Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Animated Thoughts: Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema 2012

New butterfly
It was November, the weekend before Thanksgiving, so that meant my final vacation of the year was here: the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema.

I left Lansing later than I had planned due to my mother's car being down for repairs. Instead of leaving at my usual 9 a.m. for Waterloo, I stuck around until noon-ish, chauffering Mom around town so she could finish her errands. But, despite the late start, I still made it to the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory about an hour-and-a-half before closing. It worked to my advantage as there was only one other person walking around the Conservatory.

The butterflies were pretty much grouped into two major categories: those who were hanging from the underside of branches, getting ready to sleep for the night, or those who were swarming the feeding stations, looking for that last minute snack before going to sleep. As it was, I got some pretty unique shots and even found a butterfly that I hadn't seen in previous trips (and wasn't listed in their guide).

Butterfly Bowl
My first WFAC ritual completed, I trekked over to Kitchner and checked into the Walper Hotel. Old and creaky, the Walper is a maze of twists and turns that would make any Minotaur proud. Though the rooms are a touch on the cold side, and I was never able to get the room's heater to go beyond 64 degrees F, the Walper is still the easiest hotel to stay at since it's a short five minute walk right up the street to the theatre. After settling into my room, I quickly found a faster route from the elevators and my suite. Then it was off to the Chrysalids Theatre.

For those who are interested in more detailed information about the films that festival curator Joe Chen showed over the festival, their trailers and synopses can be read on the WFAC website. I strongly encourage readers to check out the trailers, then jump over to the WFAC website for more info, and then tracking down these films.

I picked up my festival pass and immediately noted Joe Chen racing around as he performed video and sound checks for the first film. A quick 'hello' was all he had time for before moving onto the next task as time rapidly ran out before the first screening and the theatre lobby filled with festival attendees.

The first film of the screening was "Wolf Children". It was not what I expected. This film was a very touching story about the relationship between a mother and her children--and the sacrifices that she willingly made for her children. I'm not sure that I'd categorize it as slice-of-life, but it came pretty close. The story was about a woman who falls in love with a man who is--for all intents and purposes--a werewolf. They marry, have kids, and then he tragically dies, leaving her to raise two children who are werewolves themselves--with no guidance for raising two kids who can shift between wolves and humans at a moment's notice. This film was an excellent opening to the festival and really hit home. While driving to Waterloo was a nervous rush to see if I could make the Butterfly Conservatory in time, after watching "Wolf Children", I was thankful that I had the morning to spend with my mother and do something special for her.

Directed by Hosoda Mamoru, whose second film was Summer Wars, you can read WFAC's background and director bio here. This is definitely one of those sleeper hits that needs to be in your DVD collection.

The second film of the night "Hells" was... interesting. Honestly, I thought more about the visual style than I did the story. Hand drawn in a 'sketchy style', I wish I had something to compare it to other than one of the films I saw years ago in the "Genius Party" compilation. But the motion was fluid and the characters both interesting and engaging. Personally, I didn't care for their mangling of Christian theology and merging it with Buddhist and Shinto concepts, but, it was written and produced in Japan as a work of fiction. So...

"Hells" went on for a little too long with one 'ending' after another during the climax of the film. But the sketchy drawing style really breathes new life into hand drawn animation coming out of Japan and successfully broke from the traditional anime mold. Given that it was produced by the same studio that created "Redline", I really expected nothing less.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

That night, I was pleased to see that fellow TAIS member Grayden Laing made it out to WFAC. After "Hells" was over we had a great conversation with Joe Chen that insured I wouldn't get back to the hotel until well after 1 a.m. as Joe graciously talked about the current state of the festival and its future direction.

