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A Silent Voice 声の形 Dir: Naoko Yamada (2016) [Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival 2019]

A Silent Voice  

koe-no-katachi-film-poster-2声の形Koe no Katachi

Release Date: September 17th, 2016 (Japan)

Duration: 129 mins.

Director: Naoko Yamada

Writer: Reiko Yoshida (Screenplay), Yoshitoki Ooima (Original Manga)

Starring: Saori Hayami (Shouko Nishimiya), Miyu Irino/Mayu Matsuoka (Shouya Ishida),  Aoi Yuuki (Yuzuru Nishimiya),

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Website MAL ANN

If love brings out our best qualities, hatred deform us. A lack of empathy and ignorance lead to hatred and victimisation. This is perfectly illustrated in A Silent Voice. Based on Yoshitoki Ooima’s award-winning seven-volume manga, Kyoto Animation (KyoAni), with their trademark eye for revealing the humanity in their characters through their focus on exquisite character designs and animation, create a quiet and searing tale of teens experiencing the poisonous effect of bullying, the fragmenting of relationships and their self-perception in a story that takes the rather unconventional step of showing it from the perspective of the bully.

Directed by Naoko Yamada, she and her team of animators at KyoAni create one of the most honest portrayals of guilt and perseverance in the name of redemption through every character, each of whom carries some form of guilt and each of whom has been lovingly drawn and animated to give them a life that emanates from the screen so we can relate to them. Lingering shots on facial expressions or mid-shots that focus body-language and sign language show the subtly shifting emotions of hate and love so we feel for all of the characters.

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Japanese Animation at the London International Animation Festival 2019

Genki London International Animation Film Festival 2013 Banner

This year’s London International Animation Festival (LIAF 19) will be at the Barbican from Friday, November 29th to Sunday, December 08th. The organisers have combed through 2,600 entries and whittled them down to 85 films that best represent the international indie animation universe.

I’m interested in everything Japanese so here’s what’s on offer:

Continue reading “Japanese Animation at the London International Animation Festival 2019”

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Penguin Highway  ペンギン・ハイウェイ Dir: Hiroyasu Ishida [Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival 2019]

Penguin Highway      Penguin Highway Film Poster

ペンギン・ハイウェイ 「Pengin Haiuei

Release Date: August 18th, 2017

Running Time: 119 mins.

Director: Hiroyasu Ishida

Writer: Makoto Ueda (Screenplay), Tomihiko Morimi (Original Script)

Starring: Kana Kita (Aoyama), Yuu Aoi (Mysterious Lady), Hidetoshi Nishijima (Aoyama’s Father), Megumi Han (Hamamoto), Naoto Takenaka (Hamamoto’s Father),

Animation Production: Studio Colorido

Website  ANN  MAL

Ten years since his three-minute student short film Fumiko’s Confession brought him to worldwide attention, Hiroyasu Ishida has taken the helm of his first feature, Penguin Highway, for Studio Colorido. A little more calm and controlled than his manic and comedic debut, what remains the same is his knack for telling a tale from a kid’s perspective and with a lot of heart.

Based on a same-named book by Tomihiko Morimi, the story takes a child’s-eye view of the world by following the adventures of Aoyama and his coterie of friends who live in a quiet suburban town. These bright and bubbly kids are charmers as they all display cute foibles while getting lost in their everyday squabbles and learning more about their world in a laid-back summertime atmosphere. Things take a turn for the fantastical as penguins start popping up everywhere without warning.

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Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 交響詩篇エウレカセブン ハイエボリューション, Dirs: Tomoki Kyoda, Hisatoshi Shimizu (2017) [Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival 2019]

Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution    Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution I Film Poster

交響詩篇エウレカセブン ハイエボリューション Kokyo shihen Eureka sebun Hai eboryu-shon 1

Release Date: September 16th, 2017

Duration: 109 mins.

