By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
In 1995, anime director Katsuhiro Otomo masterminded an omnibus film called “Memories,” consisting of three unrelated segments from three directors, including Otomo himself. His master plan was to showcase emerging talent in anime. The other two directors were Tensai Okamura and Koji Morimoto, both of whom have gone on to long, distinguished careers.
Otomo’s new film, “Short Peace,” works in much the same way, although of course, with new talent. After a short opening segment for the titles, the action progresses into “Possessions,” directed by Shuhei Morita. This segment began as a film unto itself, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short.
“Possessions” concerns a solitary male traveler, from olden times in Japan (judging by his dress), who becomes lost in a savage rainstorm and seeks shelter in what appears to be an abandoned hut. It will prove to be the most amazing night of his life, as spectacular visions come to him. Will he find his way out and accomplish his elusive task?
“Possessions” uses three-dimensional animation for the traveler’s head and body, which at times looks a bit out-of-place and cheap. Its strength comes in the wildness of the visions. Like Will Vinton’s pioneering claymation short, “Closed Mondays,” the central character mostly stays in one confined space, while the rest of the action comes to him. The wildness of the action contains some impressive notions about steadfastness and respect.
“Combustible” is the segment directed by Otomo himself. It too is set far back in Japan’s past and addresses a young man who wishes to be a fireman, a young woman who loves him, and the tragedy that befalls them both.
This segment opens with a long pan from right to left, establishing the setting, characters, and conflicts in one deft stroke. Otomo makes masterful use of darkness and near-darkness (as Morita does for “Possessions”), and the climactic nighttime firefight accentuates pulsing red on top of solid black. It’s a sad but impressive narrative.
“Gambo” is directed by Hiroaki Ando, with crucial contributions from Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, who worked on the character designs. In a remote village (once again, in old times), a huge red demon carries off women one by one to create its unspeakable devil-spawn. Gambo, a spirit in the form of a huge polar bear, must stop the evil before the last female is lost.
This segment contains both graphic violence and sexual content, reminding us that some anime is not for children.
The climactic fight between the supernatural beasts forms the most impressive action sequence in the film.
The final segment is “A Farewell to Arms,” directed by Hajime Katoki. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, it follows a group of soldiers battling to the death with a cybernetic tank, against the background of a ruined city.
Anime is often strong and rich on futuristic settings, armor, weapons, etc. “A Farewell to Arms” makes a fine example of all of the above. It also blends action with suspense and comedy, together with a surprisingly sober kick at the end.
The soldiers have turned themselves halfway mechanical to fight mechanical adversaries. Have they become, then, indistinguishable from the enemy? And how did this horror start in the first place?
At just short of 70 minutes, “Short Peace” does feel short. One more segment might have been advisable. What’s on screen, though, makes a solid introduction to the anime directors of tomorrow. (end)
“Short Peace” plays April 24, 25, and 27 at the Grand Illusion Cinema, located at 1403 N.E. 50th St. in Seattle’s University District. For prices and show times, call 206-523-3935 or visit www.grandillusioncinema.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.