The next morning began with "Babeldom". I initially skipped this film in Ottawa because I didn't find the trailer interesting. Just goes to show you that you can't judge a movie by its trailer. Am glad I saw it at WFAC -- I REALLY liked this film! "Babeldom" was a lot better than I expected. It had this "Waking Life" quality to it but less stream-of-consciousness. There were only two narrators/main characters and virtually no people in any of the shots. Personally, I thought the lack of people and the juxtaposition of live-action shots of architecture with the scientific visualization animations was an interesting choice. As I've been thinking about archeology a lot over the past few months, the concept of future cities built upon past cities drew me in from the start. As the film progressed, I was left wondering if the gulf that separated the two lovers wasn't distance but rather time. I like that. it makes the film more sci-fi. I think it also ties the concepts together a little more tightly as the two lovers from opposite ends of the city (topside and downside) communicated over the gulf that separated them. "Babeldom's" visuals evoked some fond memories of trips taken to unfamiliar cities and museums of science and industry--the architecture flowed from one scene to the next, evoking one memory after another. While a few elements seemed a little out of place, as a whole, I enjoyed this film and put it on my list of films to watch again.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

Next came "Tibetan Dog" a thinly veiled political statement on China's annexing of Tibet and their low-intensity war against the people of Tibet all couched in an Ol'Yeller style story. On its surface, the film is a story about this boy whose mother dies and he goes to live with his father, a doctor, who lives in Tibet. The boy is soon adopted by a golden Tibetan Mastiff who is on a mission of vengeance against the "monster" who is terrorizing the valley. Under the surface though, the story explores the situation between China and Tibet. Interestingly enough, this joint Japanese and Chinese film was produced in both countries in part to skirt the restrictive Chinese laws regarding importing and screening foreign films. I have to wonder if the Chinese censors will recognize the symbolism in the film and if they'll still allow it to be shown in China.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

Afterwards, Joe showed "Arrugas" and it was just as good as I remember from Ottawa. I was very happy to get the chance to see it again.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

The last film of the night was "Blood-C: The Last Dark" by Production I.G. Not bad, but it didn't thrill me too much. Course, I've only seen the original 40 minute "Blood: the Last Vampire" so there were little gaps and scenes that would've made sense if I'd seen the television series. In reality, the only thing that bugged me was the 3d rendering in the final battle sequence. While it was a decent climax to the film, the 2d cel shading just didn't mesh well with the actual 2d hand-drawn characters.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

Saturday's "Anime Mirai" was a four-film compilation showcasing some new directors as Japan searches for the next wave of talent for the anime industry. All-in-all, there was some impressive work there. All four films were decent. The first story "Juju the Weightless Dugong" was about a little girl who wants to play in the ocean with her father, but is repeatedly rebuffed by his job and his fear of swimming.

By far the strongest film out of the four was the second: "Pretending not to see". This was a must-see film about bullying from the perspective of a boy who witnesses a classmate being bullied but is afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals by the bully and his friends.

The third was "Li'l Spider Girl", the story of an antiquarian who inadvertantly unleashes a little girl who is also a half-spider monster. A fun little jaunt with some unexpected little twists, turns, and laughs along the way.

The fourth and final film was 'Buta'. It was okay. A story about an anthropomorphic pig who happens to be a traveling samurai that is afraid of cats. Nothing spectacular, but entertaining for a half-hour. It didn't break any new ground. Just your typical Saturday morning cartoon fare for kids.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

"Marco Macaco" was a cute film. Definitely for the kids. Not my taste, but it did hold my attention. While the character designs, modelling, and sets were basic, the animation was solid, consistent, and unique to each character.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

Unfortunately, "Day of the Crows" wasn't shown due to technical difficulties. So I made my first return visit to Niko Niko instead.

Afterwards, I ended up skipping "Jensen and Jensen" to take a nap as the drafty room at the hotel had left me with the beginnings of a head cold on Friday morning. Though hearing about its simplistic story and level of vulgarity from people who sat through "Jensen and Jensen", I think I probably made the right choice. But since that wasn't the case for "Babeldom", I might track this film down in the future and see for myself whether or not I should've watched it on the big screen at WFAC.

Refreshed and ready for the rest of the evening, I returned just in time to catch 'A Letter to Momo'. The story about a girl who loses her father--whose work took him away from the family for months at a time. This film is about the three bumbling spirits who try to protect Momo and her mother as her father makes the transition from the spirit of the deceased into the family's guardian spirit. "A Letter to Momo" is Production I.G. doing a Miyazaki film and doing it very well. Though thinking about the films I've seen so far, I'm starting to think that the Japanese have serious absent daddy issues!

