The second annual Japan Film Festival at the New People Cinema in San Francisco kicked off during the 2014 J-POP SUMMIT Festival (which I covered here at some length), presenting 19 movies over the course of nine days. Here are seven that are relevant to the interests of the nerdy, and which you should check out if you can.
Some are commercially available, some are coming soon, and there's one you can watch for free right now. And really should.
PART 1: ANIME
Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka.
The third film based on the Berserk manga and televisionseries (why can't
Hollywood Tokyo come up with any new ideas, amirite?), and culled specifically from the manga's Golden Age Saga, this is some dark stuff right here.
The overall Berserk series is set in a medieval land called Midland, complete with armor and swords and such, and like so many other anime current films, particularly those based on manga and television shows such as Tiger & Bunny The Movie: The Rising, Blue Exorcist, or Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo , many of the moment-to-moment details in Berserk The Golden Age Arc III: The Advent are somewhat baffling if you're not already versed in the source materials and/or the previous films in the series, though that doesn't always help. It's a kind of in medias res, sink-or-swim storytelling that Hollywood has only begun to embrace over the past decade with the Marvel Cinematic Universe or especially the Harry Potter films.
But even if character or plot motivations aren't always strictly clear, there are still quantities of extreme violence, nudity and some unrelentingly horrific images that will fuel your nightmares - especially once the every-216-years Eclipse begins at the halfway point, and the mercenary group known as the Hawks are plunged into a deeply disturbing alternate dimension / hellscape. It's all equal parts beautiful and horrifying, like a Venom album come to life.
Director: Keiichiro Kawaguchi.
Set in a modern world with a bit less hell-on-earthiness, Hunter x Hunter: The Last Mission is sequel to Hunter x Hunter: Phantom Rouge, itself based on the Hunter x Hunter TV show. (Why can't
Hollywood Tokyo come up with any new ideas, amirite?)
Though also fairly mythology-heavy, it's also bit more familiar in its depiction of good vs. evil among the supernaturally badass: the elite warriors known as the Hunters are divided down lines of light and dark - hatred, wouldn't y'know, fuels the dark side - and the now dark Hunters are setting out to massage all the good guys. Teenaged series leads Gon (the one with the Astro Boy hair) and Killua (the one with the Todd Ingram hair) are taking them on at the Heaven's Arena's Battle Olympia Tournament as the world watches. The televised-bloodsport aspect reminds me a bit of Tiger & Bunny, and for that matter, their tussles with the mohawked baddie Gaki is downright Running Man-esque. That's never a bad thing, and when all is said and done, who doesn't enjoy watching kids beating up adults?
Currently available on Region 1 DVD and Region A Blu-ray , but not inexpensively.
3) Short Peace
Director(s): Katsuhiro Otomo, Hiroaki Ando, Hajime Katoki, Shuhei Morita, and Koji Morimoto.
I have to admit that when I reviewed this one for the Village Voice a few months ago, I had mixed feelings. It was being hyped as a followup to Otomo's 1995 omnibus Memories, and strictly compared to that film, this collection of anime shorts lacks anything quite as powerful as "Cannon Fodder" or funny as "Stink Bomb."
Viewing Short Peace again its own entity, however, I found there's actually some very good stuff within, especially Hiroaki Ando's "Gambo," which feels like it comes from a time when fairy tales were truly dark. (Perhaps not quite as dark as Berserk The Golden Age Arc III: The Advent, but few things are.)
I also quite like the opening animation by Koji Morimoto, and Short Peace's first full segment, Shuhei Morita "Possessions," was nominated for Best Short Film (Animated) at the 2014 Academy Awards. It lost to Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares' "Mr. Hublot", which I personally feel was the right choice, but "Possessions" absolutely deserved its nomination.
Another highlight is Hiroaki Ando's fairy tale "Gambo," which evokes the textures of not just hand-drawn animation but ancient illustrations, and it also features some of the most intense demon-and-bear wrasslin' you'll see this year.
And people who enjoy battle-suited soldiers squaring off against robot tanks in a devastated Tokyo will no doubt enjoy the final segment, Hajime Katoki's "A Farewell to Weapons," which has plenty of explosions and things blowing up. You know who you are.
There's also a PS3 tie-in game called Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day.
Short Peace will be released on Region 1 DVD and Region A Blu-ray on August 5, and I would be very surprised if it didn't wind up streaming somewhere.