Friday, August 7, 2015

Short Peace (2013)

Short Peace (2013)

Directors: Katsuhiro Otomo, Shuhei Morita, Hiroaki Ando, Hajime Katoki

The more I dig into the world of anime films the more I find, sometimes I find treasures, and sometimes I find pieces of coal that need to be refined. You know how that goes, one film leads to another! Case in point, while exploring Japanese animated anthology films like Robot Carnival (1987) and Memories (1995) I learned that Katsuhiro Otomo the creator behind Akira (1988) was involved in directing one of the shorts in yet another animated anthology film called Short Peace (2013), so of course I was salivating at the prospect of seeing this film, the talent involved is composed of masters in animation.  I went into this one knowing next to nothing about it save for Otomo’s involvement, so this one could go either way. It could be a treasure or a piece of coal. So which was it?

Short Peace is composed of four stories that are connected by one theme and one theme alone: Japan. It was kind of tricky for me to grasp what held these four tales together, but the fact that they all take place in Japan and that that they all seem to focus on Mount Fuji when they end kind of led me to this conclusion, also because nothing else joins these stories together, they are quite disparate in nature. Reading up a bit about the film, they focused in Japan during different eras, so one takes place during feudal times, one is in the future, one is in the present, but the one that takes place in the present is actually a video game, because part of the marketing scheme for this anthology was to also release a video game along with the film.

Sadly I didn’t really fall in love with this anthology like I did with Memories (1995), Neo Tokyo (1987) and Robot Carnival (1987). My main problem with it was that the stories are not very engaging. Short stories should get to the point quickly; they should give us a lot of information in a very short time but with a quick jolt to the system. Now when you simplify the story to the point where there’s not enough meat to the short, well, you’re left with a short that you don’t connect with because it’s too simple, it feels like padding, like you are stretching it for running time. On Short Peace the stories are either too simple and end abruptly without proper closure. Short films aren’t meant to leave you hanging, they should start and end and tell their story all within their 20 to 30 minutes of running time; sadly that doesn’t always happen with the short films in Short Peace. To me they were very uneventful in a way.

Now this is not to say that the animation isn’t astounding, quite the contrary, on a visual level the film is solid. It’s the content that needed a bit more beefing up; it needed more weight to it. As it is, with some of the shorts here you’ll feel like you walked into a movie already in progress and by the time they end you’ll feel like you left the theater without seeing the ending. Take for example Katsuhiro Otomo’s ‘Combustible’ a short film about a young man who always wanted to be a fire extinguisher in ancient Japan. Technically speaking the short is impressive because it’s animated in a way that it looks like ancient Japanese scrolls, which is extremely interesting from a  visual angle. It’s a tragic love story that builds up to something, yet ends up never delivering, leaving you without closure. Suddenly, boom, it’s over. What happened to everybody and everything? Combustible had potential, but failed to deliver in my book. And this was the segment directed by Otomo! It was the one I was most looking forward to! And while innovative from a visual stance, story wise it was missing a lot. 

The film isn’t a total loss because there were two stories on it that I enjoyed a lot. The one called ‘Possessions’ was actually nominated for ‘best animated short film’ and it’s about this traveler who is walking around the forest when a storm breaks out and he has to shelter himself in this little hut, which just so happens to be haunted. This one was visually stunning, with a very unique look. They used computer generated images which were made to look like traditional animation. The whole idea behind this short is that old, used things are requesting their validity in this world. Suddenly a bunch of old umbrellas come to life, piles of garbage become steam spewing dragons and a piece of silk cloth becomes possessed by the spirit of a woman. Here’s a simple story that gives us everything we need, a beginning, a middle and an end and we’re left happy because the short says something and it entertains. Also, the colors on this one are beautiful. This short was awesome all around.  

