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MIAF 2015 DAY 3: Panorama – International #1; Tama University Showcase

25 Jun

Panorama – International #1


Here is a classic example of misconception. I have known about the Panoramas for 5 years and I have avoided them for 4 years. Why? Because these were international films that, for some reason, were not good enough to make it into the International Competition programs. Why would I want to spend my time watching inferior films? Well turns out I was too quick to judge (the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, I’m getting better I swear) and I will explain why.

Think about all of your favourite films. Can you honestly say that each one of them has the potential to open the Cannes Film Festival? Of course not, because some of your favourite films are great but are not exactly award-worthy. Think about the guilty pleasures you might have, or the films that hold a personal attachment, or the films you know to be stupid but make you soil yourself in laughter, or the films that did not work overall but brought light to some ideas and concepts that spoke to you in a way that other films couldn’t. These are the films that make up the Panoramas. Here are films that missed out on official competition selection but were, for some reason, worthy to be viewed on a large screen.

Can you say you have seen Iranian animation? How about Afghani animation? Well with the Panoramas this is a possibility. Sure these films may not win any awards, but the Panoramas give these little-known filmmakers from unlikely countries the chance to have their work on the big screen where it belongs. This session was made up of playful and thought-provoking films, and these were my top picks:

Crowded – Andrew Khosravani, Cristina Florit Gomila. Playful looking cut-out animation that has a very real point to it. Planet Earth has a finite amount of space, yet population is rising exponentially. How long will it take before space runs out?

Pidge – Renee Zhan. Dark satirical animation about a pigeon trying to commit suicide by jumping from a building. With a hilariously deep, monotonous voice the pigeon reflects on his life, decides he wants to live, but is swooped by an eagle. There is a lot of dry humour packed into this film; the type of humour that doesn’t necessarily make you laugh but is appreciated as if it was. The characters are animated brilliantly given the film’s barren tone.


Fantoons: Chasing Mr Big – David Calcano, Nacho Rodriguez. Why isn’t there more animation like this? I’m talking about the type of animation reminiscent of early Warner Bros. The animation with basic stories (in this case a fan boy wanting to see his favourite band, Mr Big, live in concert) but told in the playful, energetic, totally absurd manner that only animation can display. The animation where shoving a chilli pepper up a bulldog’s arse is the most logical mode of transportation.

Driving – Nate Theis. Another film taking a humorous look at a real issue – road rage. Seriously people, what is the point? There is something about being behind the wheel of a car that can turn innocent people into dicks, and for what? To get to your destination 7 seconds earlier? This film illustrates that not only do you look ridiculous but there is a likely chance you will hurt yourself and others.

Tama University Showcase

Tokyo Ondo

I’m just gonna put this straight – the Tama University Showcase may very well be the greatest single session I have ever witnessed in my six years of MIAF. That school has summoned all the power of Godzilla to stomp the shit out of any doubt you have that they are a force to be reckoned with.

Don’t you love having your high expectation not only matched but surpassed? Because I certainly do, and I have this ingenious college to thank for that. The high expectations were due to Tama University winning the student reel award at the Ottawa International Animation Festival on its first attempt. I tend to unfairly expect a lot when it comes to sessions dedicated to specific nations, as if every animator from that nation is on an identical diet of animation-genius supplements. Unfortunately these high expectation can fall very hard. Last year’s French showcases left a bitter taste in my mouth of blue cheese on a mouldy baguette. Japan’s showcase in 2013, however, left the delicious taste of warm sake with a side of takoyaki garnished with edible gold shavings. I am happy to announce that Japan has scored once again.

The students of Tama University spend the first three months of their animation course without drawing, sculpting, cutting, or digitally creating a single thing; instead they learn about music. They are taught that animation is all about rhythm and timing, and what better way to learn about these than having a thorough understanding of music. This principle plays a prominent role in every one of the films from this session. Watching this showcase is like consecutively watching every film from your favourite actor – although the films are slightly different they all share one vastly important element that pushes all the right buttons. In the case of the Tama films that element is the heavy reliance of music to provide the foundation for the animation. Every film in this showcase is fantastic in its own way, but these were my favourites:

Garden – Shungo Suzuki. Vibrant pastel colours of vegetation and animals on a black background with a cheerful score. Not a single frame skips on the detail. Suzuki has a masterful understanding of colours and knows when to mix and mould them together in a way that is challenging but never confusing. It’s one of those films that is so pleasant to watch that you can get lost in them.

