Fantasia Loves Anime: Blood, Guts and Tender, Loving Care

children-who-chase-lost-voices-from-deep-below_poster

Man, this thing just keeps on going, doesn’t it?

For this instalment of my Fantasia coverage, I’ll be taking a look at some of the anime films screened at this year’s fest. Anime has always held a special place at Fantasia, with some devoted fans reserving tickets for every anime film without even bothering to see what they are.

Of course, depending what you’re looking for that could wind you up in a movie that isn’t quite your speed, as the four films I’ll be looking at seem to fall into two very different camps.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below

Makoto Shinkai is one of those anime directors to keep an eye on. He first really burst on to the scene with the sublime short Voices From a Distant Star, and followed up with feature length offerings such as The Place Promised in our Early Days and 5 Centimeters per Second. His films are characterized by a strong emotional core. Despite the sci-fi plot elements in some of his work, his films are about human emotions and relationships first and foremost, telling very personal stories in a style truly his own.

Which makes it odd and disheartening to say that in some ways, Children Who Chase Lost Voices doesn’t entirely feel like -his- movie.

For one, the sci-fi themes are completely done away with in favor of a fairly standard issue fantasy adventure story where a young girl travels to a magical land beneath the earth in search of her dead friend a la Orpheus. It’s got all the trappings, stern warrior kid, cute fuzzy mascot, scary monsters, the whole nine. And while that would be fine, we’ve got other directors we can go to for that.

To put it bluntly, it feels like a Hayao Miyazaki movie. Now stop right there, that isn’t a bad thing per se. But I didn’t come here for a Miyazaki movie, I came here for a Makoto Shinkai movie.

For one, this is definitely more fantasy adventure than Shinkai’s work has ever been, lifting elements and aesthetics from Miyazaki’s work whole sale. And while the emotional core is still there, it often feels like a greater emphasis is placed on adventure and excitement that human drama.

The film is gorgeous, and definitely enjoyable, but something feels…..off. Like if The Hobbit came out but it turns out it was actually been directed by Wes Anderson, and the dragon gets killed to a harpsichord tune and Jason Bateman plays Gollum.

A Letter to Momo

Speaking of noteworthy anime directors, the announcement that Hiroyuki Okiura, famed for directing Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade,would return to the director’s chair after 11 years away gave the international anime community more raging stiffies than if you’d told them someone had actually created a cat-bus.

After 11 years waiting, is the film worth it? Christ, yes.

The film is an emotionally touching story of loss, mourning and courage, turning what could be a cutesy family movie about a girl making friends with a trio of comical goblins in her new home into something truly memorable.

While this does indeed wear the cloak of a family film, parents and adult fans will find something much deeper, a story of friendship and loss the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Pixar’s Up.

Like most of this week’s movies, the animation in this one is simply breathtaking, and it’s reported that every frame was drawn by hand.

While it does, again, borrow some beats from Miyazaki (particularly My Neighbor Totoro), this is definitely the best anime film I’ve seen at the fest so far, and one that had more than a few sniffles coming from the audience towards the film’s end.

Really not much else to say. It’s good, go see it, gratuitous dick joke.

Now that the emotional stuff is out of the way, let’s get to the blood and killing, shall we?

Berserk Golden Age Arc 1: The Egg of the King

Trying to compress a very large thing into a very small form is never a good idea, just ask my cat after I tried to fit her inside a cereal box like in that youtube clip.

Someone should have told the makers of Berserk this, however, as they’ve tried to compress the storyline of the comic and anime of the same name into a series of feature length movies. This isn’t the first time stuff like this has been done, and while the result is at least visually interesting, the first instalment fails utterly as a contained narrative.

Our hero is Guts, a mercenary with a preposterously oversized sword who joins up with a company of fellow sell swords and soon finds himself embroiled in the court politics of the medieval-type kingdom who hired them. Also he may or may have a David Bowie/Mick Jagger thing with his commander if you get my drift.

When you get right down to it, this isn’t a whole movie. There’s a beginning and maybe a middle, but it doesn’t have an end. No emotional arc gets completed, no storyline receives proper closure, all you get after ninety-odd minutes is a trailer for the next movie.

And it’s not like you can’t do a series of interconnected movies and give each one a proper climax so it can function as a story in its’ own right, that’s pretty much what the Evangelion movies have been doing. I’ll probably watch the next one, but as a movie in it’s own right, this is kind of a wash.

Asura

Continuing the blood and guts brigade, our last slice in the anime pie, Asura, tells the story of a feral child in 15th Century Japan, basically a snarly cannibalistic Tarzan named after a group of Hindu dieties.

The film comes courtesy of Keiichi Sato, known for bringing superb visuals and thrilling superheroics to the table.

In both of those, this is a departure. For starters, Asura is much more of a parable than his previous works, attempting to tell a story of human desperation in dark times and posing the question: just how far should we go in the name of survival. In that regard, I’d call it a success but only barely.

In terms of visuals, it tries to do something new, a kind of cell-shaded cgi that brings the illustrations of the original manga to life, right down to the pencil strokes. As breathtaking as some scenes are, other times the facial animations can be awkward and stiff, and work against the emotion the film desperately wants to convey.

Story wise, it works if not for a single character, a priest our young hero encounters who does nothing but sermonize, eat up time and pull a moral completely out of his holy arse for the end of the movie. Everything else works ok, and if Reverend God-Pants had been gently exorcised from the film, the relationships between Asura and the other characters, as well as his own growth could have been fleshed out more, improving the movie over all.

As it is, it’s a decent flick, but could have been more with some gentle editing and perhaps a less experimental visual style.

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