Wednesday, 19 September 2012


Zipangufest's Beyond Anime segment consisted of three short films: all animated, none 'beyond' anything - except belief, in a couple of cases.

Encounters is a shoddy little adventure that looks like it's been shot and edited in a child's bedroom, by a child, in the space of a couple of hours. Featuring Action Men figures in the key roles, it's clearly supposed to be a self-consciously ramshackle, hilariously ironic re-run of any lame anime you care to mention. But since the sole joke is the fact that everything is done with jerky toys, it gets old after about a minute. Unfortunately, it goes on for a further 29.

Next up, The Great Rabbit. Despite its 7 minute running time, this short managed the impressive feat of outstaying its welcome. Simultaneously dismal and baffling.

Thank goodness then for the Svankmajer-esque Midori-ko, the longest of the 3 films, which uses some excellent hand-drawn animation (relatively static, but stylish) to tell the story of a young girl who discovers an extraterrestrial seed pod. The pod hatches what appears to be an alien vegetable but she detects a face on it and it later grows appendages. Analyzed through her handy USB cat scanner, it does appear to be vegetable in composition and everyone who encounters the strange plant-being wants to eat it. This appalls Midori - until she accidentally licks it herself and discovers how delicious it is...

Whether the film is pro- or anti-Vegetarian is quite hard to tell, but it doesn't really matter - some surprisingly grotesque, visceral imagery compliments a weird and wonderful story. Kind of like finding Miyazaki's demented cousin locked in a cupboard under the stairs.

Dir. Keita Kurosaka, 2010 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

To Sleep So As To Dream

It was a rare treat to watch this obscure 80s print under the high vaulted ceiling of London's Cinema Museum as part of this year's Zipangufest. In truth, it's a slight and whimsical piece of work, but sitting there surrounded by movie memorabilia, watching a flickering 16mm projection (complete with mid-film reel change!) made it seem quite special.

The format was apposite: To Sleep So As To Dream is an homage both to the Japanese silent cinema of the 20s and also 50s Film Noir. It centres around an aging actress who hires a hard-boiled (egg-eating) detective and his eager sidekick to find her missing daughter, Bellflower. Since they have nothing better to do, Uotsuka and Kobayashi embark on a gentle mystery tour in search of the elusive Bellflower - who is apparently trapped within an old silent samurai film without ending.

I'm sure it's partly down to my lack of knowledge of Japanese silent cinema (many references no doubt missed), but it's easy to see why To Sleep So As To Dream has been consigned to the celluloid wilderness. It has a very small potential audience and given any other setting I would probably have lost patience with it myself, but Saturday afternoon at the Cinema Museum turned out to be the perfect backdrop for this sleepy nostalgia trip.

Dir. Kaizo Hayashi, 1986