Tokyo Ondo – Misaki Uwabo. Energetic and sporadic animation perfectly incorporating the crazy randomness that Japan is famous for to create a romanticisation of Tokyo. Can you see something 100 miles away that you want to get to? Then try riding a 10-billion yen coin as a unicycle on your stretched-out arm to get there.

airy me

Airy Me – Yoko Kuno. Music video to the song “Airy Me” by ambient pop artist Cuushe. A lesson that must have been taught extensively at Tama University is the importance of scale and space dimensions. Every student at some point demonstrates their understanding of space with fast-moving interior tracking shots; but no film does it better than Airy Me. Imagine seeing the point-of-view perspective of a fly as it is buzzing around hospital and you will have some idea of what this film looks like. It’s difficult to believe that the slightest angle or shift in a different perspective is an entirely new illustration. The fluidity is of such a high level that if it wasn’t for the yellow saturation or anime-looking characters you would forget that it was animated. Overall it is a sad tale of being drugged up in a hospital bed, but the animation and song connect perfectly on an emotional level and is my top pick for the session.

The Story That Might Be A Dream – Miryan Paku. Supposedly near-death experiences make your life flash before your eyes; but is your life really worth holding on to? In five minutes this animation teaches that life really is worth living, so you’re better off not arguing with your loved ones over petty issues like what channel the television is on.

Chu-Chu – Ryoko Tanaka. Continuing with the theme of vivacious colours with a dominant soundtrack, this film stood out for its heavy use of cut-out animation. I would say more about this film but I would just be repeating myself. These films had a lot of the same feel to them yet at the session’s conclusion I just wanted more.


MIAF 2014 DAY 4: International Program #2, South American Showcase #1: Style Guide

24 Jun

International Program #2


The second of the competition programs. In the 5 years I have attended MIAF this would have to be one of the best single sessions of anything I have ever seen. Normally about half the films I tend to forget shortly after seeing them as they leave little to no impression on me, but all 12 films from this program genuinely had something going for it whether it told an interesting story, was visually stunning, had its own unique style, or was out-of-this-world crazy. It was tough, but these are my top picks:

Na Ni Nu Ne No No – Manabu Himeda. Here is your typical Japanese craziness which I adore; however, this film was for some reason edited for MIAF. Na Ni… is normally split into three parts though MIAF only showed the first which involves human bodies with the Japanese characters as heads who dance around until Nu dies, but then comes back to life and dances some more. The crowd still loved it though I wish they could have seen the other two parts as well as the delightful intro to the film.

Resistant Soul – Simone Mass. Beautifully illustrated Italian pencil animation highly affected by war. Mostly black and white with a tiny bit of colour, but full of power.

Big Hands Oh Big Hands, Let It Be Bigger And Bigger – Lei Lei. I love watching Lei Lei’s films. Any artist who has a distinct style to them is commendable in my books, but Lei Lei’s films are so full of colour, humour and flow with a lot of excitement. They almost have this conveyor belt feel to them, and Big Hands… is no exception. Complete with a chorus by Chinese primary school students, these workers at a confectionary factory increase their productivity by having enormous hands.


Land – Masanobu Hiraoka. The best film of the session; this colourful and full of life computer animation is breath takingly beautiful. Not much can be said in terms of story as there isn’t really one there, but it’s so damn beautiful to watch that I will let the film speak for itself.

Wee Willie Winkie – Yusuke Sakamoto. There were a few films in this session that left the audience with a “WTF?” kind of feeling, but nothing more than this film. This beautifully illustrated Japanese film involves a man beating a giant crawfish on the head in the middle of a city street while protesters look on, a man having breakfast with a sexually desirable life-sized fried egg with women’s legs wearing high heels who ultimately turns him into a bird, and a recurring street mime-type person who gazes into the city until he takes a huge bite out of it. Yeah.


South American Showcase #1: Style Guide


Going into this session I was quite sure I had never seen any South American animation before (not including Disney’s The Three Caballeros. Which I don’t even know the amount of South American contribution); a problem easily solved by this festival. By the end I just wanted more. This wasn’t only because I love the Spanish and Portuguese languages, nor did these films have a definite defined style they could call their own, but because they were all interesting. I know that seems like a very general term to use, but it’s the most suitable one – all these films were interesting in their own way that made me want more. Luckily there are two more chances in this festival to get more. Happy days. My top picks were:

Carne – Carlos Alberto Gomez Salamanca. Morbid black & white film combining paint and scratch techniques to produce all-round creepy vibes. The ambient soundtrack and sound effects add to the slaughterhouse feel. And now I am hungry.

