Sunday, May 18, 2014

REVIEW: Short Peace

Katsuhiro Otomo's latest collaboration with other anime directors has produced a new short-anime anthology! It played in North America in selected cities for a few days, and I managed to check out the last showing this weekend. I really do adore little anime anthologies like this. Particularly good ones are Robot Carnival, which can only be found officially on VHS; then there's the more familiar 'MEMORIES' that is available on DVD, and more recently there was 'Genius Party' and it's sequel 'Genius Party BEYOND', both of which still haven't been released, and it's possible that the chances of that happening are rather slim... And of course, he one most audiences are familiar with would be stuff like 'Animatrix.'

But anyway, 'Short Peace' is certainly getting a release, and is already available digitally on places like PlayStation Network, which also includes the so-called 5th entry, a video game called 'Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day.' My review will not include the game, and only focus on the theatrical release, made up of four films, which screened in the original Japanese language with subtitles.

The film opens with an intro created by the ever-imaginative Koji Morimoto who has been involved in many anime shorts like those listed above, notably his entry in Animatrix called 'Beyond.' The opening features a girl playing hide and seek who then stumbles into some crazy dimension full of random fun, which lets the viewer know they're in for a heck of a ride. Morimoto really loves to play around in his animated works that are lavish, stylized, utterly fascinating presentations of altered reality that are only possible in his mind and only conveyed through animation. Lights, sounds, color and a combination of things cute and strange are his thing, and he never disappoints!

The first film following the intro is the one titled 'Possessions' by Shuhei Morita who'd worked with Otomo before on an anime 'Freedom', which he directed and Otomo designed the characters for. 'Possessions' was nominated for an Academy Award in 2013 for Best Animated Short and is about the story of a traveling craftsman in olden day Japan who takes shelter from a storm in an abandoned shrine where people have left possessions that are broken of that they no longer need. But over 100 years, these objects have come to be possessed by spirits and take on a life of their own. Finding himself trapped within, the traveler seeks to appease these spirits by doing what he does best, which is fixing and repairing items. 'Possessions' uses a mixture of hand-drawn background art, hand animation and CG animation, particularly for its main character rendered in a toon style. It's always interesting to see experiments in making CG look like traditional hand drawn animation, and while Possessions doesn't quite get there due to the rigidity of the character rig that doesn't quite bring the squashing and stretching and range of movement that traditional animation excels at, the short is still a very nice rendition of something akin to a classic fairy tale.

The second film is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, called 'Combustible', which was short-listed for an Academy Award in the same category. It's a tale of tragic love set once again in ancient Japan with an interesting look at how fire-fighting was carried out in that era where a neighbor boy, who shames his family for joining the fire-fighter profession tries to save a girl whom he's known since childhood. Created in a cool style and presentation that is reminiscent of Japanese Ukiyo-e painting impressions, the short begins well and really gets exciting, but ends in a somewhat unsatisfying abrupt manner.

The third film is 'Gambo', directed by Hiroaki Ando, who also worked as a storyboard artist and episode director on Freedom and as CG director on Otomo's 'Steamboy' and is a veteran CGI artist on many big anime productions like 'Metropolis' and 'Tekkon Kinkreet.' Gambo also uses a hybrid style combining CG and hand-drawn art. It's story is the most interesting out of the anthology while also being its most horrifying and disturbing. Again, set in ancient Japan, a village continuously suffers attack from a dangerous and horrible demon who kills many and kidnaps their women. The sole female left is a child who stumbles upon a mystical white bear who understands human speech. The bear sets off to find and kill the demon once and for all. Filtered under a grungy texture, Gambo is quite a piece that creates remarkably lovely moments contrasted with violence. It'll certainly be one of two in the anthology that will leave the viewer with an impression, and certainly I'd love to see more of the world and its implications created by the short!

The fourth and final film is 'Farewell to Arms', directed by Hajime Katoki, a veteran mecha designer who's credits include a lot of Gundam and even Patlabor as well as games like Policenauts and many toy model kits. His short is an adaptation of a short manga by Otomo of the same name. The story is the most visual tour-de-force short of an exciting encounter between a group of futuristic soldiers and one lone A.I. tank. Set in what looks to be a destroyed American city, a group of soldiers armed with mechanical suits and drones has the job of locating and disarming abandoned missile facilities. But this particular location is defended by a robot tank that still believes it is doing its job which creates a dangerous face-off putting the lives of the soldiers at extreme risk. The short ends the anthology using Otomo's amusing sense of humor and irony. It's certainly an exciting way to close and 'Farewell to Arms' is definitely an awesome little work using a good combination and blend of CG and traditional animation and art work.

'Short Peace' is another amazing anthology of anime works that are really for lovers of animation a an art form and for explorations of interesting stories outside of typical anime genres. A chance to try and do something new, and it certainly won't disappoint! I'm hoping there will be a physical release of the film that includes the PS3 video game. There's just no room left on my HDD for this awesomeness... : (