By Jesse Betteridge, Organizer
While Japan sees the release of dozens of their domestically animated films every year, it is only within the back half of this decade that we have seen many of these anime films released with a great degree of consistency and commitment in North American theatres. While most screenings tend to be one or two days screenings, companies like GKids, Eleven Arts, Azoland Pictures, Funimation and Sentai Filmworks have discovered that there is a steady demand for theatrical anime features boasting a rotating variety of genres and styles – even those not connected to existing popular franchises.
Unfortunately, because much of this strategy relies on high population density and the participation of US-only exhibitors like Fathom Events, a significant number of these films are not reaching theatre-goers in Vancouver, or even Canada as a whole. Our hope is that Anime Day at VIFF Vancity Theatre will help to fill this void and provide a focused effort to expand the local offerings of new and classic anime films.
When looking at anime films from the last year, Penguin Highway is all too obvious a choice to have represented in this line-up. While the film is essentially a charming coming-of-age story featuring reliably marketable critters, its oddities and unconventional mystery far outweigh its initial premise. This may be unsurprising once you learn that it is based off of a novel (now available from Yen Press) by Tomihiko Morimi, who also wrote the original novel of “The Night is Short, Walk on Girl.” Anyone who caught one of the screenings of Masaaki Yuasa’s film adaptation of that story last year should know full well to expect baffling and unpredictable plot developments and setpieces that simply defy explanation.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Penguin Highway is that it is not only the debut of Hiroyasu Ishida as a film director, but also the first feature length film that he has worked on at all. He had humble beginnings with YouTube shorts such as Fumiko’s Confession, which might show how cinematic sensibilities can be honed in many categories of anime production.
One film that did not make the circuit in Vancouver (and most of Canada, for that matter) is Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn, which is also being presented at this event. It is the first of two films retelling the story of the highly regarded 2017 TV series, itself an adaptation of Akihito Tsukushi’s manga. Made in Abyss is a bit of a puzzling beast, masking a near-literal journey into the depths of hell with a deceptively childlike aesthetic. When I say “deceptive,” I mean Made in Abyss is not a franchise recommended for children. Following an energetic 12 year old joined by her amnesiac robot friend in search of her mother whom she believes is waiting for her at the bottom of an enigmatic chasm, this first film only begins to allude to the nightmarish and grotesque horrors that will be afflicted on them in the lower levels of the “Abyss.” While not necessarily for the squeamish, the world of Made in Abyss only grows more fascinating as it becomes more horrifying, which comes more into play in the upcoming second film, Wandering Twilight. A third film, beginning an entirely new chapter not seen in the TV series, is expected to be released in 2020.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time offers a rare treat in the form of a very strong English language dub produced by Ocean Studios here in Vancouver. Anime dubbing projects from this studio are becoming increasingly rare, so the few that we can get our hands on are certainly deserving of headline treatment when possible. Especially shocking is that VIFF’s Anime Day will mark the first proper theatrical screening the film has received in Vancouver, despite such having an important contribution from this city’s creative industries.
While The Girl Who Leapt Through Time did not mark the theatrical directorial debut for Mamoru Hosoda (that was Digimon: The Movie), it was the film that established him as one of the most prolific directors currently working in the anime industry. Most recently, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his film Mirai. Adapting an old sci-fi novella by Yasutaka Tsutsui (the author of Paprika), The Girl Who Leapt Through Time follows Makoto Konno, who discovers she has the ability to “time-leap” in short intervals. Hosoda’s version not only modernizes the setting and is highly referential to the original work (those familiar with it may pick out that Makoto’s aunt was the protagonist of the novel), it intensifies the focus on the fragile bonds of friendship and young love in a manner that arguably sets it apart entirely.
I still can’t quite get over how amazing it is that we will be able to screen Millennium Actress at Anime Day. Since his untimely death at the age of 46, Satoshi Kon’s reputation only grew as his works sat in legal limbo in North America, and Millennium Actress has been fairly inaccessible for most of that time. It is only within the past few weeks that Eleven Arts announced that they had rescued the film and would be issuing new theatrical and home video releases. Anime Day will be the first screening this new release will receive in North America, and perhaps the first exposure many will be given to one of Kon’s signature works. Using the same delirious blending of fantasy and reality as Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress places less focus on the internalized anxieties of fame and more on how the shared experience of cinema shapes our historical view on the world around us.
VIFF Anime Day offers a strong variety of selections, and we hope you will enjoy the diversity that this medium offers which is something we expect this showcase to highlight well.