A night of action, sizzle reels, and a Q&A featuring special guests from design, production and voice acting - Sunday's presentation of Cowboy Bebop - The Movie at the Aero Theater was not to be missed!
As part of their Summer movie series, the Art Directors Guild Film Society and American Cinematheque (sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter), brought Cowboy Bebop - The Movie to The Aero Theater in Santa Monica, California. It was a special occasion for a lot of reasons, among them that Cowboy Bebop had originally been only briefly shown in theaters in 2001 in the United States, and had barely made a little over $1 million in that run. As John Muto (Production Designer and moderator) mentioned during the introduction, Bebop may be an animated film, but it is practically indiscernible from a classic, live action film noir (albeit on Mars and with future tech). It really deserved more attention than it got in its original run. It's wonderful and exciting and "really in a category of its own."
The Aero is a special theater to me. Ever since I moved to Los Angeles I've had the chance to see three films with special presentations / Q&A's attached (the Ray Harryhausen event stood out in particular) and each one has been a really fun time. Though it's a bit on the older side, the theater itself is well-preserved and I have gotten to enjoy several of this summer's events hosted by the Art Directors Guild Film Society and American Cinematheque (who also host events at The Egyptian, sister theater to The Aero).
If you haven't watched Cowboy Bebop - The Movie yet, let me assure you that you should add it to your must-watch list somewhere near the top. My friend Luke reminded me how solid this movie was after it finished when he said, "You know, compared to most action films out right now, this is a whole lot better in many ways." And he's right - Bebop has such a well crafted narrative and pacing, and it really manages to pull off part-noir, part-spaghetti western, part-HK action film better than most of its live action counterparts!
The Q&A with Steve Blum (the acclaimed actor who voices "Spike Spiegel," Bebop's lead character, as well Wolverine, The Avengers, and Transformers, among many others) and Peter Ramsey (ADG Illustrator who advanced to feature Director on the award winning Rise of the Guardians) was a nice, intimate experience compared to most Q&As I've attended at conventions and other events. Since the theater is on the small side, you get a nice atmosphere with about a hundred devoted folks who have stayed till the end of the film and each get the opportunity to ask a question. Here are a few highlights I enjoyed:
"I saw it (Bebop) in a little theater all by myself in Pasedena," said one visitor. To which Blum replied, "Well thank you sir. You bought me a bag of french fries."
Blum (on voice acting for Bebop) "Most of the time I don't get to see it (the scene) prior to the performance. There's no real preparation for that, so, most of it's either gut or Mary setting context for me, or whoever my director is at the time...For me that works because I started in anime. I didn't have a classic acting background so I came in just matching lip flaps and matching characters to the best of my ability and it's all instinct..."
Ramsey - "How many takes do you usually get to do to get the lip sync right, cause that's hard!"
Blum - "We did probably more takes on this than we did in the series but generally if you can't do it in three takes they'll look for another actor because they're on a time schedule, and for anime and tv shows particularly they want you to do about 40 lines an hour so.
Ramsey - "and you dont see the script before?"
Blum - "You don't see the script beforehand and sometimes you don't even get a preview of the scene beforehand. Basically you're at 3 beeps and you're going and you need to match and look at the page and look at the screen at the same time. It's a juggling act. It's a skill set you need to have when you're doing this work."
Guest - "What are all your favorite anime?"
Ramsey - "Akira, just about anything by, obviously, Miyazaki - and then I reach all the way back to childhood cause that's where I was first exposed to it. You know... Kimba the White Lion, Ape Man, Gigantor... all those that have the same hallmarks that I feel that most animated features do. So Miyazaki is kind of like refined to the Nth degree but yeah, I'm a huge fan of Akira and there's a lot of similarities in the story with it and Bebop."
Blum - "Uh, Bebop (joking). I actually haven't watched that much anime. Like I said, I only watched Bebop about two years ago. Probably the only other anime that I watched end to end was Digimon because I was a writer for it."
Blum - (on bad projects) - "Probably the only one I ever walked out on turned out to be Hentai... I was hired onto a thing called Project X" and I started recording and I'm this creature with all these tentacles and I'm like 'wow this is a cool looking creature.' All of a sudden, they show this little girl... it was really awful. I lasted maybe 10 minutes. I walked out and didn't finish that session. I let them keep their money *laughs.*
Me - Bebop was one of the first shows to come over to get really solid localization. Was there ever a show you worked on where you got a hold of the script and realized that the adaptation dialogue was not that well written (localized)?
Blum - "Yes, several shows as a matter of fact. Probably the worst being a show called GTO. Basically we had the Japanese translation and it was not adapted for American voice actors so I walk into the room and I'm seeing a million flaps and four words and I basically wrote my part on the fly, and ad-libbed a lot of it. I haven't watched it because I thought 'This cannot possibly be any good,' but the fans actually said it came out pretty good..." It was really a challenge.
Guest - "I'm just curious, what do you think in general of the ability for American animation and Japanese animation to cross over and meet somewhere in the middle?"
Ramsey - "I think there's plenty. All we did really was a lot of us were really big fans of anime and wanted to bring some of that design sensibility into our characters and the way we were telling the story because it was a weird hybrid kind of movie that we were trying to make so anime seemed like the right fit for a fantasy/magical adventure. I think there's a lot that's kind of crept into American movies anyways. Pixar has a lot of influence from Miyazaki.... some of their better storytelling comes from anime and Japanese tradition. I think it's one of those undercurrents that's always going to be there... a lot of people are really resistant to it in America (you're either in one camp or the other). It's strange but I think the cross pollination is just gonna happen naturally."
Fun trivia I learned from the Q&A - Blum has a tattoo on his arm that's the recorded sound wave of the word "Bang" (in particular, the final line Spike says in the last episode of Bebop).
After leaving the event, I started thinking a bit more about how much I would have loved the chance to see Bebop in theaters when it originally aired in 2001. In general, it would be nice if we could get more opportunities to see anime like Bebop on the big screen. I'm always excited to see when anime films are getting a bit more exposure, and especially when they're included in an art or design series along with major motion pictures hailed as classics and must-see movies.
My question to you - if there was one anime film you could see on the big screen, what would it be? For me, I'd love to get the chance to see Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind show up at one of my local theaters someday. As for Sunday's event, it inspired me to look into finding more anime screen events.
Want to know more about Steve Blum? Check out the interview we did with him in 2011.