At The Opera – Juan Pablo Zaramella. Another film made so perfect by its simplicity. At only one minute in length we see an assortment of audience members in an auditorium crying while beautiful operatic vocals can be heard. More people cry until we see the stage where there is a choir of singing onions.

the me bird

Passages – Luis Paris. Beautiful black & white animation watching a cyclist ride through his neighbourhood. Accordion music accompanies this beautifully serene film.

The Me Bird – Gabriel Kempers, Maria Ilka Azedo. I loved this film from the first nanosecond that my eyes were physically able to comprehend light and images. This is cut-out animation on steroids. Made of up over 3,500 cut-out images, every image we see shrinks into the background and is replaces by a new one giving the illusion of movement. The movements are of a ballerina dancing, and dance has never impressed me this much before. If this film does not impress you then animation is absolutely not your thing, simple as that.

Melbourne Cinematheque- The Youth of the Beast: One Hundred Years of Nikkatsu, week III

25 Jun

Having made over forty films for Nikkatsu studios, Melbourne Cinematheque is closing their retrospective with two films by Seijun Suzuki. Making many Yakuza/mafia B-genre films, Suzuki became more and more interested in the surreal and created an extremely distinct visual style, drawing the ire of the studio which eventually got him fired and black listed for ten years.

Kanto Wanderer (1963) portrays two relationships in one man’s life; his romantic interest in an unattainable woman from his past, and his devotion and contempt to the all-male Yakuza groups of Japan. In a world where honour is everything, Katsuta is thrust into situations where tensions escalate throughout the film, finally coming to a head over a rigged card game.

Made directly after Kanto Wanderer, The Flowers and the Angry Waves (1964) looks at the corruption of honour and tradition in the face of commercialism and modernity throughout early twentieth-century Japanese society. There is a forbidden love story too, adding to the frantic and frenzied plot of one of Suzuki’s least known films.

Melbourne Cinematheque- The Youth of the Beast: One Hundred Years of Nikkatsu, week II

18 Jun

Nippon Katsud Shashin (‘Nikkatsu’ for those in the know) was founded in 1912, making it Japan’s oldest major film studio. With over 3,300 productions to its name Nikkatsu studios has been pivotal in the development of sound within cinema in Japan, helped the emergence of numerous directors, screenwriters, producers, and actors, and worked hard to survive the fallout of World War II. Becoming known for its youth film of the 1950s and crime films of the ‘60s, the studio eventually fell prey to the invasion of home video in the late ‘70s, forcing the company to focus on ‘Roman Porno’- soft-core erotica- before eventually declaring bankruptcy in 1993.
But never fear- Nikkatsu is back! In 2010 a new-look studio was opened and production began on a film series, ‘Sushi Typhoon’.

Home Village (1980) follows the rise of Yoshio Fujimura, a talented young singer noticed by a “society lady” who helps him achieve his dream, and the fall of his maid Ayako who is in love with him. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, the film showcases his love for long takes and the perfect mise-en-scene whilst also incorporating an uncharacteristic (for Mizoguchi) amount of close-ups and montage sequences. Home Village also marks the first use of sound in a Nikkatsu film.

Profound Desires of the Gods (1968) is a culmination of Shohei Imamura’s pre-occupation with the lower strata’s of Japanese society, dominant throughout his work in the 1960s. Set on a seemingly lost and incredibly small island, the film follows the Futori family who are greatly inbred, believe in the Old Laws, and are ridiculed by the other few families on the island. With the arrival of an engineer to build a well, the barely-there truce shatters, sending the island into disaster.

Melbourne Cinematheque: 31 Aug 11: Shinoda Week 3

30 Aug

Taking his cue from Jean-Luc Godard’s use of style and filmic form, Shinoda’s Killers on Parade (1961) exposes Japans ever-growing, post-war fascination with Western culture. The lust and desire experienced by the characters is played out in comic-book styled satire with the figurative and the literal intertwining with the soundtrack and action scenes. Here, a building contractor who wishes to dispose of a journalist who has learnt too much of his unscrupulous business deals hires a band of eclectic assassins to finish her off.

