Spring and Chaos Anime Review
Iihatoubu Gensou Kenji no Haru
Ihatov Fantasy: Kenji's Spring
US Release By
Spring and Chaos tells the story of Kenji Miyazawa, whose works came to be appreciated and respected across the world. The story follows Kenji as he tries to reach out to others through both words and actions, only to be met largely with ambivalence and even ridicule. However, Kenji presses on and the large impact he would later have on Japanese literature becomes more and more clear.
Quick ReviewSwitch to Full Review
The story of Kenji Miyazawa is great biopic material. A man ahead of his time, moving to the beat of a different drum. A bit of an eccentric who thought big and deep yet felt even deeper and died young. Shoji Kawamori manages to get a lot of mileage out of the hour-long TV special he was given. The anime's narrative has a free-flowing feel to it that shows us the ups and downs of Kenji's experiences and his strong desire to communicate those experiences. The visuals suffer from some problems due to combining computer graphics with traditional animation, but are otherwise effective, with some amazing sequences that explore a sense of something greater in the world and the possibility that Kenji was closer than many of us ever have or ever will be to understanding it. A wondrous musical score and solid Japanese voice acting complete the picture.
If Miyazawa were alive now, he would likely be considered just as strange and unconventional in modern Japan. Spring and Chaos probably won't turn you into poetry connoisseur, but it might help give you a different perspective on the world we live in.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
The story of Kenji Miyazawa is great biopic material. A man ahead of his time, moving to the beat of a different drum. A bit of an eccentric who thought big and deep yet felt even deeper and died young. Although a TV documentary about his life was made, this hour long TV special represents the only biopic that has been made about Miyazawa. That might sound insufficient, but Shoji Kawamori manages to get a lot of mileage out of the framework he was given.
Spring and Chaos does an admirable job of giving the viewer a sense of who Kenji Miyazawa was by attempting to show the world as he might have seen it. Throughout the special we learn he was a man who loved the beauty of the world and the science behind it. When something in nature catches his eye, Kenji freezes and intensely writes about what he sees in a notebook while seemingly entranced. At the same time we learn he could be captivated by modern technology as he stares hypnotically at a light bulb as it burns out.
The anime's narrative has a free-flowing feel to it that shows us the ups and downs of Kenji's experiences and his strong desire to communicate those experiences. Although he derived great joy from what he saw in the world and passionately committed those thoughts to a collection of free-verse poetry, it fails to sell a single copy. His students were witness to some of the creative process of the book, but they still regard it with confusion.
Kenji was woefully unappreciated by his community. Despite that, his heart broke as he witnessed the plight of his people. It's arguable that he felt too deeply as he thrust himself headfirst into their hardships only to be met with their ridicule. Kawamori is careful to provide scattered bits of foreshadowing to the posthumous appreciation of Miyazawa's works, ensuring there is always a feeling of hope and triumph even when things get as desperate as you can imagine.
In order to maintain pacing, some aspects of Kenji's life are only touched upon briefly. He loses some people who are important to him, and while those plot points are important to give context to Kenji's downward spiral, they must have affected him far more than the feature has time to show. Occasionally this can make parts of Spring and Chaos hard to follow. While ordinarily I don't think one should have to do research before watching an anime, it might not be a bad idea to read a little about Miyazawa's life before watching this one.
The visuals work in conjunction with the narrative to create a moving piece of work. Scenes of starry or cloud-filled skies give way to amazing sequences that explore a sense of something greater in the world and the possibility that Kenji was closer than many of us ever have or ever will be to understanding it. At the same time the visuals can give way to violent and disturbing images as Kenji wrestles with his inner torment. Not to get into spoiler territory, but the subject of death is explored in a highly memorable yet indescribable manner. Intense yet never frightening, sad yet hopeful, it's truly something that needs to be experienced firsthand.
