This Sunday I had the wonderful privilege of spending my entire day watching animated films in Leeds Town Hall for LIFF 31. From a variety of countries, the line-up consisted of four new animated features and finished with a twentieth anniversary screening of the anime classic Perfect Blue. The films also have individual screenings throughout the rest of the festival, so be sure to catch them while you can.
Lu Over The Wall
This Japanese tale about friendship and mermaids is endlessly charming. Kai, a moody teen, befriends mermaid Lu in a rural fishing town where mermaids have become both legend and curse.
Lu is the most appealing thing about the film; she has boundless enthusiasm and joy which goes against every rumour Kai is told about the mermaids. She befriends everyone, even the stray dog in the kennels which she turns into dog-maid sidekicks early on. The film is so upbeat, utilising music and dancing to great comic effect. It doesn’t pull punches in its emotional moments, though, and is ultimately about unification and community – the kind of film which is needed in this day and age.
The animators clearly had a lot of fun with this film. In this world, mermaids can control water, and they do so by levitating huge glowing cubes of it. They also paid tribute to Studio Ghibli through the character of Lu’s father, a huge anthropomorphic shark in a suit who growls and grumbles to communicate and has a Totoro-level toothy grin to match.
Big Fish & Begonia
Next was this Chinese release from last year which follows Chun, a mystical guardian who takes her first visit to the human world on her sixteenth birthday. Transformed into a red dolphin, she realises the danger of the world and becomes ensnared by a net fence. A human, whilst rescuing her, falls prey to the sea and Chun takes it upon herself to restore his soul to the world.
A sombre coming of age story, this film does not shy away from the scariness of growing up and taking responsibility. Chun is a simple character and her story is a little too basic but easy enough to follow. The richness of this film comes from the world. Only a short time is spent in the human world, and the rest is spent in the guardian realm, exploring all of its secrets. There are some fascinating creatures; a squid-like boatman, a rat-lady who guards the underworld and bipedal cat servants. Visually, it’s a feast.
The animation regularly incorporates 3-D into the 2-D, which can have the effect of distancing the viewer. The wonder of animation is being able to see that the film was made by human hands, and especially with one of the longer run-times of the day, it distracted from full immersion.
A co-production between Canada, Ireland and Luxembourg, The Breadwinner follows young Afghan girl Parvana who disguises herself as a boy to provide for her family. Reminiscent of Persepolis in its use of two types of animation – drawn for reality, cut-out for storytelling – it is a moving film about the impact of war and the power of stories.
Parvana is a strong protagonist who is easy to root for; her bravery and strength drives the story forward, and she learns plenty about herself and the world as she goes. She does everything for her family, and the purity of her quest makes the injustice of the world all the more hard-hitting. Though depicting tough events, the film is one of hope and resilience which deserves to be seen by a wide audience.
A France/Japan collaboration set in the US, the last of the new films screened for Animation Sunday is a comic-book explosion for the big screen. The film centres around Lino, a person of indeterminate age living in a cockroach-infested flat with his friend Vinz, whose head is a flaming skull. Yes, you read that correctly. Along with Willy, a cat-person with braces, the three friends seem to be the only people in this world who aren’t human. And nobody else seems to notice.
That should give you a pretty good idea of the tone of this film; at one point breaking the fourth wall to mock the logic of Vinz’s head staying on fire, the filmmakers don’t take things too seriously and it’s clear that they had a lot of fun on this project. A love of comics is evident, especially the source material.
It may not be to everyone’s taste. There’s Tarantino-level violence which, even in cartoon form, can be unnecessary with excessive use of slow-mo. There are two female characters, one of which is Lino’s mother who only features in one scene and gets no character. The other is the love interest, an intentional anime stereotype (short skirt, crop top, huge hair in pigtails) but with as little character or development as the mother. It’s definitely aimed at a particular male audience, but it’s not so long or so self-referencing that an outsider can’t find some entertainment in it.
The many who have already seen this film in its young 20 years will know exactly what I mean when I say that it’s a mind-bender. The psychological thriller genre lends itself to repeat viewings, and as soon as the film finished, I wanted to watch it again so I could figure everything out more clearly. The combination of a smart script and excellent direction gives you so many clues, and grants the audience enough respect, that you’re left thinking it all over long after the credits roll.
It’s a startlingly prescient film for today. The plot concerns Mima, a pop star who attempts to change her career path to actress. She wants to prove that she’s not just the cute girl everyone sees her as – she has to grow up at some point – but she’s also desperate to make the acting industry take her seriously. Inevitably, she’s exploited, and some scenes are harrowing even in animation – perhaps because of it.
The decline begins, and Mima’s paranoia and mental instability take the film spiralling into the unknown. At 81 minutes, it’s a concise film which doesn’t tire the audience with its complexity, but rather keeps you on the edge right to the last moment. It was the perfect end to an excellent day of films, and I wholeheartedly recommend seeing as much animation in the cinema as possible.
Leeds International Film Festival continues until 16th November 2017. Visit LeedsFilmCity.com to see what’s on. Image source: YouTube.com