Thursday, April 9, 2015

Robot Carnival (1987)

Title: Robot Carnival (1987)

Directors: Atsuko Fukoshima, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Hiroyiki Kitasume, Koji Morimoto, Takashi Nakamura, Yasuomi Umetsu, Manabu Ohashi, Hidetoshi Omori, Katsuhiro Otomo

I love anime movies, the problem with some of them is that sometimes they are so hard to get! Take for example Robot Carnival (1987), the film I’ll be discussing today. It’s an amazing animated film that I’m sure any anime fan would love to have in their collection, yet it to this day it hasn’t be released on dvd or blueray, and the only way you can see it is either by buying a bootleg copy with bad resolution, or you seeing it the way I did, on You Tube. Now normally I never watch movies on You Tube because to me it’s a travesty having to see a movie that way, but sometimes it’s the only way to see them, specially the more obscure ones. So anyhow, I finally got around to seeing Robot Carnival which was recommended to me by my good friend Sci-Fi Fanatic over at Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic, where he wrote this amazing article on abunch of anime films, some of which I have not seen yet. Robot Carnival was one of them. Of course I immediately searched this one out and well, here are my thoughts on it.

Robot Carnival is an anthology film composed of seven stories from seven different anime directors. Anthology films can be cool precisely because of this, because we get to see different stories, with different tones, themes and styles. Japanese animation director’s love making these anthology films, there’s a ton of them and I have to say, I’ve enjoyed all of the ones I have seen. I’d recommend checking out Memories (1995), which includes three animated shorts; one of them from Katsuhiro Otomo, the director of Akira (1988) called ‘Cannon Fodder’, great animation on that one. On Robot Carnival the stories are as diverse as they are entertaining and thought provoking. Some stories are simply an exercise in style, others are filled with sentiment. The one thing that holds these shorts together is that they are all about robots.  In the end Robot Carnival is one big mash up of great animation, it actually gathers an amazing group of animators, some of which went on to make milestones in the world of animation, like the aforementioned, Katsuhiro Otomo who went on to direct Akira (1988) and Steamboy (2004), two amazing anime films I urge you guys and gals out there to see at some point. Other animators who participated on Robot Carnival worked on films like The Animatrix (2003) and Blood: The Last Vampire (2000), so we have an amazing pool of talent on Robot Carnival.

So what is Robot Carnival about? Well, since it’s an anthology film it’s about a lot of things. But for starters, the film opens with these huge stone letters coming out of a dune in the dessert. When we take a good look, the letters spell the words “Robot Carnival”. Soon, from the letters, guns appear and start to shoot fireworks, then, an orchestra appears that starts shooting lasers out of their trombones. Suddenly we realize that this awesome fireworks display and these huge stone letters are really the title sequence announcing the opening of the film! As if saying, “Here’s our big Robot movie check it out! It’s going to be spectacular!” And that it was. It seemed to me like what these directors were doing was showcasing their artistic and storytelling abilities, showing the world what they are made of. You can tell that with each different short, the directors were trying their best to create a visual feast, something dazzling to look at. This is probably why a lot of the shorts don’t have a lot of story to them, in fact some of them don’t even have dialog, they simply focus on amazing us with the visuals, a quick jolt of coolness. In this way, it's a bit like Disney's Fantasia (1940). On the other hand, some shorts on Robot Carnival are thought provoking and even introspective; others cram so much story into them, that you feel like you’ve fallen right smack in the middle of a movie already in progress.  So as you can see, tones, themes are stories will jump all over the place, which is what’s cool about anthology films. So now, I’ll break down the shorts for you guys:

Star Light Angel -  is about these two girls who go to an amusement park filled with robots. One of the girls ends up falling for a guy in the amusement park who just so happens to be a guy that ends up turning into an evil giant robot. Then a good robot comes to save her and it felt a bit like an animated version of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), with the good robot boyfriend vs. the evil giant robot ex boyfriend. It's a lighthearted short, filled with lots of colors and mostly happy moments. 

