– 1/ Koji Morimoto, 2/ Tensai Okamura, 3/ Katsuhiro Otomo
– 1995 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 113m
Executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime anthology adapts three of his dystopian-themed manga stories into animation – out on Blu-ray from All The Anime, Monday, 12th September, details below review
The film that made Otomo’s name and the one with which he’s most frequently associated is Akira (1988). It wasn’t his first film, though. Previously, he was one of nine directors who collaborated on the uneven portmanteau Robot Carnival (1987), a compendium of different animated stories based around robots of various types. One of the other directors was Koji Morimoto.
Memories is loosely similar – it only has three stories (and three directors), allowing each of the segments a bit more room. Its three episodes are very different yet perfectly complement each other. Otomo directed the third section Cannon Fodder.
Parts of the roughly two hour Akira drag, while Otomo’s later Steamboy (2004) gets lost within a massive set piece after a near perfect opening first reel or so.… Read the rest
Director – Mamoru Hosoda – 2021 – Japan – Cert. PG tbc – 121m
A bereaved, teenage girl starts to emerge from her shell when she signs up for a virtual world on her smartphone – out on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, June 27th and 4K UHD Blu-ray including the soundtrack from Thursday, July 7th
‘U’ is an internet, virtual world of high tech, futuristic architecture. When you sign up, you receive your own personalised avatar built from your biometrics. You have the chance to start over in a new world.
Teenager Suzu (voice: Kaho Nakamura) could do with that chance. She lives with her dad (voice: Koji Yakusho from Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda, 2018; The Third Murder, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2017; Pulse, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001; Shall We Dance, Masayuki Suo, 1996; Tampopo, Juzo Itami, 1985) in a small town somewhere in the East of Japan. She doesn’t really communicate with people at her school – not Luka (Tina Tamashiro), the sax player in the school band, not Kamishin (Shota Sometani from To The Ends Of The Earth, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2019; First Love, Takashi Miike, 2019; Foreboding, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2017; The Boy And The Beast, Mamoru Hosoda, 2015; Himizu, Sion Sono, 2011) who set up the canoe club but hasn’t been able to attract any members, not Shinobu (Ryo Narita) who proposed to her – well, told her he wanted to protect her – when she was six.… Read the rest
Director – Naoko Yamada – 2016 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 130m
Groundbreaking and innovative Japanese drama about school children, bullying, remorse, isolation and self-loathing – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now in the Special Programmes section (A Special Screening for the Hard of Hearing)
Egged on by Naoka Ueno (voice: Yuki Kaneko) then later shunned by classmates for his bullying of new girl in class Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami), who happens to be deaf, Shoya Ishida (Miyu Irino) stops interacting with them and withdraws. This is represented onscreen by the extraordinary graphic device of an ‘X’ over the faces of his fellow schoolmates whenever they appear. It’s a very powerful way of expressing his isolation. Five years on, wrecked with guilt about his treatment of Nishimiya, he learns sign language and decides to befriend her and to make amends…
This film may well broaden your idea of what animation is capable. It’s nothing like Disney and equally it’s light years from Japanese SF action fest Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988) although it likewise started life as a manga and concerns teenagers.… Read the rest
With the BFI’s long-promised Anime season finally under way, here are some highlights. At BFI Southbank through April and May 2022.
Anime is the Japanese word for animation: here in the West, the term has been co-opted to refer to animation produced in Japan, and there’s an awful lot of it. Further titles will be added below as the season progresses. Click on the links for full reviews. Scroll down for booking info and screening times.
Memories (1995). Executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime anthology adapts three of his dystopian-themed manga stories into animation. One is scripted by Satoshi Kon. Akira may be widely considered Otomo’s masterpiece, but for me, the more collaborative Memories is at least its equal – if not a better film altogether. Tragically, it never had a UK theatrical outing. However, if I were to recommend one film in this season, this would be it.
Perfect Blue (1997). Satoshi Kon‘s feature debut is a multi-layered, identity crisis psycho thriller which redefines the boundaries of animation, Japanese or otherwise.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003). Satoshi Kon delivers a Christmas movie with a difference. Three homeless people – a drag queen, a hard drinker and a runaway teenage girl – find an abandoned baby at Christmas and resolve to return her to her parents.… Read the rest
This opens with a nativity play to an audience of what one initially presumes to be admiring parents, a perception rapidly revised with the realisation that what is on offer is a programme of ‘nativity play, sermon, dinner’ for Tokyo’s homeless, with the first two items something to endure in order to access the much wanted third one. Any thought that the film is going to deal with religion is however swiftly dismissed with the introduction of three homeless characters holed up in an empty house containing a piles of discarded and bagged up goods, one of which turns out to contain an abandoned baby.