Chief Director:  Tomoki Kyoda

Director:  Hisatoshi Shimizu

Writer: Dai Sato (Screenplay),

Starring: Kaori Nazuka (Eureka), Yuko Sanpei (Renton Beams/Renton Thurston), Aya Hisakawa (Ray Beams), Juurouta Kosugi (Charles Beams), Tohru Furuya (Adrock Thurston), Michiko Neya (Talho Yuuki),

Animation Production: BONES

Website ANN MAL

When did anime compilation films become a thing and which greedy capitalist initiated it? Most months of the year feature a spin-off or a sequel to a TV anime, all of which are fine, but the compilation seems like the most cynical cash-grab since it is often only the most salient parts of a TV show blown up on the big screen, something that could only satisfy a pre-existing audience who have watched the entire story and will have a high level of familiarity with the characters and what is going on in the narrative and bring all of that linking material to a truncated story. This film is a great example of everything wrong with compilation films and then some.

Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution is the first of three movies that serve as a reboot for the Eureka Seven mecha anime which ran for 50 episodes on TV from 2005 to 2006. It takes footage from the first 10 episodes and adds a brand new beginning and end while the remixing footage from the TV anime for the middle section – you’ll notice which parts were made for the cinema and for TV with the change in aspect ratio.

The early part of the film (and the most spectacular since it is newly animated for the cinema) covers the final stages of “The Summer of Love”, a giant battle between humanity and aliens known as “Scub Coral” over the fate of the earth. Chaos and explosions shower the screen before the space opera is over, the aspect ratio changes, and the TV anime is dived into as the early years of Renton, a boy who lost his father during the event, are shown including first encounters with a mecha named Nirvash and the pilot, a girl named Eureka.

Eureka Seven Hi Evolution Film Image 5This, the remixed part, takes all of the key plot twists and character development for characters, cutting them up into smaller scenes and showing them rather randomly with only on-screen text used to inform the audience how many years, months, days, hours they have jumped in the life of Renton as the film retells the TV anime in a non-linear order. A sequence rarely lasts for than five minutes before inter-titles (Playback, Play Forward) burst on to the screen and disrupt any and all coherence and the audience is left to piece things together before having the narrative rug pulled out from under them again as the film hops back and forth along the timeline.

This may work for hardcore fans but with little of the background of the world delivered in any form of exposition, people who aren’t fans may be left confused and unsatisfied as there is no way to enter the story and all emotional connections that build solid character arcs are left flailing due to the way the timeline of the story is dealt with in such a non-linear manner. I found the process bemusing. The initial fight was exhilarating with all of the information and mecha flying across the screen tricking me into believing it was all important while the final scene had so much charming shounen spunk (after some grisly off-screen deaths) that I could imagine hardcore fans being bowled over and made hype for more of Renton’s journey in the final two movies. The rest in the middle is messy and meant I didn’t really care all that much.

Eureka Seven Hi Evolution Film Image 1

Both this movie and the TV anime were created by the animation studio Bones, a studio known for really strong world building and sharp use of contemporary counter-culture to make genre defining shows. They are the team responsible for anime like Wolf’s Rain and My Hero Academia and one of their best titles is Eureka Seven. The quality of the TV anime is present in the character/mecha designs and the glimpses of the world we see on the screen, all of which holds up over a decade after they were first created. The movie footage is spectacular with its broad and breathless approach to framing battles and landscapes. A switch in aspect ratio signals changes to the old and new footage but all of it looks good. It’s a shame that the story is lost.

This is one strictly for fans. It sets up the next two films which significantly alter certain characters and events and I have been informed the second one is much easier to get into. When it comes to this one, it might be too disorientating and you would be better off watching the TV anime first for context.

eureka-seven-hi-evolution

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Birthday Wonderland バースデー・ワンダーランド Dir: Keiichi Hara (2019) [Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival 2019]

Birthday Wonderland     Birthday Wonderland Film Poster

バースデー・ワンダーランド Ba-sude- Wanda-rando

Release Date: April 26th, 2019

Duration: 115 mins.

