Friday, July 2, 2010

Treasure Town

In my last post I have written that sometimes I like movies because they are creating a specific mood even if I’m not captivated by the plot. I also adore some movies that I would describe as gloriously failed projects. Sleeping Beauty (1959) is one of them, Tekkon kinkurito (2006)  is a more recent example. I mention them in the same breath because the American directed Anime has some of the most detailed and structured backgrounds on display. At first glance, there seems to be no space for the eye to rest on, but like with Sleeping Beauty this is no problem because the more angular (in a totally different, non-romantic vein) character design reads very well.

[For a recent discussion on the origins of Sleeping Beauty's backgrounds go here, here and here on Hans Bacher's Animation Treasure Blog.]

With regards to content Tekkon kinkurito (alluding to the Japanese words for steel and concrete) is closer to Blade Runner (1982), though. Like the famous Ridley Scott dystopia it provides us with an imaginary Asian dominated metropolis that has stimulus satiation written all over it. In this case it’s called “Treasure Town” and we’re witnessing a Yakuza/gang war about who is ultimately reigning over the city.

In this visually and accoustically overcharged environment the human eye is a symbol throughout both films. The subtext with a unicorn (Blade Runner) and a Minotaur (Tekkon) is tying them both to mythical European roots.

But while Blade Runner stands out as Ridley Scott’s masterpiece in my opinion, the story of Michael AriasTekkonkinkurito leaves me cold and mildly interested at best even though it is told through the perspective of two children called “Black” and “White”.

I admire the dynamic film making though, especially the backgrounds and colors. Contrary to so many Western films, dystopian and science fiction in particular, the color concept of this Anime is not based on the blue-steel-vs-yellow-light-cold-warm contrast.

 Blade Runner’s blue-yellow-sci-fi-look

In fact, Tekkon kinkurito is not primarily based on lighting but on object colors (like so many animes). Although all four basic colors red, yellow, green and blue are present, the city seems to be structured around the complementary colors red and green.

Complementary colors
Scientifically (in the RGB spectrum), red and cyan are complementary colors.

However, throughout most of art history color theory was based on subtractive color mixing using the primary colors red, yellow and blue.

In that traditional color wheel (left), red is complementary to green (generally speaking a primary color is complementary to the equal mixing of the two others). Thus this complementary pair is still widely perceived as aesthetically pleasing.

RGB complementary colors produce grey when mixed, 
RYB complementary colors produce brown when mixed.

Since complementary contrast is heightened by human perception, placing these hues next to each other makes them appear brighter. Red and green is probably the strongest of these complementary pairs, so its effect is used in many paintings and movies (e.g. Lady and the Tramp).

It is amazing how dominant red and green is in this city – green varying from olive to cyan, red from pink to ocher.

Just look at the following screenshots. It’s not always clear if red or green is dominant which gives the images a vibrancy without having to resort to oversaturation. Visual dominance of red or green also depends on value, saturation and the relative area each color covers in the picture.

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