The Surrealism of Yasuhiro Yoshiura

by eternal on December 9, 2009

Pale CocoonI’m not sure if surrealism is the technical term to describe this unusual director’s vague yet distinctive style, but Yasuhiro Yoshiura of Eve no Jikan fame is undoubtedly an oddball in the industry.

And I say “oddball” with the most respect that the word can connote. Though I’ve spent less than an hour viewing his works, I’m already unquestionably entranced with his well-thought-out direction, delicious eye-candy, and ambiguous yet unpretentious storytelling.

However, the best part of it is that you don’t have to be an academic to figure out what he’s trying to say.

Surreal storytelling is not new to anime. Shows like Mamoru Oshii’s Angel’s Egg date back to the 80s, and that was arguably one of the most arthouse, abstract anime ever made. Bloggers like gaguri and the Anime World Order podcast have talked about the show (and many similar shows) at length, delving into the possible interpretations of the symbols.

However, there’s always something intimidating about surreal anime. It’s almost like the opposite of a stigma: most fans acknowledge these shows to be good, but many are afraid to watch them because of the inevitably incomprehensible plot that will follow. The recent Trapeze is a good example, and Omisyth isn’t the only one to note its lack of popularity (though according to the post, it looks like a case of judging a book by its cover). Anyway, it can be fun to use your brain and try to dissect the true meaning of these often obscure gems, but it’s also a daunting task.

This is where Yoshiura’s works feel completely different. Despite being outright odd in both presentation and content, nothing about the two shows I watched so far – Pale Cocoon and Mizu no Kotoba – felt incomprehensible to the average viewer. In fact, the stories explained themselves, albeit in a vague, indescribable way. I don’t think I could summarize either show and hope to do it correctly, but the feeling I got at the end of both was the opposite of the emptiness that some excessively abstract shows give me. Instead of feeling like I should track down a good blog post to explain what I missed, I felt like I understood the director’s message, even if I might only be fooling myself.

Without a doubt, this is what caused Yoshiura to win my attention after less than an hour of screentime. As a Twitter friend put it, it’s poetic. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the essence of poetry is in saying a lot with a little. Sometimes this can cause unnecessary ambiguity, as I’m sure many a lit major can attest to, but when done right, poetry can invoke thoughts and feelings without needing to paint a full picture and tell a full story. Nine minutes of Mizu no Kotoba got me thinking more than six hours of half of the anime I’ve seen, and there’s no question that it got me feeling something that I couldn’t describe in words. It reminds me of the first time I watched Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star.

Ultimately, I think only a show like one of the above could adequately describe my newfound attraction to Yoshiura’s works. In a word, though, his stories can be described as beautiful. Subjective as the word may be, it’s the only thing I can think of that captures the aesthetic – technical and visual, as well as simply intangible – and the poetic storytelling that invokes feeling in less time than it takes to shower. Whether you describe it with the technical details of fluid animation and unique camera angles or with the rose-tinted metaphors of a romantic, there’s no question that Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s surrealism is of a different category, and that even the most academia-resistant fans should spend a few hours of their lives to partake in some of the most original anime of recent years.


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Scamp December 9, 2009 at 4:24 pm

“However, the best part of it is that you don’t have to be an academic to figure out what he’s trying to say.”

That’s exactly why I love the guy. Pale Cocoon was complex but so long as you paid attention the plot was easy enough to follow. There’s no pretentious artfaggory, just damn fine story-telling


Omisyth December 9, 2009 at 5:12 pm

There’s something so pure about Yoshiura’s style. It’s as if he takes powerful themes and philosophies and refines them into something that can be easily interpreted by all. I think that’s part of the reason his works are so short – there’s no wasted space or effort.


zzeroparticle December 9, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Mizu no Kotoba was one of those works that I wish garnered enough interest to get more episodes because the glimpse of the world it offers is so enticing and it makes you just want to go in and explore it until you’ve examined all those hidden nooks and crannies scattered about.

Aside from that, the stories that he tells are pretty darn compelling and they do make you think of the ethical issues that humans will inevitably face. I do hope that the future is closer to Eve’s slightly more optimistic vision than Pale Cocoon’s tinge of despair.


kadian1364 December 9, 2009 at 11:04 pm

I don’t know if “abstract” is the word I’d use to describe his works I’ve seen, Pale Cocoon and Time of Eve. Things aren’t so bizarre or overly arsty, though the design does look very, very nice.

It’s more like he employs a peculiar storytelling style, building complex sci-fi worlds, but chooses to avoid explicit exposition to explain everything. Instead, bits of these worlds are revealed to us through the natural interactions of the characters, so there’s this low-key atmosphere pervading thoughout an otherwise exciting, high-concept world. There’s a calm and constraint where one would expect similar productions to go nuts with the sci-fi-ing, and everything is understood in context within the human elements he presents.


Canne December 10, 2009 at 2:43 am

‘…the essence of poetry is in saying a lot with a little’

Completely agree with you. These short anime show us only a glimpse of their worlds and they become mystery to us. The unknown part is the charm that will fade if the show got expanded.


Martin December 10, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Haha, I had a Hoshi no Koe feeling with Pale Cocoon too – both are Clarke-ian science fiction pieces with similar technical approaches and narrative structure, but Yoshiura also has his own signature style that I happen to love too. I blogged about Pale Cocoon ages ago (on my old blog), but after rewatching it I might get around to writing about it again sometime.

You really need to see Time of Eve by the way – it’s awesome. Omisyth’s summing up of “there’s no wasted space or effort” hits the nail on the head for me – the direction is very effective at conveying the feeling of a scene, but the storyboard work is very concise. His comic timing (nonexistent in Pale Cocoon because of its serious, dystopian tone but it’s very evident in Time of Eve) is also superb.


ETERNAL December 14, 2009 at 9:51 pm

It looks like Yoshiura’s work inspires pretty much the same feelings in everyone, though those feelings can be expressed in countless different ways. I think it’s about time I watch Time of Eve and take a look around for similar vague yet calculated stories.


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