Director: Keiichi Hara

Writer: Miho Maruo (Screenplay), Sachiko Kashiwaba (Original Creator)

Starring: Mayu Matsuoka (Akane), Akiko Yajima (Doropo), Anzu (Chi), Keiji Fujiwara (Xan Gu), Kumiko Aso (Midori), Masachika Ichimura (Hippocrates),

Website MAL ANN

After a career with titles that flirted with fantasy, from 2010’s Colorful and the 2015 award-winning smash-hit Miss Hokusai, director Keiichi Hara leaps straight into the genre with this movie adaptation of Sachiko Kashiwaba’s 1988 children’s story “Strange Journey From The Basement”. This Ghibli-esque tale is a delightful family-friendly female-led fantasy that is sure to entertain all but the most cynical individuals with its jaunt through a cute wonderland full of colourful characters and creatures in its story of a girl who learns how to stand up for herself and take responsibility by saving another world.

Akane Uesugi is our protagonist. A shy elementary school student (around 12 years old), she has trouble telling other people how she feels and this causes a crisis for her after one dicey situation in school where a friend is ostracised by her social circle while she stands by and does nothing. Feeling a little guilty, she decides to hide out at home by feigning an illness. The day before her birthday, Akane’s mother, Midori, sends her on an errand to go get her birthday present from her aunt Chi who owns an antique shop.

So far so normal as we see Akane’s everyday environment. Fantastic background art which is close to photorealistic depicts recognisable objects and furnishings that show the cocoon Akane inhabits as she covers herself in the duvet on her comfy bed and is surrounded by items such as iPhones and MacBooks and a cute tubby cat. Once outside, we see the suburban landscape and then Chi’s shop which has the atmosphere of one of those new age places that sell kooky knick-knacks from around the world (and there’s an impressive comic book library with covers that carry references to Hell Boy and Tintin).

Aunt Chi is a free spirit who loves to travel having had adventures in Bolivia and elsewhere as objects in her shop attests. Boisterous and independent, she rubs the sometimes sullen and mostly reluctant Akane the wrong way and she proves to be an excellent travelling companion when the young girl is dragged into a fantasy land.

This happens after Akane slots her hand into an imprint in a mysterious stone slab prompting a small fairy named Pipo and a strange man wearing a suit and top hat named Hippocrates the Alchemist arrive from the basement of Chi’s home to whisk Akane and her aunt to Wonderland.

And this is where the comparison to Ghibli begins.

With an atmosphere and set-up not so far away from The Cat Returns (2002), Akane and Chi find themselves transported to a fairy tale kingdom where there is an emerging crisis involving the world losing its vitality because of a water shortage. Akane is labelled the “Green Goddess” and told she must save the land but she resists the idea with as much sulkiness as she can muster. Chi, meanwhile, is more than happy to be along for the ride as she gets to go on an adventure. Thus begins a high stakes and low peril adventure for the ladies as they find themselves embarking on a laid-back road-trip.

Birthday Wonderland Film Image 1

The film becomes something of a delightful travelogue across the massively different colourful landscapes of Wonderland from the ruby red and lemon yellow sands of a desert, the sherbet blues and vivid violets of an icy valley crowned by an aurora borealis, the emerald greens of a pastoral paradise that feeds the fluffiest sheep you will ever see and what seems to be a recreation of Victorian London complete with smog and drunks clogging the cobblestone streets. Every location is distinctive and hosts creatively designed creatures and characters such as giant flamingos and a spiderweb road weaved by spiders sporting moustaches, glasses and top hats. Most places are completely fantastical, very different from our reality and a lot of fun because of it.

