A list of lesser-seen highlights from the BFI anime season, featuring Belladonna of Sadness by Eiichi Yamamoto, Memories by Katsuhiro Otomo, and Masaaki Inu-Oh of Yuasa
The BFI’s extensive Japan 2021 retrospective – which commemorated more than 100 years of Japanese cinema across a multitude of strands, genres and formats – came to an end in January this year. But a much-loved epilogue will now launch at the end of this week. ‘Animated‘ is a celebration of some of the country’s biggest film exports, and this two-month season of animated programming will see both fan favorites and cult classics hit the big screen in London until the end of May. .
In addition to standard Studio Ghibli rates, including Princess Mononoke and Taken away as if by magic, there are career retrospectives on contemporary authors such as Makoto Shinkai (your name), Mamoru Hosoda (The girl who crossed time) and Satoshi Kon (perfect blue). Female voices include Naoko Yamada’s 2016 film A silent voice, while the “History of Anime” collection is inspired by works dating back to 1917. And obscure cult features and anthologies are mixed with groundbreaking animation landmarks – plus a series of previews showcasing what might to be the next wave of definitive anime works.
Read on to explore a list of five lesser-seen highlights from five different decades, all of which contribute to what looks to be the UK’s anime event of the year.
Director Eiichi Yamamoto, who sadly passed away at the end of 2021, first made a name for himself adapting the works of “manga godfather” Osamu Tezuka for television and film in the 1960s.
Astro Boy remains one of the most successful manga and anime franchises in the world, with over 100 million copies of the original manga series sold. Kimba the White Lion, meanwhile, would later be a considerable and controversial influence on Disney’s hit The Lion King. (Film adaptations of both Japanese franchises can also be found elsewhere in the BFI Anime season lineup.) As the ’70s approached, however, and softcore “pink movies” flooded cinemas with art and drama. Japanese essay, Yamamoto and Tezuka pursued a decidedly different angle – with a trio of the X-rated anime features collected under the banner animerama.
Thousand and one Night (1969) had been a smash hit at the box office; Cleopatra (published as Cleopatra: queen of sex in the USA; 1970) much less. The third and final entry in the series retained the erotic themes and explicit imagery found in its two predecessors, but stepped up the avant-garde experimentation via its use of pastel-hued watercolors and psychedelic dream sequences. belladonna of sadness (1973) was nonetheless a catastrophic financial failure and bankrupted the production studio behind it.
Considered lost for years, this essentially feminist tale of rape, revenge and satanic demons in medieval Europe was lovingly restored in 2015 and enjoys a cult following today. Much of the praise went to its surreal imagery, inspired by Gustav Klimt and impressionist artists, and composer Masahiko Satoh’s symphonic psych-rock and acid jazz soundtrack.
Cult anime filmmaker Mamoru Oshii is best known in the West for his 1995 classic Ghost in the shell – arguably the greatest anime cyberpunk film never made outside of 1988 Akira. His 1989 feature film Patlabor: the movie, however, is an oft-overshadowed highlight that points to the aforementioned two elements with its broken concrete aesthetic, sci-fi overtones, and techno-mystery storyline.
In an imaginary future set in 1999, Tokyo relies heavily on giant industrial robots for a large-scale redevelopment project – until a suspicious flaw coinciding with the unveiling of a new machine model prompts action by a number of “Labors”. The consequence of this, as witnessed during the film’s chaotic opening act, is terror and destruction – and the Tokyo police soon find themselves embroiled in a plot involving a mysterious suicide, a devastating typhoon and heavy symbolism. religious.
Parallels can be found in everything from giant robots to Transformers to the techno-paranoia of classic sci-fi movies 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Terminator. But at the heart of the film is its lively art style – which imbues the dystopias of construction sites with a delirious summer heat, contributing to an evocative atmosphere throughout. The sequel to the 1993 film, also from Oshii, can be found elsewhere during BFI’s Anime season – and is arguably even better.
Speaking of Akira, Visionary director and manga artist Katsuhiro Otomo served as executive producer for this 1995 sci-fi anthology film, which includes three brilliant shorts based on his own manga stories: Magnetic rose, stink bomb and Cannon fodder.
The first, directed by Koji Morimoto (The facilitator), and based on a screenplay by Satoshi Kon (perfect blue), emphasizes HR Giger-esque imagery as a cargo spaceship floats through the cosmos. The ship’s crew are soon lured by a mysterious SOS signal, landing on a satellite housing a lavish mansion filled with banquet halls, lavish decor and lush, rolling gardens – like a psychological horror mystery marrying intrigue of Extraterrestrial and Solaris soon takes place. stink bug then traces the fallout of a viral contagion in a picturesque mountainside town – with nods to dawn of the dead abundantly.
Cannon fodder, directed by Otomo himself, acts as a sort of missing link between Akira and the director’s 2004 steampunk feature, Steamboy (which also feature in the BFI’s Anime lineup). Set in a fortified city of the future lined with giant artillery cannons, where TV propaganda encourages citizens to “shoot and blast with all their might for our nation!”, this short film fetishizes images of steel, industry and militaristic warfare in a plot reminiscent of the dystopian classic 1984.
Director Shunji Iwai is best known for his dreamy live-action works – as the Japanese Academy winner Love letter (1995), and the lyrical, elliptical cult classic All about Lily Chou-Chou (2001). The case of Hana and Alice remains his only animated feature film (it’s actually a prequel to his film Hana and Alice, shot over a decade earlier) – but its innovative style of hybrid animation makes it one of the most memorable works in its canon.
The film is essentially about two high school girls who work together to uncover the truth behind a local tall tale: Alice’s (Yū Aoi) school desk, she learns, once belonged to a boy named Judas who was allegedly killed by the one of the four wives he later married. Eccentric neighbor Hana (Anne Suzuki) helps Alice formulate a plan to find out what really happened to the missing student in this sweet and fun youth drama.
Besides its obvious narrative charm and whimsical score for piano and strings (also by Iwai), it’s the film’s visuals that make The case of Hana and Alice so convincing. The film was created using rotoscoping – a technique in which live actors are filmed and then the footage is replaced or redrawn by animators, resulting in a rich and realistic hybrid style of animation. In Iwai’s film, every scene looks intricate and full of detail – with the addition of pink and purple lens flare that ensures every shot is full of vibrancy and color.
An exclusive preview of Masaaki Yuasa Inu-Oh, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2021, takes place on March 30 at the BFI before a wider release scheduled for May. Set in 14th-century Japan, this historical and musical hybrid adapts the story of a physically deformed dancer (the titular Inu-Oh) dismissed as an “ugly monster” by the townspeople, who dreams of becoming a famous performer. His struggle is shared with blind musician Tomona – whose artistic talents are also overshadowed by her own disability.
Inevitably, the duo became the talk of the town as members of a cutting-edge performing arts troupe (“biwa and percussion like you’ve never heard!” says one reveler) which reinvents traditional lute playing into groundbreaking rock and roll. Tales of warring clans and ghostly folklore are duly brought to life to the sound of heavy riffs and solos (nods to jimi hendrix and Queen, included) in this imaginative love letter to a culturally significant period in Japanese history.