And for the last showing on the Shinoda special is Double Suicide (1969) wherein Jihei, a paper merchant, and Koharu, a geisha, plan their suicides so they may be united in death. The lovers, forced to be separated due to social conventions and class, first appeared in bunraku puppet play in Japanese culture in the 1700s. Here, in Shinoda’s adaption, the characters still exhibit the tendencies of their puppet origins as they are being pulled and manipulated throughout life. Double Suicides juxtaposes Japanese myth and old customs with new wave cinema and modernist elements, enabling the film to resonate with audiences.

This film also signals the end of the Samurai, Assassins, Rebels and Double Suicides that were the Shinoda retrospective of the 1960s. Up next at Cinematheque is a week-long look at pre-code Hollywood.

MIFF Review: Zebraman: Attack on Zebra City

23 Jul

See, this shows why The Green Lantern sucked, and this film does not suck.

Hells. Yeah. This movie is nothing but pure, unadulterated balls-to-the-wall entertainment.

I haven’t seen the first Zebraman, but if there are any people out there in need of a weird Japanese comedy about a school-teacher turned superhero fighting a homicidally-deranged pop star, Zebraman 2 will satisfy. As a sequel I couldn’t say if they’ve stayed true to the spirit of the original, but who cares?  Everything is fairly shallow, they tell you the bits of plot you need, and stripe it with broad lashings of Zen-lite philosophy. It won’t blow your consciousness to hell, but you’ll laugh, which in my opinion is worth more.You don’t need to know a damn thing about the Zebraman universe to get this so I’ll not waste precious words with plot.

Just watch this for fun subversion of Japanese tropes. And awesome outfits. And a giant soul-separating centrifuge. And sexy dudes with great hair. And the Mini-Skirt Police. And proof that comic timing transcends language. This film is great for a number of things, but what it really relies on most is the perfect interplay of restraint and insanity (hey, meta shit right there). I think everyone in the cinema breathed a sigh of relief when potential live-action tentacle rape was averted. As it was the girly crotch shots got more hilariously gratuitous as the film went on, and had this been an American movie it probably would have been offensive instead of funny. Also, best Safe Sex Endorsement ever.

If you’re into that sort of thing, you will have a damn good time if you see this film.


DVD Review: Summer Wars (2009)

28 Apr

By Michael De Martino

(Mamoru Hosoda, 2009, Japan, in Japanese, Science-fiction, 114 minutes)

Time and time again, Japanese anime proves that the field of animation extends farther than that of Disney, Pixar or Dreamworks, and what a marvellous little gem of an example this film is!

Kenji, a 17 year old maths-wizz school student and moderator of the online interactive world, OZ, is asked to stand in as the boyfriend of 18 year old student, Natsuki, for her grandmother’s 90th birthday party. While at the party, Kenji is sent a mysterious numerical code. Kenji cracks the code, thus unknowingly allowing OZ to be hacked, creating a super avatar which takes over the security systems.

At first you wonder why that’s such a big deal, a couple of people lose their account and that’s all, right? Wrong. So very, very wrong.

OZ is much more than a social network or online role-playing game. As it turns out, the world has put so much faith into this program such as major corporation accounts and emergency services contact details. As the super avatar wrecks havoc in the OZ universe, consequences are felt in the real world, growing progressively more disastrous as the program is corrupted.

Aesthetically this film is to the point of masterpiece. Intricately crafted backgrounds with precise detail are illustrated in every frame. From the cute avatars of OZ, to the humanoid characters and rendered sceneries, every aspect of the animation is executed with great precision.

Summer Wars is a very modern film which communicates a powerful statement on the way the rapid expansion of online communities can not only create a global village but also have catastrophic consequences that are much worse than we could ever imagine.

Summer Wars is an elaborately executed and highly enjoyable work of imagination which teaches a powerful message to citizens of our time. The Japanese anime can be very addictive, and this film is an apt example of how the obsession begins. Even so, I recommend this film not only to the animation fans, but to everyone, for it is an overall enjoyable film.


Special features

Special features include a detailed interview with the director, theatrical trailer, TV promotional spots, footage from an exclusive theatrical promo, and interviews with several cast members.

The highlight of these special features is the informative interview from director Mamoru Hosoda. Sometimes learning the inspiration behind a film can add to its appreciation, and this is certainly the case with Summer Wars. Hosoda speaks of his views on the prominent involvement of technology in Japan today, as well as Japan’s culture. This interview alone makes the separate Special Features well worth it.