October 12, 2007
Le Festival du Nouveau Cinéma is known for its wolf that adorns its publicity materials. The fest has a track called Les P'tits Loups or, in English, Little Wolves, with programming geared towards children, and only two shorts in that entire track are live-action. The selections will definitely be of interest to parents and guardians, and honestly, I think if you left the kids at home you might not notice.

The track begins on the morning of Saturday, October 13 with U, a feature from France that appears to be a fairy tale on the outside and is a coming of age story underneath it all, despite the unicorn and the castle. It deals with concepts of love and adolescence in a very disarming fashion.

Sunday, October 14 features an hour's worth of Komaneko: The Curious Cat shorts. I can't recommend this highly enough. Our heroine is the ultimate do-it-yourselfer and amateur auteur. This little stop-mo cat creates her own stop-motion shorts, makes her own props, sets and puppets, and can be found outside filming her surroundings. One of her partners in crime is a little cat who builds robots and fixes mechanical objects.
Kids take away a great lesson, and the shorts, although suitable for children as young as 3, can entertain someone in their 50s just as easily. The shorts are well-crafted, include engaging characters and they have a simple, but coherent story. In Japan, it is distributed by Geneon Entertainment. It's too bad that they'll no longer be distributing DVDs in North America. I hope that someone else distributes them here. For now, you can get them at Yesasia.

For a more diverse selection, Sunday, October 21 features the various shorts, mostly animated, including the hilarious Isabelle au Bois Dormant/Sleeping Betty from Claude Cloutier at the NFB. If the festival's selection doesn't get local kids interested in film and animation, I'm not sure what will.

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October 30, 2006
Through bad timing or simple bad luck, I missed about half of the animated shorts showing at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma last week (including, sadly, Adam Parrish King's The Wraith of Cobble Hill, which Jason Vanderhill covered in our eighth issue.)

Of the few I did manage to catch, my single favourite was Our Man in Nirvana, a German tribute to psychedelic rock in which a guitarist suffers an accident onstage, dies, and finds himself exploring a trippy afterlife before being confronted by the arbiter who will decide if he gets to enter nirvana or will return to our world.

There's not a lick of dialogue throughout the film's 11 minutes; the story is told entirely through visuals and music. The look is inventive without calling too much attention to itself: The scenes in our world are presented in the style of Thai shadow puppets, and the afterlife is eye-poppingly colourful computer animation that remains puppetlike. (It's a nice conceit: The real world is just a shadow of what's to come.) One could complain that the afterlife wasn't quite trippy enough, but I thought it was just right; the design got the message across, was a pleasure to watch, and never felt cluttered or overly resplendent. It's emblematic of the film as a whole; director Jan Koester knew when to let things loose, and when to pull back. I'm looking forward to more work from him.

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Back in late 2004, Fred Patten referred to Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence as "coldly cerebral." Whether or not you agree with the adverb, you can't deny that pretty much all of Oshii's oeuvre is cerebral—and that includes his latest feature, the bizarre comedy Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast-food Grifters (originally Tachiguishi Retsuden) the last feature I saw at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Tachigui is that strange kind of comedy where everything is over the top yet played straight, so that it's hysterically funny but you barely laugh. For the most part, the film is a mockumentary—hardly an accurate description, but the closest fit—that chronicles the rise of a particular kind of con artist that uses elaborate techniques to scam free eats. At the same time, the movie chronicles the evolution of fast food in Japan, as it starts in a small soba shop just after World War II and finds its way through modern franchises like Yoshinoya by movie's end. The third parallel thread is that of Japan's social evolution.

Much of Tachigui's humour derives from the presentation, that of a semi-academic ethnographic analysis of the key figures over these six decades, larger-than-life characters like Moongaze Ginji (who stuns his victims by engaging in philosophical discourse they can't hope to win) and Hamburger Tetsu (who can single-handedly destroy a burger chain's operations one franchise at a time through a masterful combination of a massive appetite and split-second timing). About three-quarters of the way through the plot zigzags a little, as the narrator's relationship to the story becomes clearer, but by then it doesn't matter: the viewer has totally given in to this strange new reality by that point.

Incidentally, one of the best gags in the movie is revealed during the end credits: Just about every character is played by someone significant in the anime industry. A few of the names I caught and managed to scribble down were Shoji Kawamori (mecha designer for the original Macross series as well as the movie, and director of Macross Plus), Kenji Kawai (who composed the music to both Ghost in the Shell movies and Tachigui), Kenji Kamiyama (director of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), Toshio Suzuki (producer of both Ghost in the Shell movies as well as many Studio Ghibli films) and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, the president of Production I.G. Oshii himself is in there as well.

Tachigui uses a technique Oshii calls "superlivemation," where objects and live actors are digitally photographed in a variety of angles and poses, then the digital images are heavily processed, sometimes disassembled and reassembled, composited and animated. The end result is an odd but appealing blend that lands somewhere in the nexus between JibJab's 2-0-5, Toshikatsu Wada's Bip & Bap, and Oshii's own Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (which, like Tachigui, was produced at the Production I.G. studio).

A final note: Tachigui is linked to Oshii's multimedia Kereberos universe, which connects books, anime and manga. You don't need to know that to enjoy the film, but like the anime-creator gag, the more you know the more you get out of it. And isn't that always the way with cerebral films?

Shop
Buy Tachiguishi Retsuden Collector's Set (Region 2, Japanese language) from YesAsia.com

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October 25, 2006
While we've been busy finishing up the latest issue of the magazine, Kino Kid and I have also been dropping in on the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma. While we haven't been able to catch everything (I was quite curious to see Parisian VJ Frédéric Elalouf (aka VJ Oof) doing live audio and video remixes of the works of Norman McLaren, but couldn't stick around), there have been a few things worth noting—among the films themselves and the events.

I caught one such event last Thursday, when the National Film Board of Canada was touting a new series of shorts called Shorts in Motion: The Art of Seduction. Co-produced with marblemedia and in partnership with Bravo!Fact, these ten shorts -- two of which are animated (Theodore Ushev's Sou, pictured, and Ann Marie Fleming's M.O.O.D.) -- are destined for television (they will air on the weekly Bravo!Fact program), as well as mobile devices like cell phones, iPods, and PDAs. Just to make the point clear, the films were shown on big screens, but also on iPods and cell phones that were being circulated among the crowd.

That was interesting by itself, but NFB chairperson Jacques Bensimon got my attention when, noting the success of the NFB's various digital initiatives, he mentioned that the NFB will start the process of digitizing all of its short films with the intention of making them more accessible to the public. This is an ambitious undertaking—the NFB has produced thousands of live-action and animated shorts since 1939—and an exciting one. It occurred to me that the NFB has always made its films available as new media came along, from film to 1'' tape to VHS to DVD, with the costs of access decreasing each time. However, it's always been easiest to get your hands on well-known productions, while more obscure but no less deserving works have languished. With all the shorts equally available (though how they will be accessed has yet to be specified), animation and film fans will have so much more to explore.

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