The other one I loved was the one called ‘Gambo’ which is, again, a simple story about this small village that’s being attacked by a giant red demon that starts killing villagers and the soldiers who are trying to stop him. Thankfully, there’s a giant white bear who serves as a protector to this village and so at one point it’s all about Gambo the white bear vs. The Red Demon. I liked the concept of this huge white bear serving as a protector to this small village, he seems like a pure, gentle soul that at the same time won’t hesitate to rip your throat out if need be. This short is awesome looking because it has this sketchy vibe going for it and also because it has this one really gory, gory scene which just went on forever. Gambo proved one thing again, this film is composed of pretty visuals with not a whole lot of meat to them.

The last story in the anthology is the one called ‘A Farewell to Weapons’ and it’s about these Japanese soldiers who go around deactivating old weapons from an ancient bygone war. Their job is to go in, deactivate and collect old war robots. Technically speaking it’s an awesome short, the animation has a unique look and the designs are awesome, especially those suits the soldiers wore? With all their technical gadgetry, they reminded me of the suits in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. On this short there are a lot of explosions, a lot of lasers and gun shots, but sadly it doesn’t feel like an important story. It just feels like a day in the life of these soldiers. It has a pacifist message which didn’t go unnoticed by this viewer; it’s just that I didn’t care much for anything that was happening in it. It felt like I was seeing a scene from Call of Duty or something, only I wasn’t playing it. Personally, there’s nothing more boring to me then following soldiers around, I don’t know, I expected something more exciting. This one was sort of boring in a way, worst part is they end the movie with this one, so the film ends on this boring short. 

So yeah, I guess you could say I was half way disappointed with this one. I mean, Katsuhiro Otomo equals excellence to me, so I expect nothing but the best in terms of production value, which is what I got here, a good production. But I do think that producers should request excellence in the writing as well the visuals or else we get an anthology that’s half cooked, missing in one department. Stories should have some weight to them, if they don’t simply entertain us, then they should move us and entice us, and not just in a visual level. On the other hand, this is a very Japanese film, perhaps there are certain aspects of their culture I’m not connecting because of that? Yet, if that was the case, why haven’t I had a problem with any other number of Anime films I’ve seen recently? Films tend to play with universal themes that we can all connect with, no matter what part of the world they are from. Sadly, as evidenced by some of the stories on this short film, blandness is also universal. This is not the worst anime anthology I’ve seen, it’s a quality production with beautiful visuals and animation, there’s no denying that. It just needed to be more engaging. So it’s the classic case of style over substance.  

Rating: 3 out of 5     


Sergei Kolobashkin said...

This is a nice collection of shorts, but these days Japanese studios don't push their stuff as hard as in the 90s for example. The stories are bleached and toned down to find more crowds to please.

Franco Macabro said...

I enjoyed the animation and it isn't "bad" it's just a bit "meh". By comparison, all the other Japanese anthologies I mentioned before are superior in both themes and visuals, still, it's a good collection, well produced and with top notch animation techniques.

Roman J. Martel said...

Hmmm, sounds intriguing. I've never heard of this one, and as you said the talent assembled is impressive. I'll keep my expectations in check when I give it a viewing. Hopefully that will help.

Franco Macabro said...

It's worth watching because of the visuals, but if you want to check out a superior anime anthology, I highly recommend Memories.

SFF said...

I was thrilled to see your coverage here of Short Peace. I look forward to seeing the juxtaposition of my own write up in the future and where we share common ground and where we part company if at all.

Sadly, three stars does seem disappointing, while three stars seems quite generous for your Fantastic Four review.

Having said that, while FF has been pounded by critics and reviewers I suspect your take is quite accurate and fair knowing you. Cheers.

Franco Macabro said...

Looking forward to reading your take on Short Peace! It wasn't bad, but I really didn't fall in love with it. Usually a three is the rating I give to films that I neither hate nor love, but of course, the general consensus on Fantastic Four is that it reeks, people have decided that they want to hate it.

Franco Macabro said...

By the way, I've reconsidered my rating for Fantastic Four, 2 1/2 is a bit more accurate I'd say.


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