This year, Fantasia Festival‘s “Things That Go Bump In The East” Shorts Program offers an eclectic mix of animated works which I’m savoring like fine wine. This year featured eleven works and plenty are from the Tokyo University of the Arts. Some of these will no doubt screen at other film festivals. We can find a few online, like Shishigari (a wonderful tale of survival with elements of Mononoke Hime tossed in) and the others–they are worth seeking to get your scream on.
Various cinematic and illustration styles are used to deliver the goosebumps. In what makes these films unique is in how the animators push the envelope not only in how 2D Digital Animation can tell the story but also with how Asian filmmakers are defining an age old genre.
Some terrors range from as simple as imitating the look of a silent film ala Nosferatu to that of blending light 3D (CGI) elements with traditional cel. One haunting work (The Six) by the team of Chen Xi, An Xu and Keju Luo is very experimental. I’m reminded of those zoetrope projections to animate. Three figures—a man, a woman and a crane—are viewed in six repeating scenes. The progression of these scenes alongside images projected upon the surface of a waxing and waning moon is heavy with symbolism. I won’t even try to explain, but it left me cautious next time I look up at the moon.
Including the aforementioned title, the following are my top five favourites:
Spirit of the Drowning Girls by Runze Cao wins as the most horrific hands down. It is based on a tragic part of China’s past; not all children live because the State (and even those poor farmers) demands it. When innocence is lost, who can save those hungry ghosts? A curse can follow the family if the deed is done wrong and a blessing can arrive when a warrior monk happens upon two seemingly lost girls. They ask for his help to find home.
To say anything more is dangerous. All I can reveal–which holds true for most Asian ghost films–is that animation does a far better job at realising the world of the dead than CGI without it looking too campy. This piece by Cao does more than remind me of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s also Spirited Away!
With this work, the mystique of the Eastern mountains that stretch along China gets to shine. We still do not know what lurks there, and perhaps it’s best to leave it that way.
The Girl and the Serpent may well be an original Chinese tale which draws upon many a piece of western folklore but end differently. Writer/directors Wan Jinyue and Du Jinzhi delivers with a solid myth in how to deal with evil. The title card sets up the story: the dragon demands virgin sacrifice otherwise he will raze the village. The girl, dressed in vibrant red, believes otherwise.
The frames in this first act is simply marvelous. The artwork expressed on old Chinese handscrolls are given animated form, and the way it springs to life shows the romance of the era is very much still alive.
The blend between traditional cell animation with CGI is flawless. Girl power is the focus here, and I was cheering for her as she faced the godly serpent!
Park Yeon‘s Another is a wonderful twist on the “evil twin” motif. Instead of encountering the doppelganger later in life, it’s literally in the womb. This tale questions who has the better life? Is it the unnamed boy who’s growing up–with no solid goals–or with that essence whom he eventually learns was his twin brother.
The two play and before I knew it, the narrative takes on a tone straight out of The Twilight Zone. Although I wanted to cry, perhaps what happened is a djinni wish come true. The twist left me wondering what’s next?
The textures expressed with the CGI lighting gives this work a nice ambience before bringing out the ghost. The last act has the colour tones inspired by those animation sequences from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Although this piece lightly delivers the chills, the true terror here is in being careful what you wish for.
My Little Goat is a Japanese work by Tomoki Misato certainly got under my goat in a different emotional way. I had to wonder where young Toruku went and if he died or is simply missing.
After mama rescues her flock from the belly of a fat wolf, she realizes the eldest is gone. This film would be too gruesome had it showed the half-digested body. Instead, just why not all of her kids bothered to cleanup needs to be questioned. Perhaps, they’re not as innocent as they seem. She believes her son is still alive and continues to search for him. It’s easy to guess what happened to Toruku when ‘he’ suddenly returns much later in this story. However, he is not the person everyone remembers him to be.
Not only is the setting set in winter, to make the presumed explanation understandably even more bone-chilling, but also the stop motion work of Rankin/Bass Productions’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is vividly recalled here.
I enjoyed how this film plays with the warning often preached: beware of those wolves in sheep’s clothing. No tale can be complete without this latter beast making an appearance!