Cloud - is a very ‘artsy fartsy’ short, very symbolic in nature. I took it as a robot watching the history of mankind unfolding in front of its very eyes, from our birth, to our own self destruction, then to rebirth.

Deprive - has a hero, a girl in peril and evil alien robots taking over the earth. This short goes at a million miles per second, blink and you’ll miss something, but it’s cool stuff happening all the time. We get aliens, tentacled robots, lasers and the earth saved all in the course of a few minutes.

Franken’s Gears - is a homage to Frankenstein. In this short a mad scientist creates a giant robot in his dark laboratory. At first he thinks it’s not alive but after a few switches are flipped, lightning strikes and voila! The robot is alive! The robot begins to imitate its creator. Will this be for the good of the mad scientist? Or will it be his doom? Visually striking, loved this one.

Presence - This one also has an inventor working on a robot, this time in a secret secluded cottage in the middle of the woods. He ends up having conversations with the robot who expresses her desire to go out into the world and experience life. She reminded me of the robots from Blade Runner (1982), asking for life. It’s one of those stories that touches upon the idea of robots outliving their own creators. 

A tale of Two Robots Chapter 3: Foreign Invasion - is ‘steam punkish’ in nature because it’s all about two giant wooden robots fighting in the middle of a city, but not in modern times. It’s a period film, set in the 19th century, but with machinery that runs on steam. It’s visually impressive, what with giant wood robots walking about the city and all, yet it is also light on themes. It feels like we are watching a small part of a larger story.  

Nightmare - Is the darkest and most apocalyptic of all the shorts, it takes place in a darck city, as giant robots roam about the streets. Lightning bolts destroy the city and robot armies are formed, as humans run away from the chaos, trying to survive. This short is all about The Human vs. The mechanical. It has no dialog and gives lots of emphasis to mixing music with visuals. Very atmospheric and gloomy.

Then the film ends with another ‘wrap around’ story that ends the film with a bang. Robot Carnival is a great anthology film, a display of awesome talent in the field of animation. You’ll never feel bored because you’ll always see something different. You can tell this film was made by artists, its main emphasis is on creating striking visuals. So from that angle, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re looking for a deep film, look elsewhere, because you’ll get depth only from a few of the shorts, the rest are eye candy, which is a good thing as well. Some films are meant to be enjoyed solely for their escapism. If you’re a fan of anime, science fiction and robots, you should definitely check this one out.

Rating: 4 out of 5


SFF said...

Ha. Thanks Franco!
Such a nice surprise.
Thanks for the kind words - likewise.

So I wanted to tell you I loved your remark about YOU TUBE. It is a "travesty" to have to watch something that way. I agree.

Some good news, Robot Carnival is getting a DVD release in 2015. No date set yet but it is scheduled.

I love your reflections on the opening sequence "Here's our big robot movie..." Hysterical and true.

So enjoyed your observations and great point about Fantasia. It is like the Japanese anime version conceptually to an extent.

It is a dazzling visual feast indeed. And should be taken as such in terms of sheer enjoyment. Well said.

Great surprise coverage of Robot Carnival! Gracias.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, I just had to write a review about it, I was enjoying it so much. And thanks for the article you wrote on all those animated films, I'll be catching up with a lot of those...recently had the pleasure of watching Neo-Tokyo...all I can say is wow! Review up for that one soon as well. Dying to see Short Peace.

Thanks for the info on the upcoming dvd release of Robot Carnival...can't wait to have it in my collection, right next to Akira and Ninja Scroll.

SFF said...

Amen. All those you mention. Gems

LLJ said...

Yeah, Discotek Media, the company that's going to release Robot Carnival on DVD, specializes in a lot of older anime series and movies, like the 1983 The Professional: Golgo 13 anime flick and the Space Adventure Cobra movie. They're a good company to keep tabs on, although they don't release a lot of stuff on blu-ray yet, unfortunately.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for the info LLJ, I'll look into that company, I love cool old stuff like Robot Carnival. I've been meaning to watch that Space Adventure Cobra movie...I've read a bit about it and it sounds like I'd enjoy it. Just saw Space Captain Harlock...blew me away!


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