Each area is plagued by a specific environmental crisis that is sparked by the water shortage and while Akane is positioned as the one true saviour she has to be pushed to go on her journey which is more like a sojourn than a mission as she and aunt Chi saunter from place to place. The girl has to overcome her reluctance to engage with difficult situations to complete her character arc. This works because the character dynamics between Akane, Chi, Pipo and Hippocrates are entertaining to be around as they tease each other and laugh at their misadventures and admire the landscape they are in. Chi is a real standout with her hard-drinking uber romantic lifestyle which gained a huge laugh from the audience I saw it with whenever it surfaced.

With each encounter, Akane gains the confidence to be herself in character development that is simple for people to get behind.

Pushing the story along is the mildest of threats from an armoured antagonist named Zan Gul and his tiny henchman Doropo who roll around in their mouse-shaped tank and terrorise the locals in each area as they seek their own, rather violent, way of solving the water crisis. The narrative gives enough of their perspective for the audience to realise that the bad guys mirror Akane in their goals and even their personal problems with how they address tough situations. Indeed, the world reflects the problems we face in our own as there is a misuse of power and resources by the people tasked with looking after the environment.

While I was not sold on Ilya Kuvshinov’s character designs – Akane doesn’t look like a 12-year-old girl – its evocative enough and everyone has some charm including Akane who learns to overcome fear and take responsibility for herself, her environment and others to give the film a heart to go underneath the pretty images that are all lovely to look at. All in all, good fun.

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Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. Presage Flower (2017) Dir: Tomonori Sudo [Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival 2019]

The traditional Halloween movie review is back and I wanted to try something different with an action anime I had seen at the Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival earlier this month.

Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. Presage Flower   gekijouban fate stay night heaven's feel ii lost butterfly film poster

劇場版 Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. presage flower Gekijouban Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. lost butterfly

Duration: 120 mins.

Release Date: October 14th, 2017

Director: Tomonori Sudo

Writer: Akira Hiyama (Screenplay), Kinoko Nasu, TYPE-MOON (Original Creator),

Starring: Ayako Kawasumi (Saber), Noriaki Sugiyama (Shirou Emiya), Jouji Nakata (Kirei Kotomine), Noriko Shitaya (Sakura Matou), Kana Ueda (Rin Toosaka), Mai Kadowaki (Illyasviel von Einzbern),

Animation Production: ufotable

ANN MAL Website

Fate/Stay Night is a venerable series for those who know of it. Originally starting in 2004 as a visual novel from indie video game company Type-Moon, it is an operatic story where the protagonist can join three heroines offering different routes to the finish – Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, Heaven’s Feel. What was an underground game won hardcore fans and became esoteric with every addition to the franchise over the years. This includes the many anime adaptations courtesy of animation production powerhouse ufotable (Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack). Close collaborators of Type-Moon, they have attempted to try and be faithful to the game’s story and pack in everything into a short running time. Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. Presage Flower is a fateful adaptation that takes on the same-titled, lesser-explored route.

Continue reading “Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel I. Presage Flower (2017) Dir: Tomonori Sudo [Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival 2019]”

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Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival Workshop and Talks with Award-Winning Animator Takeshi Yashiro and Producer Satoshi Akutsu in the UK

Cardiff’s Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival and the Japan Foundation have teamed up to host award-winning stop-motion animator Takeshi Yashiro and his producer Satoshi Akutsu on a tour of the UK as they take part in talks and a stop-motion animation workshop.

On October 05th, the two men will show their latest collaboration, Gon, The Little Fox (2019) at a Masterclass and will talk about their careers as Yashiro explains why he chooses to work in stop-motion and how he makes his movies. Satoshi Akutsu presents an equally interesting talk considering he has extensive experience in the role of producer for a variety of projects in Japan and America, having worked with Japanese broadcaster NHK, animation production house Madhouse, and DVD distributor Geneon Universal.

Here’s a trailer for their latest work Gon, The Little Fox, an adaptation of the classic 1932 children’s story about the fateful encounter between a farmer and a mischievous fox.