Teenage runaway Miyuki (voice: Aya Okamoto) has fallen in with two men old enough to be her father (if not her grandfather) who look out for her: the cross-dressing Miss Hana (voice: Yoshiaki Umegaki) and the hard-drinking Gin (voice: Toru Emori).… Read the rest
Director – Katsuhiro Otomo – 1988 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 124m
Manga artist turned director Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk classic returns to the big screen in a brand new 4K IMAX print – plays in the BFI Japan 2021 season in December and the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Waterloo IMAX #AKIRA4K
When Akira first appeared in the UK at the start of the nineties, Disney was busy reinventing the animated cartoon as a platform for the Broadway musical (Beauty And The Beast, Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1991; The Lion King, Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers, 1994) and there were debates about whether comics (or ‘graphic novels’) could be created for adults as well as kids.
As so often in technology and media, Japan was ahead of the game. Otomo had published his long-running comic book or manga Akira in 1982 and turned it into a feature six years later, challenging widely held Western notions of what animation was. You could make SF in movies (Voyage To The Moon, Georges Méliès, 1902) and you could make serious SF (2001, Stanley Kubrick, 1968), but animation was strictly for kids, at least in the English-speaking mainstream, and that as what Disney did.… Read the rest
During a gig by girl pop trio CHAM, one of its three singers Mima announces her decision to quit the band. Her intention to pursue an acting career is a move designed to both help her escape the inevitable waning popularity of the pop idol and make the public take her more seriously than they would the innocent girl they perceive her pop idol / persona to be.
Her agent, a former pop idol herself, expresses concern when Mima is first required to play a rape scene in her new daytime TV soap Double Bind and second to pose nude for a photographer. But there’s worse to come for Mima as an internet fan page starts to chronicle an idealised version of her life and a series of bloody corpses start piling up in her wake.
Although it plays like an Argento or De Palma Hitchcockian thriller, Perfect Blue is in fact a cel animated, subtitled Japanese affair that once and for all kills off widespread misconceptions about animation – it’s neither for kids, nor cute, nor simplistic.… Read the rest
Director – Mamoru Oshii – 1995 – Japan, UK, US – Cert. 15 – 83m
A cybernetically rebuilt, female, government agent and her male sidekick pursue a mysterious computer hacker known as The Puppet Master through Hong Kong – Digital IMAX version plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank
Review originally published in What’s On In London in 1996.
Ghost In The Shell is the first (and hopefully not the last) anime feature to be jointly financed by America, Japan and Britain (our very own Manga Entertainment). Although superficially pigeonholeable as teenage boy’s market material (nothing wrong with that per se), Ghost is considerably more intelligent than that implies. Its plot is highly complex: suffice it to say that cybernetically rebuilt female agent Kusanagi and male sidekick Bateau are pursuing a mysterious computer hacker known as The Puppet Master through Hong Kong.
Kusanagi, who makes her first appearance stripping off her clothing, jumping off a skyscraper roof and crashing through a window below to riddle a criminal pleading “diplomatic immunity” with bullets, employs thermoptic camouflage which renders her invisible to the naked eye in a matter of seconds. It’s an impressive touch, additionally furnishing such great moments as a fugitive ankle-deep in an urban canal suddenly finding himself hit, gripped and thrown around by an invisible assailant.… Read the rest
Director – Hayao Miyazaki – 2001 – Japan – Cert. PG – 125m
A shorter version of this review was originally published in Third Way for UK release date 12/09/2002. At which point, hardly anyone in the UK outside of anime fandom knew who Miyazaki was.
In director Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, a ten-year-old girl must survive a bathhouse run by demons after her parents are turned into pigs – now showing on Netflix (subtitled / dubbed) and can also be seen in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank (subtitled / dubbed for family screenings)
To discover the films of Hayao Miyazaki – and those of his company Studio Ghibli (pronounced “Jib-Lee”) – is like suddenly being exposed to those of Disney without prior knowledge of their sheer number or quality. In Miyazaki’s native Japan, Spirited Away shattered box office records to succeed Titanic as the most lucrative movie of all time. In the US, it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature while making only modest inroads into the marketplace. Britain, however, is not the US and it may well fare better here than it did there.
Previous Miyazaki outings have covered children’s experience of the countryside (My Neighbour Totoro, 1988; one of this writer’s favourite films of all time), a young girl’s learning to find her way in the world (Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1989) and conflicting loyalties among pilots in interwar Europe (Porco Rosso, 1992).… Read the rest