July 20, 2009

Imagine if your TV was hijacked by aliens with a sense of humour who wanted to give you a taste of the completely bat-shit weird-o things that they saw while conducting experiments in channel surfing to better observe our planet’s strange idiosyncrasies. Rather than ask for the remote from their spiney green hands, you sit back and enjoy the show. The Razzle Dazzle Zappin’ Party show curated by Quebec-based multimedia artist DJ XL5.

Consisting of short films, music videos and animated snippets, DJ XL5's shows always entertain and never disappoint. I still have visions of the KISS video he played flashing through my head and I can’t take a shower without expecting Gene Simmons head to pop his head past my shower curtain.

As for the animation clips featured in this year’s show, they were plentiful and wild and included such treats as Canadian David Baas’ Skylight which presented the perils of global warming using a very Aardman Studios vs. Gary Larson’s Far Side approach. (Spoiler alert – global warming results in everything becoming a cooked turkey.) Lone Sausage Productions (creators of the infamous Dr. Tran) returned to this year’s festival with two new shorts: 100% Ice and The Furious Little Cinnamon Bun. Completely bonkers material folks. Watch at your own discretion!

Simon Tofield’s mischievous cat came back in the adorable TV Dinner:

Aussie Dave Carter had several of his randy and wickedly bizarre stop-motion clips from the Psychotown series featured and won many snickers and guffaws from the crowd. Other laughs were generated by Éric Lavoie’s repurposing of the printed comic book pages of Batman’s Wedding accompanied by the backdrop of the 1960’s French version of the record of the same name. (Spoiler alert #2 - Robin is very disappointed by these nuptials.)

Patrick Boivin had several stop motion clips added to the repertoire including Condoms Are Bad?

Like many of the 700 others that packed the theatre, I was shocked, amused and amazed by the hallucinatory clips that the renowned DJ XL5 mixed together and tossed out for us to enjoy. It takes true talent to evoke a wide range of feelings en masse and DJ XL5 consistently gets it right. Bravo!

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July 19, 2009
“Where do people go when they die?” “They go to hell.”

Hells is a well-executed stylish and action-packed animated exploration into a teenager’s journey back from the depths of hell after she’s the victim of a car accident on her way to her first day at a new school. It’s kind of an afterlife, afterschool special in anime format.

Oh, but it’s not that cut and dry. Linne, the protagonist, wasn’t supposed to end up in Hell and this is discovered because there’s no record of her death and she’s able to bleed—something that doesn’t happen to those who dwell in the netherworld.

Linne does end up at a school in the afterlife known as Death River Academy and she needs to graduate before she makes it through to Heaven because in Hell, you are studying for your next life. Her new school is full of a wild group of teens that don’t fit within the traditional, school uniform-wearing clique. In particular, the headmaster is a big burly red fella named Headmaster Helvis who bears striking resemblance a mash-up between the King and Hellboy.

Hells features some interesting Christian and Buddhist themes such as the classic Cain vs. Abel brother’s quarrel, mention of reincarnation, the power of intention, the energy of mantras, interconnectedness, emptiness, existence and the acceptance of both happiness and unhappiness rather than rejecting one over the other. On this note was the assertion by one of the characters that there is a denial of reality in not accepting death.

The notion of Hell existing in one’s own mind is also explored as one scene within the film was devoted to the perspective that we create the world that we live in and it can be viewed as a Hell if we make it so.

Japan’s Madhouse animation studio has delivered a highly energetic and colorful piece of work with Hells. I encourage checking it out if you are interested in being taken for a wild ride of the human and hell-dweller condition. It’s dark, fast, funny, rock and roll, sad, philosophical, colorful, detailed, shocking, sweet and optic nerve stimulating—all at once.

Check out the trailer here:

Hells has a second showing at Fantasia on Wednesday, July 22nd at 2:00 p.m.

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July 18, 2009
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to see Tokyo OnlyPic 2008 at the Fantasia Film festival.

Tokyo OnlyPic 2008 comprises a selection of the series of both live-action and animation segments of fictional sports events, and I'm using "sports" in the loosest sense of the word. This film is strange, at times awkward, and always funny. I highly recommend it.

Some of the animated events include the CG-animated Men's Independence, in which men hurl their mothers in a discus-like throw (trust me, it works, you'll be laughing as you think, "This is soooo wrong"), and Bill Plympton's Love Race, in which female celebrity of Paris Hilton proportions is chased around the stadium track by runners who happen to also be world-class at winning a material girl's heart.

That was a trailer for 1000-character SMS Texting, but here's one for the Home Athlon short, which doesn't appear in the selection shown at Fantasia, in case you don't want a spoiler.

Tokyo OnlyPic 2008 shows again on Sunday, July 19th at 2:15 p.m., right after Evangelion 1.0.

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July 17, 2009

This just in: you can win one of 25 tickets to tonight's Montreal screening of Les Lascars, a French feature based on the Flash animations of the same name. Les Lascars shorts are a little rough around the edges but sidesplitting. The feature keeps the overall feel, but some care has been put into the production values, providing lots of polish.

The International premiere of the film takes place tonight, Friday July 17th at 7:00 p.m. at the Fantasia festival.

This screening is the original French version with English subtitles.