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

"Library War: The Wings of Revolution" was one of the films I was really looking forward to watching. It was a decent enough film. A little too light-hearted and slow paced for my tastes given the subject matter. I got the feeling that this was meant to be a Patlabor-esque series. The film was taken from a series of light novels,  but I think that there was a lot of information left out. I was expecting a lot more "Ghost in the Shell" and although it didn't deliver on that level of action, the story was interesting enough. Basically, you have two factions in the Japanese government: one that censors media 'in the interest of the public good' and one that protects the lives of authors, librarians, bookstore owners, pretty much anyone who deals with the uncensored sharing of books. All I can say is that this film really needed to be a 13 to 24 episode television series in order to tell the entire story.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

The final film of the night was "Heart String Marionette". Joe made the interesting decision to leave the dialogue turned off and bring in two of the composer/musicians to play the soundtrack live during the movie. I left thirty minutes into the show since I was feeling ill. I hadn't planned on watching this film as the trailers shown on M-dot-Strange's confusing website didn't appeal to me, but I have to say that I'd like to see this film again with the dialogue. While the picture was dark, I found the characters to be expertly animated and liked the masks that they wore. Personally, I think the whole experience would've worked if they had shown the subtitles. On the bright side, for those of us who saw the film at WFAC, M.Dot.Strange provided a code which allowed us to buy the film (and the soundtrack) as a digital download for $5.00. While I've purchased and downloaded the film, it's now on my list of features that I'm going to watch before the year is out. Would be nice to see if "Babledom" is available for purchase, I'd like to do a double-feature.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

I slept in on Sunday morning. Still felt sick, but checked out of the hotel, had breakfast, packed the car and then it was off to "Asura". What a heartbreaking movie to watch. "Asura" takes place during a famine and tells the story of a feral child who commits one of the most heinous sins in Buddhism to survive: he becomes a cannibal. Your heart really goes out this kid though, and even though it is a tragic story, it does have a somewhat happy ending. With great storytelling and solid animation, they used a hybrid 2d/3d cel shading technique that allowed for a 2d look that matched the oriental watercolor backgrounds. The whole technique reminded me of what Disney is doing with 'Paperman'.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

The next film in the lineup was "The Tragedy of Man". Honestly, I'm amazed that I sat through the entire three hour film. It wasn't bad, but was very philosophical... and subtitled. The story was an animated version of Hungary's most famous play which tells the story of Satan and Adam as the devil walks the first man throughout the future history and shows him the consequences of his original sin (all in fifteen minute vignettes). Personally, I liked how the time periods were animated in a visual style appropriate to the particular time period, and that was the greatest appeal of the story for me. While I drifted in and out with the philosophy, I was intrigued with the artistic direction of this film and how it was used to enhance the story and hold the viewer's attention.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

After a quick lunch/supper, it was back to the theatre for "Strange Frame"--a digital cut-out animation that was animated using Photoshop and After Effects, with some 3d animation thrown in where appropriate (like a hilarious robotic cockroach in one of those classic, blink and you'll miss it scenes). The story was pretty simplistic and really didn't do anything for me. I got the impression that the director was attempting a 'Heavy Metal' or 'Metal Hurlant' type of story. It did have very interesting visuals, so I expect to see it, or something like it, on the SciFi channel in the not too distant future.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

Sadly, I skipped the final show of the night: "Rainbow Fireflies". Didn't want to, but as I was sick and had to be at work the next morning, I figured I was better off getting home at 9 p.m. and getting a good night's rest than rolling in at 1 a.m. and having to be at work eight hours later.

Read WFAC's background and director bio here.

As it's now four days later and this head cold is retreating rapidly--and not as bad as they've been in the past--I think the choice to skip a couple shows and get more sleep was a good one. But next WFAC, I'll probably take the following Monday off of work and stay the night just so I won't have to shortchange myself and can see all the films.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Animated Inspiration: Mayfly Justice

Here's a classic example of Bill Plympton's principles of animation by Jimmy Egeland: "Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it funny."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Animated Quotes: Walt Disney

“I can never stand still. I must explore and experiment. I am never satisfied with my work. I resent the limitations of my own imagination.”
~ Walt Disney