On October 06th, Yashiro will lead a stop-motion workshop where attendees can animate their own scene with actual puppets used by Yashiro in the film. It is open to people from the age 8 and up at the cost of £27 (for booking please contact the festival info@kotatsufestival.com).

Following their stint in Cardiff, the two men will be in London for a special talk.

Takeshi Yashiro is a graduate from Tokyo University of the Arts who got his career started making CMs and studied different stop-motion techniques in his spare time until he decided to go full-time with the style in 2012 with his debut Dear November Boy (2012). He’s had a string of award-winning films like Norman the Snowman The Northern Light and Firewood, Kanta & Grandpa (both 2013) and Moon of a Sleepless Night (2015), which won the Japan Competition Best Short Award at the Short Shorts Film Festival 2016 (source).

Commenting on the win, Yashiro said about stop-motion,

“The best thing about using stop motion animation is that the characters and the set really “exist” in front of the camera. Though technology has enabled CG to create brilliant images these days, it is still worthwhile using stop motion pictures because the audience can feel everything being there and sense the texture of the materials. In this sense, stop motion films are developed from art design. While sculptors interpret the world by capturing single moments of objects, I like to animate figures to show my interpretation of the world. I hope you will enjoy the story and I’d be glad if you could spare a few moments to think about the art design in the film.”

Here are the events and dates:

Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival (October 05th and 06th at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff)
Japan Foundation in London (October 07th, 18:30 at the Courthouse Hotel Cinema in London)

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A Japanese Boy Who Draws  ある日本の絵描き少年 Dir: Masanao Kawajiri (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]

A Japanese Boy Who Draws  Aru Nihon no ekaki shonen Film Poster

ある日本の絵描き少年 Aru Nihon no ekaki shonen

Release Date: March 02nd, 2019

Duration: 20 mins.

Director:  Masanao Kawajiri

Writer: Masanao Kawajiri (Screenplay),

Starring: Takeshi Uehara, Yasumi Yajima, Kenta Abe, Yoshiko Ishii, Shota Suzuki,

Website

Masanao Kawajiri’s experimental short animation depicts the life of a boy aiming to be a manga artist. It took the Runner-up Award for the Grand Prize at last year’s Pia Film Festival awards (missing out to Orphan’s Blues) but took the Gemstone Award which is given to, “the most progressive and daring film made beyond the common ideas of filmmaking”. A Japanese Boy Who Draws definitely fits this bill as it marries the magic of art and animation and their many different styles to a mockumentary to tell an enjoyable story of someone pursuing their dream.

The film follows the life and career of Shinji Uehara, someone who pursues his passion for drawing, from the age of one to his life as a professional enduring the vicissitudes of the manga industry.

Continue reading “A Japanese Boy Who Draws  ある日本の絵描き少年 Dir: Masanao Kawajiri (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]”

Japanese Films at Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2019

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“If I had to name one country with a true culture of animation, it would definitely be Japan.”

This quote was made by French director Georges Lacroix in 1999, the year when the Annecy Festival celebrated Japanese animation for the very first time. Since then, the fest has been packed with Japanese animation, many of which have often taken awards, and now, twenty years later, Annecy celebrates Japan again by packing in classics and new titles and giving space for much of the talent working today to shine.

The Annecy International Animation Film Festival is back from June 10th to the 15th and it’s packed with anime feature films, TV anime, and conferences because the organisers have chosen this year to celebrate 100 years of Japanese animated films (1917 – 2017). This celebration spans classic shorts never before seen outside of Japan to forthcoming works that are being pitched to producers and distributors around the world. Netflix has a presence here thanks to their positive contribution to anime and the student graduation works look equally enticing. With WWII propaganda films, adaptations of classic western novels, animated documentaries, 80s sci-fi, and more going to be screened, festival-goers are in for an exceptional and exciting collection of films that shows what Japan can do.

