Leeds Film Festival 2016 Day 1

It's the Leeds Film Festival yet again, and as is the case these days, my pickings are slim and based around a limited free time available.  Ms. Plants has kindly taken off to her parents for a day so I can Indulge a little bit, and what better date than the festivals' now-familiar Animation Day.

Belladonna of Sadness (Jpn) (wiki)

This dated anime has been restored, digitized and is about to be released on DVD for the first time.  Based on the book La Sorcieré, it re-imagines the struggles of Joan of Arc against a tyrant king and a very phallic devil, who comes to her aid as she is abused and abandoned by the other villagers and even her husband, whose descent into uselessness comes with all too little pressure.  Sensing a soul that is more resistant to his charms than usual, the devil offers power and revenge in return for her body and soul, and a place at his side to rule over the world.  With enough pressure, he knows that anyone can be tempted.

1973 is a long time ago, and I suspect director Eiichi Yamamoto's budget for such a psychedelic and downright erotic animated film may well have been curtailed somewhat.  Mix that with the minimalist tendencies of the time to animate, the audience is forgiven for needing a little time to adjust to the largely static scenes.  Don't get me wrong, there is some beautiful (and provocative) imagery here, but on our modern-day diet of fluid animation and big budgets, I'm not surprised at the scoffing and shaking of heads I noticed from some of the other theatergoers on leaving.

Once you do, and accept the storytelling style, it is actually quite an enjoyable, even coherent film that I was glad I got to see.  The art style is much more European than east-Asian, the static watercolour drawings playing out like scrolling tapestry pages from a book, and and save for the dialogue (they don't even attempt lip-sync) you wouldn't think it came from Japan, and the script explores enough of the world it creates to not feel like all show and no substance, although quite how close it is to the novel I have yet to find out.  In short, go (it's being released in a few places as well as at Leeds to mark it's overdue release) but reset your expectations before you do.  6/10

Father and Daughter (Bel) - Michaël Dudok de Wit, the director of The Red Turtle, also made this film which was shown with gushing praise by LIFF director Chris Fell, who said that Isao Takahata, the Studio Ghibli director who brought de Wit's creation to the big screen considered it to be 'the best animated short film of the 21st century so far'.  While I would not go that far, it was cute and sweet and had a few feels as lonesome daughter awaits the return of her missing father, her life passing all too quickly while she watches and waits. 7.5/10

The Red Turtle (Jpn/Bel) (official site)
Out of the blue, a new Studio Ghibli film appears!  Kind of, anyway.  The first co-production with a non-Japanese studio (in this case, Belgium-based ), The Red Turtle is the fruits of the efforts between director Michaël Dudok de Wit and the passion of aging Ghibli director Isao Takahata, who upon seeing de Wits' earlier works, felt compelled to help him bring a larger work to a bigger audience.

It's a dialogue-free story of a shipwrecked man who by stroke of luck washes up on an island.  Food and fresh water are plentiful, but his determination to leave sets him on a losing streak; each time a flimsy raft is created and he sets sail for land proper, he is attacked by a large, red turtle and with increasing despair has to swim ashore through the fragments of broken hull.  When he spots the turtle coming ashore he takes the opportunity for revenge, an action which changes his outlook on the island forever.

From the red-tinged Ghibli logo, you can tell this is going to be a little different to what we normally see from the studio.  The art style, while typically Ghibli-realistic, is more pastel and muted, and the character faces are far more European in style, reflecting the work of de Wit rather than Takahata or Miyazaki.  This is no bad thing.  The quality is as high as anything the studio has produced, and blends hand-drawn and computer generated elements very nicely.  For a character spending much of the film alone creating rafts, it moves along with entertaining pace and rarely feels to be dragging.  I did feel occasionally trapped between the realistic and fantasy aspects of the film as if sometimes they didn't quite sit perfectly with each other in the same picture, but mostly I was entertained and charmed and surprised myself by the feels I had at the end.  8/10

Cameraperson (US) (wiki)

Dirctor Kirsten Johnson has done her fair share of documentary filmmaking, most notably with Michael Moore in Faranheit 9/11 but also a raft of other films you are unlikely to have head of.  Many have their place either in the US or the Middle East, covering injustice and war, with a particular theme on what the victims of the atrocities in question did afterward.  This film, she describes as 'a memoir' of her film-making career, and is in total a selection of roughly-shot out-takes from the cutting room floor from the last 20 or so years of her career.

It has a 'behind the scenes' look about it, offering clips taken randomly from a roulette of her films, some of which are quite benign and ordinary and probably have some unsaid emotional value to the director, whereas others are given just enough context so you know that what you are seeing is pretty heavy stuff.  The ratio of the former to the latter is enough to maintain interest, and it was like watching an overview of several documentaries together for those who don't have the time to spend on them all.  Family life made this an appealing prospect.  7/10

A Silent Voice (Jpn) (wiki)

A final anime for the evening is a surprisingly touching story of school bullying and the aftermath as both protagonist and victim grow out of their childhood selves and reflect on their actions.  Shōko is a quiet, deaf girl moving to a new area and school, while carefree Shōya has the lay of the land, knows his position high up on the classroom pecking order, and is increasingly bored and restless with school life.  Sensing the growing disquiet about the special provisions paid to this new interloper, he gives into the temptations of teasing increasingly meted on the poor girl, to help pass the time.  Boundaries are pushed and teasing becomes outright abuse, until Shōko finally leaves.  As the teachers look for a source of the trouble and the clique of classmates turn on each other, Shōya becomes scapegoat, and is himself ostracized.

Filled with remorse, and suffering several miserable years in high school, he eventually bumps back into Shōko and attempts to make amends, but a life unaccustomed to considering the feelings of others presents many challenges.

Beautifully animated, though more stylized for my liking (and very occasionally falling into the fanservice trap) it handles both the wide subject of bullying from both viewpoints and the treatment of deaf people as human beings rather well and with satisfying depth.  In particular I found the inclusion of realistic sign language gestures by the characters to be novel for animation and also the amount of time spent ensuring the gestures were detailed and accurate as well really good.  Strangely, I found that relatively small detail one of the things that elevated the film above a sludge of identikit anime melodramas.

The only thing letting down A Silent Voice was it's stodgy attempts to resolve the story in the final third, where the gang of characters - all hating or liking or just hanging out with each other - had to work things out and purge the guilt.  It may have been down to the Japanese culture of excessive apologetic and a desire not to offend, but they took their bloody time saying sorry time after time.  Chopping out ten minutes or so would have tidied it up nicely and stopped it feeling bloated. 7.5/10


Plant pot said...

A Silent Voice.

grade miners reviews said...

your statement makes my day and i have decided to read your whole post and A final anime for the evening is a surprisingly touching story of school is really amazing story.