Computer graphics don't always integrate well with traditional animation, and this mid-90's production is certainly no exception. Some scenes have an artificially layered look to them and there are moments of awkward editing and that can occasionally take the viewer out of the story. Thankfully, these problems are overcome by what the production does right, and the wondrous music is successful in driving the emotional impact of the story home. It's also impressive how well the humanity of the story is depicted by anthropomorphic cats. Even the character model used for the titular character actually looks a little like the real Kenji Miyazawa.
As you might expect, the Japanese voice acting is all-around solid. Shirou Sano's low-key take on Miyazawa carries the character well and I liked Taichi and his fellow classmates. Kenji's sister Toshi has a contemporary cuteness to her voice that doesn't suit the show's atmosphere but otherwise the acting from the supporting cast is fine.
It's a small miracle that Kenji Miyazawa's work has been preserved and appreciated since his death. If Miyazawa were alive now, he would likely be considered just as strange and unconventional in modern Japan. I can only hope wherever he is now, Kenji has found the answers he was seeking. Spring and Chaos probably won't turn you into poetry connoisseur, but it might help give you a different perspective on the world we live in.
Have something to say about this anime? Join our newly-resurrected forums and speak your mind.
Spring and Chaos is unique because, while there are other anime biopics out there, such productions tend to be designed for classroom use, and thus emphasize educational value over artistic and narrative quality. Night on the Galactic Railroad is a film based on Kenji Miyazawa's unfinished children's novel and also uses anthropomorphic cats for the majority of its characters. Studio Ghibli's Isao Takahata directed a feature based on Miyazawa's Gauche the Cellist and there is another TV special that adapts Miyazawa's The Biography of Budori Gusko, sans cats. Other anime that feature anthropomorphic animals tend to be of the sillier variety, and in that vein you could do worse than K.O. Beast Century.
Notes and Trivia
This TV Special aired on the 100th anniversary of Kenji Miyazawa's birth.
You may notice an odd word in the original Japanese title: Ihatov ("Iihatoubu"). Miyazawa learned Esperanto in the mid-20's and attempted to translate some of his work into that language. Ihatov is a word created in Esperanto by Kenji for his place of residence: Iwate Prefecture. It is the setting for a number of his works.
The North American title, Spring and Chaos, is derived from Kenji Miyazawa's Spring and Asura.
At last check, the movie was available in its entirety streamed on Hulu, albeit only in English dubbed form.
US DVD Review
This was Tokyopop's first DVD and it was so bad they had to take a second stab at it. The first pressing featured a hideously over-compressed transfer that resembled a low-quality YouTube video. If that wasn't bad enough, the disc had dubtitles as opposed to real subtitles for the Japanese dialog. The second pressing actually makes the feature watchable. The video still doesn't look great (which may in part be due to how it was originally edited on composite video) but the bitrate is high and the compression is far better. The subtitles may not be perfect but they at least pass as real subtitles, and the timing is far better. Extras include interviews with Shoji Kawamori and sound director/producer Atsumi Tashiro. There's also a booklet included that has small biographies on Kenji Miyazawa and Shoji Kawamori and a reprinting of one of Kenji's poems from Spring and Asura. In addition to English there are also subtitles in Korean, Chinese, French, German, and Spanish. Perhaps because of this the DVD is All Region, meaning it is not restricted to only play on Region 1 (U.S./Canada) DVD Players.
There is no age suggestion on the DVD, but the violent imagery and mature themes makes it 13-up in my book.
Violence: 3 - There is disturbing imagery and stylized violence which can be intense to watch.
Nudity: 0 - None.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - While there are no sexual themes, poverty, turmoil and especially death are covered in a very direct manner.
Language: 1 - Infrequent and mild.
Currently available in North America from Tokyopop, streamed on Hulu in dubbed form. Tokyopop previously released it in a poor-quality bilingual regular DVD edition (their first DVD, packaged in a cardboard sleeve), which was later re-released with improved video (in a regular DVD case).
The DVDs are long since out of print but copies are occasionally seen floating around on eBay and Amazon Marketplace. Make sure the DVD is packaged in a regular DVD case and not a cardboard sleeve or you'll wind up with the bad version. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't distinguish between the two editions: Spring and Chaos DVD