As per usual, titles contain links to the festival and sources used for information range from the festival site itself to My Anime List (MAL) and Anime News Network (ANN). Let’s start with…

Continue reading “Japanese Films at Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2019”

“The Depth if Yagen” Stop-motion Horror Anime Kickstarter

I recently had a news tip about an interesting Kickstarter for a stop-motion indie horror film from Japan called “The Depth if Yagen” by animator and author Shigeru Okada, an animator and educator who has a YouTube channel dedicated to the art of stop-motion animation. I reported it on Anime UK News (AUKN) and V Cinema. It looks like something really unique due to the style of animation and the story it tells. Here is the Kickstarter campaign trailer: 

The story draws upon Japanese history and mythology and mixes in themes of family and betrayal:

Once upon a time in Japan, there was a poor couple living with their only daughter. One day, the father, an avid gambler, sells his daughter to human traffickers in order to settle his gambling debts. The traffickers, on their way back to the village with the man’s daughter, decide to take a shortcut by entering the forbidden mountain. The girl’s mother pursues the traffickers into the mountain in a bid to reclaim her daughter. The mother begins a terrifying transformation as the curse of the mountain settles on her. Yet, she continues her pursuit to save her daughter…

As can be seen in the video, the transformation is really creepy and you can expect the model work to be exquisite in order to deliver the body-horror, a transformation that would make Junji Ito proud. What is the depth of a “yagen”, you may be wondering? Well the yagen is the mortar which the creature is seen using. How this plays into the story will have to be discovered.

Stop-motion animation is expensive and time consuming so a Kickstarter campaign will be needed to help finance everything and funds will need to be raised by June 10th. The money raised will be used on the production but will also be used to create a set of “making-of” materials ranging from a book to a film. This film will detail the fabrication of puppets and props, lighting, animation and editing processes, all of which Okada is doing. Both the film and the materials are something Okada hopes to use to inspire aspiring animators and he will do so by putting them online for people to access. There’s actually a demonstration video online to give people a taste of how in-depth it will be:

The anime Okada is working on will be split into five episodes. It will be animated in 2019 and released in 2020 in two versions, one a shorter, atmospheric version that forgoes any graphic images – each episode lasting three minutes and released for free on Okada’s YouTube channel NARIOMARUDARKSIDE – and the other version will be completely uncut and last 7-8 minutes. This one  will be made available on payable video viewing sites, such as VIMEO (One episode: 300JPY. All five episodes: 1,500JPY). Subtitles will be available in Japanese. English and Spanish.

Anybody who backs this project will get the chance to own it (either digitally or on DVD depending upon the tier you select) and, if you pledge enough, you can appear in the film as a model. This is a great way for Okada to use his skills as an animator to teach and get people involved in the project.

The minimum Kickstarter pledge is £3 and that gives a person access to all five episodes. After that, rewards keep increasing including access to a PDF version of the “Making-of Book”, a physical version of the “Making-of Book” and a DVD copy of the anime and the higher tiers include an invitation to the film’s cinema screening and the aforementioned model. 

Now, anime on Kickstarter tends to have a good reputation (at least, better than video games) and my experience with it is with Under the Dog and Mai Mai Miracle, both of which I got a film at the end of the process so I’m fairly confident you’re guaranteed to get a product and this guarantee is good because Okada is an experienced animator and is actually currently involved in the Netflix production of Rilakkuma which is making waves around the internet. He has a YouTube channel (NARIOMARUDARKSIDE) which shows examples of his works so you get an idea of what the end product will be like and, judging by the work.., he has the skills to deliver. 

As I stated in the AUKN report, stop-motion isn’t as common as 2D animation and horror stories told by stop-motion are even rarer. The last time I saw something like this was Junkhead which played at the Raindance Film Festival a few years ago.

This sounds good to me so I plan on contributing. There are 46 days left to help out so if you like the look of the work and want to get involved, head to the Kickstarter page.