Festival Review: We Love Anime
Saturday, 26th – Sunday, 27th March 2011
Following the success of the Scotland Loves Anime Festival, which took place last October, the Filmhouse in Edinburgh held the We Love Anime Festival on Saturday, 26th and Sunday, 27th March. Four films were shown; Laputa: Castle In The Sky, King Of Thorn, Summer Wars and Sword Of The Stranger, so the organisers went with a mixture of new releases and old classics (Laputa: Castle In The Sky was originally shown in 1986).
With less fanfare than the Scotland Loves Anime Festival (the list didn’t include this on their weekly round-up and it wasn’t well advertised in the city centre), the event still managed to fill around half of the large cinema and drew both children and adults to the screenings. Those who purchased tickets to all four films received a goodie bag from the sponsors, Uniqlo, which contained two DVD’s, a Uniqlo T-shirt and pre-order coded Uniqlo cards…
Kenji Koiso has a crush on the prettiest girl in school, Natsuki Shinohara, so when he is offered the chance to spend a week in the summer at her grandmother’s house, he jumps at the chance. It soon becomes clear that Natsuki has invited him there under false motives, asking him to pose as her successful fiancé.
Events do not unfurl quite as expected as he unwittingly gets out of his depth when the virtual cyber world Oz becomes infected with a deadly and powerful hacker virus called the Love Machine. Kenji and Natsuki are locked in a race against time to try to prevent the Love Machine from destroying Oz, creating Armageddon in the real world.
The idea of Oz is well explained as an alternate reality where people choose avatars and can complete a range of tasks from virtual shopping to the virtual battle scenes, which form an entertaining part of the movie. The sheer quantity of avatars, which we see in Oz, is testament to the imagination of the animators; the cyber world providing a bubble gum pop contrast to the traditional Japanese world Kenji and Natsuki live in. The concept, although continuing the trend of films such as The Matrix, and the lasting popularity of films such as Tron, feels fresh and interesting – the idea of a cyber world like Oz seems achievable and maybe will be the next step to social networking sites such as Facebook.
The sub-plot of the unrequited romance between Kenji and Natsuki will ring a chord with any teenagers who have found themselves in a similar position and offers many comical moments as the awkward Kenji becomes embarrassed by his feelings. The character of Natsuki’s grandmother also provides a dry sense of humour as she serves a role as a moral compass encouraging family values, traditional Japanese customs and games which later become vital to the success of the protagonists in their thrilling challenge against the Love Machine. The fact that the resolution of a dilemma in a cyber world has been aided by a traditional Japanese lady’s efforts and the chaos which Oz’s failure has on society serves to highlight the negative side of technology. This is counterbalanced in a moving way as Natsuki uses the internet’s power to connect millions of avatars across the world in the final battle.
King Of Thorn
In this sci-fi thriller, Medusa, a deadly virus which turns it’s victims to stone, is spreading. Desperate to preserve some aspects of normal life, a select group of patients are cryogenically frozen by the government, with the hope that they will be woken up when a cure is found. Amongst them is one half of a pair of identical twins Kasumi and American Marco Owen.
The patients wake up to find the cryogenic centre under attack by a mixture of thorn like plants and vicious alien creatures. The small group are puzzled as to why they are awake and try to find a safe escape from the building, fighting off gruesome attacks as members of the group are picked off in gory battle scenes, with the macho Marco becoming the action hero. They soon realise that all is not as it seems as less time has passed than they realised, and the mysterious A.L.I.C.E computer, who was supposed to control their stasis, has been playing her hand in events.
This was definitely a film for those who like their plots complex and their battles blood filled. It doesn’t disappoint in gore and gruesome blood soaked deaths, but the plot, at times, is too confusing, as if too much has been packed in. The similarity to Alien or Predator and other zombie ‘end of days’ films is also unoriginal, whilst the writers clearly took the easy “it was all a dream” escape route to tie up loose ends. At one point, one of the characters even said: “This is too much like something out of a movie, please tell me this is all a dream.”
The film is based on the longer manga series, so perhaps trying to fit all the storylines and characters into a shorter segment has led to a loss of quality. However, the opening graphics are amazing and the initial pace of plot enjoyable. The speed of the growth of the thorny plants and injuries sustained in battle are animated well and there are a lot of gratuitous elements, focusing in on Kasumi’s short skirt and Marco Owen’s muscular attributes, which is amusing.
The decision to show a film at an Edinburgh Anime Festival which referenced a castle in Scotland and in which the twin sisters wear kilts was perhaps a minor reason for showing this film. It did definitely provide a contrast to the simpler plots of the other films at the festival, which focused mainly on one theme of revenge or love, however, by replacing some of the sudden plot twists with a more identifiable human story would have improved the viewing experience. It’s a thriller which delivers on action and suspense, but is a little disjointed and poorly edited.
