Nov 15

“Short Peace” – Film Review from the 18th Japanese Film Festival (Australia and New Zealand)

From the biggest Japanese film festival in the world, Eden Law (Fukushima-ken ALT 2010-2011) reviews an anthology from the most exciting names in Japanese anime at the moment.

Short Peace

Short and sweet.

Four short films (short pieces?) make up this anthology, an unashamed and exuberant exercise in creative muscle-flexing as some of the biggest names in anime take the helm: Shuhei Morita (“Possessions”), Katsuhiro Otomo (“Combustible”), Hiroaki Ando (“Gambo”) and Hajime Katoki (“A Farewell to Weapons”). In addition, a video game was released as part of this multimedia project, “Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day”.

“Plot” or “theme” is pretty loosely applied to Short Peace. Apart from sharing the same general vicinity, located somewhere not too far from Mt Fuji in central Japan, there is no connective narrative and each stands alone as a separate piece. They take place in different time periods of Japanese history, from ancient days to a post-apocalyptic future. The pieces are best enjoyed and experienced for their visual impact rather than for any story, for there is very minimal setup or backstory, and the term “style over substance” is vigorously embraced. Some backstory however, would have been useful, in order to make sense and provide context for the setting and events of some of the shorts.

Each director are wildly different in how they chose to tell their tales. The first chapter, “Possession”, is about an itinerant craftsman of sorts who, seeking shelter in a derelict and forgotten shrine from bad weather, finds himself assailed on all sides by tsukumogami, an endearing type of mischievous spirits or monsters formed from unwanted household objects. The use of CG is more overtly apparent, in the blocky design of the main character, and the technology’s usefulness in animating gorgeous detail is fully utilised, resulting in richly designed origami and textiles patterns filling the screen. This short was nominated this year for Best Animated Short category at the Academy Awards, and it’s not hard to see why: apart from its animation, the short has a fable-like quality in its story-telling, as the tsukumogami bemoan their lot, of being callously discarded after years of faithful service and so take out their frustrations on the lone mortal who have strayed into their world.

“Combustible”, the second chapter, is a love story between two young people whose families are neighbours. Forced apart by duty and social convention, they are reunited by the threat of a blaze that rages out of control in their block, a common and deadly hazard in the days of largely wooden cities. This piece draws more heavily on Japanese cultural heritage than the first, as it opens, quite literally, like a fine scroll painting, and simply looks stunning, departing radically from the usual anime style. Another fascinating aspect is the depiction of Japanese firefighting, which looks like a faithful recreation of real historical accounts and techniques. “Combustible” won several awards, like the Grand Prize at the 16th Japan Media Arts Festival and was also nominated for the Academy Awards for animation short last year.

In “Gambo”, the third chapter, a white bear comes to the rescue of a young girl against a giant demon that has been killing the men and kidnapping the girls. Incorporating several elements – the demon’s off-world origin is hinted at, and an injured samurai wears a crucifix – this is a dark and brutish short. The gore and violence is depicted graphically and copiously, and the animation style is coarse and thick, all in contrast to the elegance of the second chapter and the playfulness of the first. With its slightly cheesy dialogue delivered earnestly, and one-word-title film, It feels like a 70’s slasher-exploitation one-word-title film, as if children’s anime like the concept behind “Kimba” was given a radical adult makeover.

In the last, “A Farewell to Weapons”, what looks to be a mobile scavenging unit scours the ruins of a city looking for weapon supplies, and finds itself battling a superweapon, a leftover relic from some unknown war. It starts off a little bit “Top Gun” as the opening montage establishes the stereotypical character types common to every war film (the grizzled leader, the nerd, the lazy rebel, the guy who has dreams of a normal life after the army and who you just know would be the first to die, etc etc), but once into the action, Hajime Katoki’s experience from working on a lot of mecha-based anime (like “Patlabor” and “Gundam”) comes to the fore, creating some of the most exciting man-vs-machine combat sequences I’ve seen in a long while. The thought and attention put into thinking up possible methods of modern warfare and weaponry gives it an unexpected sense of realism, like some sort of futuristic “Hurt Locker”. The ending however, is rather anti-climatic, and while comical, seems a bit unsatisfying and slightly misjudged, given the tone that had been established.

“Short Peace”, despite some flaws, is a hugely enjoyable demonstration of animation and creative style. A welcome change from the usual uniformity of technical execution that dominates a lo of anime fare these days, and a strong powerhouse performance from Japan’s best.


“Possessions” by Shuhei Morita, “Combustible” by Katsuhiro Otomo, “Gambo” by Hiroaki Ando and “A Farewell to Weapons” by Hajime Katoki.

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