was in Junior High School when the Canadian television production
of Anne of Green Gables was made. It was shown during 8th
Grade English one week. Predictably, all the girls loved it, and
all the boys were bored by it. I absolutely hated it. I was so put
off by its hokeyness on one hand, its harshness of Marilla Cuthbert
on the other, that I never so much as touched the book.
remained the case until last year, when I finally broke down and
watched Isao Takahata's 1979 animated version. After the second
episode, I was running down to the nearest bookstore for a copy
of that book.
perhaps my sensibilities have just changed a lot since 1986. I'd
like to hope so. Perhaps I'm more receptive as an adult. But as
much as I love reading Maud Montgomery's classic girls' novel -
and it's a personal favorite now - I still don't enjoy the Canadian
production. You just cannot cram a novel like this into a three-hour
TV movie and make it work, not without ripping out the heart and
version, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. It ranks among his
greatest achievements: Horus, Prince of the
Sun, 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, Goshu
the Cellist, Grave of the Fireflies,
Omohide Poro Poro. Black and white.
Night and day.
all about time. This Anne was the 1979 season of World
Masterpiece Theatre, the acclaimed Japanese animation showcase that
Takahata (with the help of Hayao Miyazaki pioneered. Its debut in
1974 heralded a revolution in animation, bringing a religious devotion
to naturalism and neo-realism previously unheard of. The films of
Studio Ghibli are only the final fruition of the trails blazed in
Masterpiece Theatre devoted an entire television season to a classic
work of children's literature, beginning with Heidi and continuing
into the early '90s. Takahata's series' would always be the gold
standard by which everything would be judged, and his three productions
- Heidi in 1974, 3000 Leagues in 1976, and Anne
of Green Gables in 1979 - have never been surpassed in television
animation. Well, Miyazaki's Future Boy Conan gives 'em a run for
the money, but that's always been the case.
do you even begin to tell the story of Anne in a measely three hours?
It can't be done. This version is 25 hours long;
50 half-hour episodes, and it damn near needs every minute. Well,
there is one clip chow right in the middle of the run. You can skip
that one and not miss a beat, but that's it.
is without question the definitive Anne. I think this is the case,
not only because the long running time allows for the entire novel
to be dramatized, but because Takahata and his writers know the
material. They deeply know this story and feel it in their bones.
They keenly understand the subtleties of the various characters,
their unique traits and quirks.
a bit of a challenge, because the novel always revolves around Anne
and never leaves her orbit. A lot of time is devoted to all the
other characters around Green Gables, and they are given a weight
and dimension that is always consistent with what Montgomery originally
example, what kind of a girl is Diane Berry? She's Anne's best friend,
of course, but who is she, really? How does she behave? What does
it mean for her to be a friend to a wildly chatty, imaginitive girl
like Anne Shirley? At some point she must realize that she's not
going to get in a lot of conversations, and this chatterbox is going
to say some pretty odd things. If they're going to be best friends,
she'll have to be the listener and just go along.
another example, Marilla Cuthbert is given all her original dialog,
but she isn't portrayed as cold or mean. Her strict discipline comes
not out of cruelty, but a hard life of an unmarried woman in the
19th Century. Her stern attitude towards Anne is just a shell, a
front. She is entranced by her almost from the start, but at her
age, how else can she behave? She keeps the giggles to herself until
time and devotion have worn her walls down. By the end of the story,
Marilla's openly crying and sharing her feelings.
you understand? This is why people like Takahata and Miyazaki create
art out of animation. Not because they can draw impressive
movements or conceive imaginitive worlds, but because of this obsessive
attention to detail, and honesty for its characters. This is why
Disney's dubs for Nausicaa and
Porco Rosso are below-par. The
Disney people never bothered to put anywhere near this level of
thought into the American dubs, and, frankly, it shows. They
just don't get it.
greatest example of all? Yoshifumi Kondo. I honestly don't believe
Anne of Green Gables could be half as good without him. Kondo served
as the animation director as well as the character designer, and
his naturalistic drawing style was a godsend for Takahata. Kondo
would bring his brilliant skills to Studio Ghibli for many great
films, from Grave of the Fireflies to Princess
Mononoke to his own Whisper of
the Heart. His tragic death in 1998 shook Takahata deeply,
and perhaps this is a major reason for his semi-retirement after
My Neighbors the Yamadas in 1999.
animators would draw Anne Shirley as a cute cartoon girl, but Kondo
does something ingenious. He draws her as thin and boney, almost
anorexic. She is not one of the pretty girls and she, of course,
knows it (and truly loves to tell everyone in sight). Isn't this
to be expected after a life of hardship, after being shuffled through
the asylum system?
portrayal of Anne's growth into womanhood is so natural, so subtle,
that it is widely regarded as his greatest achievement as a character
artist. His Anne Shirley has a plainspoken beauty that willingly
takes a back seat to her personality. After all, it's her spirit
that illuminates everyone around her; once again, the Americans
would never have a clue.
Takahata had mastered his realist style by now, but Anne of
Green Gables takes great advantage of another of his greatest
talents: the flights of fancy. This is a story that largely dwells
on the power of imagination, and his version fully immerses in it.
We see this right from the beginning, and it's this that made me
want to discover the novel.
the first episode, after Matthew Cuthbert has picked up Anne and
they're riding home, they pass along the Apple Orchards - the White
Way of Delight. It's a short passage in the book, but when we see
Anne's stunned silent by the sight of the trees, we are carried
away with her. Her imagination just soars among flowers and fairies,
sweeping gowns and galloping horses. This sequence runs for almost
two minutes, and it's astonishing. Then the next minute or two is
given over to complete silence.
a very strong Yazojiru Ozu and Jean Renior influence in Anne's
visual style, with its static shots loaded with little details.
The third episode starts with Anne waking up after her first traumatic
night at Green Gables. She forgets her worries and gets lost in
the scenery, and so do we. For the next several moments, we are
treated to a series of Ozu's "pillow shots" set to the
show's achingly perfect music. We return to Anne, kneeling at the
window, and then the walls just fade away, leaving her alone with
her thoughts and the trees. It's the signature moment of the entire
series, and beautifully reprised at the very end; the entire series
is loaded with moments such as these.
are so many countless moments, funny, tragic, and touching, that
naming them all would require a small book. I know this is getting
long. I will say that the final five or six episodes, which confront
with Matthew's illness and Anne's decisions about her future, are
emotionally devestating. In the end, it's that emotional intensity
that resonates, and lingers on for days. You are left alone, alone
with that terrible dull ache.