Laputa: Castle In The Sky
In this innocent tale of childhood romance and swashbuckling adventure, we are introduced to Sheeta as she escapes the grasp of air pirates and falls literally into the life of young miner’s son Pazu, saved by a mysterious crystal as she plunges to earth from the ship in the sky.
Chased by both pirates and a menacing stranger, who has enlisted the help of the army, Pazu and Cheeta embark on an adventure to find Laputa, which according to myth is a castle in the sky of great technological power and advanced people. The troubles that Cheeta and Pazu encounter trying to solve Laputa’s mystery bring the pair closer together, and as they develop feelings for each other, the film becomes a touching coming of age romance as well as a thriller.
Considering it was produced in 1986, the animation still comes across as detailed and complex without seeming dated. The audience were kept laughing, so the sense of humour is also timeless. The innocence of the plot, with even the fight scenes being given a decent injection of humour, makes this a family friendly film with a moving moral tale to match.
There is good use of music for dramatic purposes and the characters of the pirates provide many comic moments. The film itself covers many different locations, so the attention to detail is impressive, especially in the fast moving action scenes, which come across as connecting smoothly – again, considering the date of production, it’s impressive that this is so seamless. There are some interesting graphics, such as the cool robot, and scenes in the air with the pirate ships and Laputa give a futuristic feel.
Laputa: Castle In The Sky made for perfect afternoon viewing and is an uplifting and touching adventure.
Sword Of The Stranger
We are introduced to the young boy Kotaro and his faithful canine companion, Tobimaru, as they flee the monastery they have been staying in as it erupts into flames. They try to find refuge by travelling to a different monastery, but have to forage and scavenge on their way in order to survive.
Hiding in a small wooden house, a stranger with a Samurai sword turns up and ends up saving Kotaro and Tobimaru’s life when some menacing Samurai turn up and try to take Kotaro, injuring Tobimaru in the process. Kotaro pays their saviour, who is a nameless warrior, to give them safe passage to the monastery, but powerful men who work for a Chinese dynasty have decided that Kotaro is needed for a deadly sacrificial ritual and it falls to the nameless warrior to come to the rescue yet again.
Based on a tradition samurai anime story, with loud Taiko drumming to accompany the battle scenes, this film doesn’t leave the viewer feeling as if they have come away with anything shocking or new; however, it is still enjoyable. The battle scenes are expertly animated and the huge block-like blonde haired warrior, Luo Hang, comes across as a terminator figure as he destroys any challenger coming his way in his search for someone worthy of his sword in battle.
The relationship between the nameless warrior and Kotaro is touching and the characters come across as having depth and being well thought out. As the two male protagonists bicker due to their desire to rely on no-one but themselves, but eventually come to emotionally care for each other, it is a good balance to the violence and battle scenes, whilst showing the relationship between male friends, as opposed to a samurai tale based on a love story, is something different
There are some interesting uses of art to provoke reaction, such as blood spattered on snow, a female samurai axing lesser opponents, and samurai being destroyed by their own swords. The film successfully perpetuates the allure of the samurai as an excellent discipline and means of self-defence, as the skill level of the samurai are tested in fights to their deaths. The brooding and mysterious nameless warrior talks of the horrors of battle, but also uses his discipline to save Kotaro and Tobimaru and tries to impart some wisdom on the young boy – this again succeeds in showing a respect for this discipline rather than just focusing on notching up a body count.
It is also refreshing in that despite the plot having interesting turns, which are not easily predictable, the film avoids stepping into the trap of trying to over complicate events and instead relies on the realism of the characters to provide subject matter for thought.
Overall the selection of these four films was a good choice for balance and offered something for every anime fan, whether they wanted a thriller with a twist, a film that both young children and adults could enjoy, a well conceived samurai action thriller, or a futuristic technological suspense drama. The Filmhouse, as usual, were well organised and ensured a decent viewing gap between the films, but it would have been an improvement to have something like the animation stills, which were available for viewing at the Scotland Loves Anime Festival, or perhaps some literature on anime for those who were interested in learning more.
The success of these and other anime events suggests that fans will be able to still enjoy viewing anime in a cinematic experience in Edinburgh and perhaps this will introduce more people to experience this genre of filmmaking. Doubtlessly, there will be another opportunity to experience more anime at the Filmhouse this year, and it will be interesting to see if the listings for the Film Festival in June have any new anime releases on the billing.
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