Five international films advance animation in 2021

Including the cel-shaded debut of Latvian host Gints Zilbalodis, a sticky body horror nightmare from Ujicha, and Yonfan’s love letter to Hong Kong

In a year when the film industry has been devastated by disruption from the pandemic, animated productions have performed relatively well in the shadow of their live-action brethren hostile to COVID.

In October, Netflix reported that global cartoon audience has grown by 50% since September 2019. Granted, big studio productions like Pixar settled for less following movie closings – but still, 13% of Disney + subscribers registered exclusively to watch Soul. The film ended the year as one of the most watched direct-to-stream titles, although it was only released on Christmas Day. In Japan, meanwhile, Demon slayer is, unexpectedly, now the highest grossing film in All the time, after spending twelve weeks at number one to overthrow even the powerful Abducted as if by magic.

Studio Ghibli faces an uphill struggle to reclaim bragging rights (fans are already divided over the computer-generated 3D visuals of Earwig and the witch), and with that, there is every reason to think about what the next major coup from the lower ranks could be. Because even if the traditional powers of Japanimation and Hollywood continue to receive the applause, there may well be a leveling of the playing field in 2021 thanks to individual animation studios and international imports.

With a number of foreign language animated films now slated for Oscar glory in 2021, Stunned survey of five innovative animation works from non-English speaking countries, proving that the industry has a lot to offer on the sidelines.

A WAY, ZILBALODIS GINTS (LATVIA)

This cel-shaded debut feature by Latvian animator Gints Zilbalodis was the product of three and a half years of solo determination. And the finished A way is the kind of hypnotic triumph that lingers in the mind for a long time.

Arriving on streaming platforms on January 18, this minimal, dialogue-free tale of a stranded boy and his yellow avian companion, is a truly haunting experience. As they flee from a slow-moving shadow demon, the duo brave vast lands of sand, snow, moss and mountains in search of civilization, encountering elephants, llamas and turtles with only one seek the sweet quest for salvation to guide their path. This is visual meditation at its best.

The film is sprinkled with haunting Ghibli-style imagery, while the purring of cats and chirping of birds provide ambient soundtrack instead of speech. But it’s the pastel-colored visuals that make it such a simplistic treat, with smooth transitions from yellow to green to snow white and sea blue guiding the viewer through chapters with titles like “Forbidden Oasis “or” Mirror Lake “.

Most impressive is that it was all done by one man. Zilbalodis wrote, directed, animated, produced and even scored the film – and his tireless work resulted in the sheer splendor here.

TRAVELER OF VIOLENCE, UJICHA (JAPAN)

Writer-illustrator-director Ujicha’s spectacular “gekimation” works receive their UK premieres this month as part of an exceptional Blu-ray box set from Third Window Films. He’s an animation juggernaut on his own – working tirelessly from his bedroom to produce thousands of cardboard props, which are then filmed in real time to create his unique hybrid style. The results are emphatic – and disturbing.

Traveler of violence, a Wizard of Oz-a style adventure that takes a twisted turn when its characters stumble upon a sinister amusement park, perfectly demonstrates the breathtaking spectacle of “gekimation”. Like a cross between the puppet theater and the cut-out animation of South Park, Ujicha’s work not only brings the illustrations to life, but also pits them against the forces of nature – fire, water and various suspicious substances. In no time, the film’s young protagonist finds himself in the midst of a sticky bodily horror nightmare – which is only heightened by the particularly odd visual style.

If you’ve ever wondered what The thing could be like a pop-up book, look no further.

KILL HIM AND LEAVE THIS CITY, MARIUSZ WILCZYŃSKI (POLAND)

It would have taken Polish animator Mariusz Wilczyński 11 years to complete this grim debut feature, but with a Best Debut Feature Berlin nomination hailing him on the other end, the fight has already paid off. Kill him and leave this town is “the first animated art film in the history of Polish cinema,” says the director – it will hit UK screens in March.

Opening with dim light on a black canvas and a haze of cigarette smoke, Kill him and leave this town immediately offers a fascinating and abstract focal point as her scribbled and scribbled figures come to life. Shades of gray, black and blue, meanwhile, color an Eastern European city plagued by heavy rains, zoomorphism and ever-delayed public transport, while a band- its relentless gutter-soaked blues turns every dark vignette into a feverish dream.

Inspired by the director’s education in the industrial city of Łódź, in communist Poland, this polluted tale evokes a particularly dark atmosphere, almost David Lynch‘s Eraser. Watch out for giants looking out of apartment windows, corpses sewn up for burial and, its surrealism, little men swimming in barrels like sea monkeys, waiting to be picked and slaughtered to be sold on a counter. of shop.

# 7 CHERRY LANE, YONFAN (HONG KONG)

Released during one of Hong Kong’s most turbulent years in recent history, this politically charged love letter from the country’s late 1960s is poignant on the brink of yet another year of uncertainty.

It’s a captivating and transcendent work that longs for a simpler era – that of famed queer director Yonfan’s own childhood. And yet, paradoxically, the romantic and dreamlike world No. 7 Cherry Lane portrayed was just as problematic as the one we live in today; the references to the political repression of “white terror” in Taiwan and to the student protests in Hong Kong against the British occupation are particularly resonant.

The philosophical complexity of the film is clearly intentional. Yonfan’s first film in a decade – his first animated feature – is deliberately surreal in its languid pace, otherworldly characters, and homoerotic overtones. And the atmosphere is only enriched by the film’s striking animation style – a mix of rich, hyper-real artwork and jarring CGI effects.

The reception has been divisive, yet the film has received considerable attention since its premiere at the 76th Venice Film Festival, where it competed for the Golden Lion. Premiering in the UK at the London East Asian Film Festival just before Christmas 2020, this hymn to old Hong Kong is a memorable, if very mysterious, odyssey.

PINK BOMBAY, GITANJALI RAO (INDIA)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjgwD61xooU

The release of Netflix’s very first Indian animated film has been delayed on the streaming platform due to “technical difficulties”, having originally been written to arrive on December 4th. But that didn’t stop the film from being hailed as a potential Oscar punt, having already been on the long list for best animated feature.

Directed by Gitanjali Rao, Bombay Rose is a montage of real-life stories about street life in Mumbai, intertwined to form a comprehensive narrative focused on troubled romances. The unique animation style combines modern influences with swirling brushstrokes similar to post-impressionist paintings by Van Gogh and Rousseau – hand painted by Rao and his team of 60 artists. Even with this large staff, the film took 18 months to complete – a testament to its quality depth.

Rich in warm pastel colors, traditional music and stories of family, poverty and religion, Bombay Rose is an apt tale to portray India’s ‘city of dreams’ – an idealistic slice of proxy globetrotter for the otherwise home-confined British public.


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Darcy J. Skinner

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