more.
The image at the far left below is a famous still from the promotion of Castle of Cagliostro directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Because this image was seen often in promotion, and used many times to introduce the movie in magazine articles, readers should be familiar with it. However, as far as I know, it was used wrong 100% percent of the time.
Cels do exist to serve only as stills, and if you look closely at the picture you might see slight differences in the volume of Lupin’s face, but this is not the problem. The error is that, in fact, that the top and bottom of the composition are wrong.
It looks likely that they were matched to the vertical orientation of Lupin’s face. 100% of the editors and designers who used it recognized the photo like this because of the vertical composition of his face, which is quite interesting. The center photograph shows the actual screen. I want you to compare it with the erroneous one. I’d especially like you to notice the difference in feeling.
An example of trimming in one scene of Cagliostro: at the far left is a still photo for promotion made before the release of the movie. In the center is the scene as it appears on home video. At right, the scene as it appeared on TV, trimmed from the widescreen theatrical master. Though these are almost all the same, they offer a completely different feeling and change our empathy toward Lupin’s actions.
The correct answer is that Lupin is climbing the outside wall toward the upper portion of the frame, advancing toward a world unseen. Lupin is upside-down and the vanishing point at the center of the screen points toward an invisible world. In order to make this more effective, the sharp tip of the soaring tower at the right seems to pierce upward. The subtlety of the rising angle expresses the height Lupin has reached, and the more you look at it, the more you feel it.
In other words, this implies abundant space both inside and outside the frame and the composition creates a great sense of “fear.”
However, I want you to look at the erroneous composition again. By turning it upside-down [so that Lupin appears right-side up], no fear is felt at all, even though the same elements are on the screen. It could be said that this is the magic of the frame.
The picture on the right is a real treasure, which I’ve artificially reproduced from the first TV broadcast which was shown with center-trimming. By trimming the left and right sides of the frame, the rising tower has been cut off and the size of Lupin in the center has become relatively larger on the screen. We can see Lupin’s expression very well, but although we understand the situation of “climbing,” the atmosphere is lost and there is no feeling of fear.
As a result, even though the TV broadcast version is upside-down, when you compare the physiology of “fear” in the original frame, Lupin is merely climbing a tower and we find that the screen format has altered the symbology.
This is how the placement of a frame changes the emotional response of the human viewer. This example helps you to understand the importance of the frame.
That which is shown and that which is not shown are equivalent on the horizon of expression. I want to examine that.
The True Nature of the Frame
Then what is the true nature of the frame?
To the person on the authorship side of the movie, the essence of the frame is “what is shown and what is not shown,” a boundary line with the intention of clear separation. “What is shown” is important on the screen, but what is cut off by the frame also has meaning.
I would like you to consider what has been cut off. In the widescreen example, the meaning changes when the top and bottom of the screen are masked. This means that “what is not shown” also has meaning.
When examining “what is shown” on screen, “what is not shown” becomes an equivalent expression. When a director who does not understand this point about the composition of a scene and simply refers to the script for “here’s what is seen,” the screen becomes overstuffed.
For example, if person A and person B are talking in a conversation scene, the screen is dressed in a “likeness” of the situation. However, such an explanatory scene is not descriptive of daily life. In reality, we consider the subjective perception of a conversation. We never see a conversational partner from a predetermined position. We listen carefully and our thoughts are lead by the content of the story, with the partner as its main constituent.
Then where should the main axis of the image be? When we get to the core of the conversation, we would watch the eyes of our partner. From this, it is clearly more effective when they don’t show the figure or facial expression of person B to emphasize story elements or a subjective instinct, or show it with certain well-aimed timing.
The use of “time” and “picture ratio” can also become excellent means of expression.
A film that is concerned only with “what is shown” will be a horrible failure because it deprives the audience from imagining “what is not shown.” When I watch anime and get the mediocre feeling of “that’s all there is,” it is often because the director was unaware of what was outside the frame.
But is the frame absolute? No, I don’t think so. This was made clear by the fact that Osamu Dezaki, a director with a keen instinct for film, used a technique that covered half the screen with paraffin to obscure things inside the frame.
People have been conditioned to believe only in what they perceive themselves. Since we are living things, this is only natural. Therefore, when watching anime, I have a strong tendency to judge it based on my surface perceptions.
The creators put their hearts into making “pictures that move,” so their emphasis tends to be on how to draw the picture in the frame. For both the maker and the spectator, there is an obvious tendency to place value and the weight of evaluation on “what is shown.” But I’ve almost never seen someone comment about the value of “what is not shown,” “what does not move,” or “what a composition implies about what’s outside the frame.”
In fact, human beings are both “what is shown and not shown,” and we “observe” an object with both perception and judgment. Once that is clear, we should try to make evaluations with that in mind and take in the balance of both. That will probably lead to a new discovery.
It is believed that emotional responses originate from the sum of our own perception, so it is important to be honest with ourselves.
Special thanks to Tsuneo Tateno for translation assistance.