Yoshitaka Amano certainly needs no thorough introduction. With his extensive work on major franchises like Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D, among countless other things, he is a legendary visual artist to say the least. But the perhaps less known parts of his long and rich career are the various original projects that he has done over the years. One of these is Fantascope: Tylostoma, a 2006 OVA produced by Toei Animation as part of their Ga-nime project, which was a collaboration with the publishing company Gentosha that featured film works done primarily through still images of various kinds (Press Release, Toei Animation). Amano’s contribution to this collection is an apocalyptic dark fantasy tale told through over 200 ink illustrations, directed by the longtime commercial director Kimura Kusaichi, and featuring the voices of Tetta Sugimoto, Takashi Ukaji, Yumi Aso and Shingo Kuwabara (Ga-nime, Toei Animation).
The title Fantascope: Tylostoma is a reference to two things. Tylostoma is a genus in the extinct Tylostomatidae fossil sea snail family, and is iconographically featured multiple times in the film (Wikipedia, 2018). Fantascope refers to Belgian physicist and entertainer Étienne-Gaspard Robert’s “fantoscope,” an improved version of phantasmagoria that he entertained the post-revolution Parisian public with under the stage name “Robertson.” Phantasmagoria itself was a form of horror theater consisting of images produced by the “magic lantern” projection device, which Robert intensified with various effects accomplished by more advanced projectors and techniques (Dr. SkySkull, 2013). This hence makes for a quite fitting title for a film that through its haunting ink illustrations tells a phantasmagoric tale about death.
After an ill encounter with a godess, a man is cursed with eternal life and forever imprisoned on a traveling ghost ship, only able to enter land every seven hundred years. Alone in a world long since destroyed by some unknown disaster, he one day meets a mysterious prostitute whom he tells his story to. Going into more detail than so would be to give away too much of the film’s straightforward but nonetheless effective narrative, characterized by tragedy and dark, apocalyptic sublimity. A certain whiff of Béla Tarr can be sensed in its aesthetic, in how bleakness is poetically portrayed through a magnificently crafted black and white film image, as well as a gripping tone that flirts with the transcendental but ultimately remains painfully nihilistic. But whereas Tarr’s films are strictly based in realism, here the aesthetic is applied to dark fantasy. The violent strokes and splashes of ink portray vast desolate landscapes at the edges of the world, set to somber violins and howling winds, in a story that spans across centuries.
In terms of Amano’s original illustrations being translated to film, Fantascope: Tylostoma may not be as explosive as 1001 Nights. What it instead excels at is capturing a mood of stark sublimity, rooted in a bleakness that evokes awe rather than sorrow, through impressively minimal means.
Dr. SkySkull, “Phantasmagoria: How Étienne-Gaspard Robert terrified Paris for science”, Skulls in the Stars, 2/11/2013, <https://skullsinthestars.com/2013/02/11/phantasmagoria-how-etienne-gaspard-robert-terrified-paris-for-science/>
“Fantascope ~tylostoma~”, Ga-nime, Toei Animation, <http://www.toei-anim.co.jp/sp/ganime/fantascope/index.html>
“Ganime , a new style of artistic visual content characterized by pictures, will be released on Aug. 1st, 2006.”, Press Release, Toei Animation, 5/30/2006, <http://corp.toei-anim.co.jp/en/press/detail.php?id=112>
Tylostomatidae, Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 3/20/2018, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tylostomatidae>