Two animated features dropped in Japanese theaters this past Saturday: Miyazaki Hayao’s Kaze Tachinu, and Ootomo Katsuhiro’s Short Peace. While normal members of society flocked to theaters nation-wide to see Miyazaki’s latest masterpiece, I found myself in a tiny, half-filled theater in Shibuya waiting for Ootomo Katsuhiro’s Short Peace to start. I don’t particularly have anything against Miyazaki, but unlike most people, I don’t worship him. Seeing as I find Ootomo’s work to be more compelling (and also fearing packed theaters on the opening day of Miyazaki’s new film) I decided to check out Short Peace first.
Watching this movie reminded of how little I actually know about Ootomo: I’ve seen Akira, Memories, and have read some of his short stories. As such, I could stand to be more versed in his works, and this lack of knowledge kind of fucked me up, as I completely forgot that Ootomo hasn’t done anything good in like eighteen years. Memories was 1995, right? I completely forgot about the glorious flops that happened since then–namely Steamboy and Freedom.
Basically? Short Peace kinda sucks.
The film is a collection of shorts that are all very Japan-centric, with the first three focusing on older, folklore-y Japan, while the last one takes place in a post-apocalyptic Shinjuku. But aside from simply being Japan-focused, what the film is trying to say isn’t very clear.
The first three shorts are very simple–which isn’t bad in and of itself–but they don’t do anything but tell their simple, boring stories. There are no quirks, emotional connections, or messages. I was actually kind of offended by one of them, GAMBO (which I will always write in all caps; imagine me screaming it), because of how needlessly gross it was at one point. Also, the polar bear thing was really stupid. Like, just really stupid. The other two shorts–Tsukumo and Hi no Youjin have ideas that could go places if they were allowed to be longer.
But length isn’t the only issue–both of these shorts fail to use their abbreviated time wisely, wasting it on scenes that just aren’t terribly interesting. I’m of the mindset that when given limited time, one should use that limited time to punch people in the face, not string them along towards some vague ending that’s not satisfying in the least. Hi no Youjin in particular tries to endear you to some characters, fails, then–literally–just blows up in your face, and ends.
The film’s final short, Buki yo Saraba, does actually have something to say with its post-apocalyptic depiction of Shinjuku and its automated war machines gone wild. It also decently fleshes out a convincing world and characters in its short running time, making it the strongest of the four story-wise but… dang, does it look ugly.
Yeah, Short Peace doesn’t look very good. There’s a very clear intention to experiment and try to do something interesting with 3D CG, but much like that Berserk movie (I say “that” because I could only stand to sit through one of those) most of it just looks like a video game. Tsukumo uses its CG somewhat interestingly, but sadly the main character’s design is a bit too goofy, and the way things move have a strong CG stench about them. GAMBO uses its CG decently to achieve some cool shading effects, but once again–the movement just isn’t very good. Hi no Youjin is the worst, as it clearly just uses CG for far-away and medium shots of characters, with closer shots done by traditional means, making the staff’s aversion to anything that requires effort shine blindingly bright.
Buki yo Saraba renders all the mech in CG, with human characters rendered in traditional animation… except for when the characters are in their powered suits. See, when in their powered suits, the characters’ faces appear in their helmets, and these faces are rendered in lifeless 3D–like the rest of the powered suit. It looks especially bad when they jump between shots of a character in their powered suit, and a character in their normal clothes. It doesn’t help that the 2D animation doesn’t look terribly good either, with flat colors and TV-level renderings of detailed, movie-caliber designs.
Aside from Hi no Youjin–which doesn’t do a single thing interesting with its visuals–both GAMBO and Buki yo Saraba attempt to have action scenes, but the poor use of 3D CG keeps the action from having any kind of gravity in its violence. None of the movements seem like they hurt. It’s not exciting to watch. And this is a big issue with Short Peace–if the stories are gonna suck, at least make the visuals interesting, right? But alas, they aren’t. Tsukumo probably looks the best of the four, but it wastes its time on mundane actions, with the big money shot at the end being just kind of cliche. It actually kind of calls to mind that weird COOL JAPAN narrative that Japan’s government likes to believe exists. Same can be said of the opening animation by Morimoto Kouji, despite nods to things like Crusher Joe and other old anime at the very end, Short Peace’s opening animation could very well be some kind of COOL JAPAN promo video.
In fact, Short Peace itself is the perfect evolution of the COOL JAPAN lie, complete with that O that takes the shape of the Hinomaru in the movie’s poster. It’s lots of half-baked Japonica imagery, presented poorly, and devoid of meaning. I will admit that Buki yo Saraba has an appropriately perverse, cruel, and absurd Ootomo-ish ending (and I probably would have enjoyed the whole thing more if I had slept the previous night) but aside from that one short, this movie has nothing to say, and you probably shouldn’t waste your time with it.
I’m sure by not being Japanese I’m missing some degree of cultural context in these stories, but then again I overheard the folks next to me saying that the only good one was the last one–Buki yo Sayonara–so maybe the whole thing really does just suck.
Strangely enough, Miyazaki’s joint looks far more compelling. I’m seeing that next week.