By Sonya Rehman
Are deliciously vintage anime flicks your cup of tea? Does dark animation spike your interest? If so, Instep highlights three of the best vintage, and contemporary animated must-sees ever made.
I stumbled across this gem a few weeks ago, whilst searching through a list of vintage, Japanese anime films online. The DVD shop that I usually frequent (every other Saturday afternoon), located in the basement of ‘Raja Centre’ (a mini paradise I tell you) here in Lahore, lacks a considerable anime collection (perhaps due to a lack of demand). Therefore, with fantastic downloading applications such as ‘Limewire’ etc, I thought I’d simply download a few off the net.
So while browsing through an anime list, the name, ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ caught my attention and heightened my interest. But instead of downloading the animated flick, I watched it over ‘Youtube’ – since it proved far quicker than downloading…cable internet sucks here, mind you.
So what’s this particular – late 80s – anime film all about? Set in Japan during World War II, the story sets its course during the bombing of Kobe (a pretty, port city in Japan) and tracks the life of two orphaned siblings – older brother Seita, and his baby sister, Setsuko.
Originally based on the novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, the author traces experiences from his own life during the war, the hunger, the hardship, and the loss of his sister. Therefore, Nosaka’s story is sort of like an ode to his sister…making the slice-of-life ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ one of the most poignant, and stirring animated films ever made. Ripe in its depiction of Japanese culture, and the close-knit relationship between both brother and sister, this film is gorgeous, albeit, in a rather melancholic way.
If you can’t find the DVD in your local video store (pretty sure you won’t), your best bet would be to view ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ over Youtube. And even though you may have to watch it in twelve, small parts, it honestly is worth the time and effort.
This animated film’s peg seems to be captured quite remarkably when one of the characters (featured in the film – who hits rock bottom), says: “What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.”
Just as with ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ – adapted from a novel to an animated movie, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ was penned down and published by Philip K. Dick in 1977, which was later adapted by director, Richard Linklater, in 2006.
Interestingly, Nosaka’s ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ was a semi-autobiographical novel, and similarly, Dick’s sci-fi book too, maps the author’s own experiences; amid a grave, drab drug culture – and the downward spiral that one follows due to extensive drug use. But coming back to the animated movie, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ boasts of a very interesting cast line-up, from; Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson. The treatment of this film, too, is not typically animated…rather, it was shot “digitally and and then animated using interpolated rotoscope over the original footage” (God bless Wikipedia).
As fascinating as this animated film’s treatment is, the story regarding how the United States has lost out on the war against drugs in the future – is even better. Philip K. Dick wrote his novel in the late 70s – at a time when the use of drugs was at its zenith – and even though the author sets his story for the future (1994), the use of drugs today, is so widespread, and considered so ‘normal’ that Dick can be considered somewhat of a Nostradamus on his prediction on drugs and its place in the future of the world.
The story hits close to home – we really have lost out on the war against drugs. In a country like Pakistan where ‘E’ tablets are popped like candy at every turn, the drug trade is a thriving business. Where drug users continuously seek their next big highs and psychosomatic mind trips, designer drug manufacturers will continuously produce DIY hallucinogens to satisfy their massive client-zombie-base.
‘A Scanner Darkly’ is as dark as an animated film can get, and surprisingly, I discovered this one at my local video store.
Even though ‘Spirited Away’ delves more onto the fantasy-animated genres rather than ‘slice of life’, this Oscar ward-winning animated flick definitely has its moments.
And in addition, it seems to be dipped in a rich, magical base of Japanese lore, culture and folk tales.
It’s cute, it’s fuzzy, it’s adventurous and it’s fun – sort of like Haruki Murakami’s book ‘Kafka on the Shore’ – minus the grisly bits!
Following a little girl called Chihiro (the protagonist) on a magical journey in search of her parents, Chihiro is swept up into a world of spirits – some good and some bad. Funnily, I always had this preconceived notion about Japanese anime – growing up on a visual diet of Walt Disney animations, foreign cartoons used to always fall short somehow – only because I would tend to judge the cartoon’s lack of finer details (facial expressions, features, background scenery etc) and consider it far too ‘basic’.
But strangely now, I take greater joy in foreign animated movies, only because the stories are so seasoned in a culture – alien from my own – that it manages to give the flick that extra dose of depth.
‘Spirited Away’ is a glorious, magical little cartoon for anyone really, of any age. Hey, my mother loved it – and I bet, you will too. Your nearest video store is bound to have it.
Instep, The News