If you would like a ticket to tonight's film, be one of the first 25 people to send your full name by email to lascars@fpsmagazine.com before 1 pm EST. (You must be available to pick up your ticket at the Hall theatre 20 minutes before the film begins).

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July 6, 2009
In addition to the opening film and animation highlights revealed by the 2009 Fantasia festival, the rest of the films do not merely round out the animation portion of programming. These selections reflect some of the more interesting selections of on the cinematic edge.

The features, in addition to Genius Party Beyond, Hells, and Les Lascars:
  • Edison and Leo, the first Canadian stop-motion feature, is described as a "surprising chunk of steampunk fun, a revisionist, retro science-fiction thriller with a zesty dash of decidedly adult gags." OK, I'm in.
  • anime features Eureka Seven and Evangelion 1.0
The shorts, in addition to those in Tokyo OnlyPic 2008, Celluloid Experiments 2009, DJ XL5's Razzle Dazzle Zappin' Party:
Also of note:
Bon festival!

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July 2, 2009

The full Fantasia 2009 lineup will be announced soon, but here are some of the animation highlights of North American's largest cult film festival, right in fps's home base of Montreal.

I'm excited about Genius Party Beyond, Studio 4C's companion to Genius Party, shown last year at the festival.

Hells Angels is a Madhouse production with a star crew behind this manga adaptation. Cencoroll is a shorter take that seems quite intriguing. Seems equally intriguing, but with a more sedate, less over-the-top storytelling style.

The feature Les Lascars is based on the French cult show of the same name and should go over well with the boisterous festival crowd (if you've not yet made it to a Fantasia festival screening, the involvement of the audience is worth the price of the ticket alone).

Tokyo Onlypic 2008 looks like it will be a side-splitter. It's an anthology of animated and live-action shorts describing outrageous Olympic-style events. Check out Bill Plympton's Race For Love in the trailer.

DJ XL5's Razzle Dazzle Zappin' Party promises another year or crazily juxtaposed shorts (many animated) simulating the channel-changing experience... to the power of ten.

Celluloid Experiments always features edgy animation selections in its roster. I doubt this year will be any different.

You'll be able to view the full schedule online and procure a printed festival program with a DVD full of trailers on Friday. Hope you can survive the wait!

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The entire lineup looks promising at the Fantasia film festival this year, running from July 9 to 29. While fps focuses on animation, Fantasia (the largest event of its kind in North America) is a combination of the best cult film worldwide, and has an impressive lineup of film of all types, including live-action and animated horror, action, fantasy, science fiction, weird and edgy films.

As I said, we like to stick with animation around here, but I have to mention this year's opening film, even though it's got (gasp) real people in it.

This year's opening film is the live-action feature Yatterman that began life as a manga in the 70s, which shortly after became an anime series (that was recently updated in 2008).
This is the part where we usually begin a lament (but not always). Definitely not this time!

The director is the irreverent Takashi Miike who made films such as Audition and Sukiyaki Western Django. To me this is more reason to see it. However, if viewers are worried about how he would do an all-ages film, I point to the fantastic film The Great Yokai War, which featured his signature style, but also was a wonderful film for younger viewers.

I think this film will be the type of fare which is best watched with an enthusiastic audience, in the same way that the live-action version of Cutey Honey (directed by animator Hideako Anno) wowed audiences just a few years ago.

The full Fantasia lineup will be available on Friday, July 3.

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November 13, 2008
(photo courtesy of Stephanie Yuhas)

The founding editor of fps passed away peacefully in the presence of his family on November 11, shortly before 10 p.m.

You may have noticed this year, we tried to keep up with news in the animation industry but Emru wasn't posting as often. He was having difficulty wrapping up our annual animation charity auction at the end of last year because of a mystery ailment, which turned out to be an aggressive form of leukemia. Ironically, last year's auction proceeds went to the Cancer Research Society.

Emru is also my big brother.

On January 30, he found out that I was not a compatible match for him as a bone marrow donor, something neither he nor I knew anything about until I began to research it. We talked and messaged about it that day. The next morning, he asked me remember to post about the early Japanese animation retrospective at the Cinematheque Quebecoise because he had another checkup, since he found out he was also not in remission. Even though we were trying to save his life and help other people, animation was still an important part of our lives. When we would talk on the phone we would discuss the day's accomplishments in terms of donor recruitment and awareness, and what news was interesting in the animation world.

Truthfully, Emru treated his relationship to animation and stem cell awareness in a similar fashion: People over things. When he was passionate about an idea or a movement, he would reach out to people and try to bring people together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. He encouraged others to believe in their abilities and aim high.

Vicky Tamaru of Plexipixel encouraged people to attend bone marrow drives around the US to help Emru, and provided an exhaustive list to make it easier for people to get involved. This was crucial, as Canadians cannot run bone marrow drives and Emru and I had to rely on other ways to educate people in our country.

When the Cinematheque's retrospective began in February, I was incredibly touched by the outpouring of support from the local animation community, and animation curator Marco de Blois mentioning Emru's need for a donor during such an important occasion.

The day after the retrospective began, Toon Boom Animation added a new page to save the Toon Boom Voice: Emru had provided the voice for the company's tutorials. After Emru found a match in early June, they understood many other people needed to find donors, and decided to keep the page running so the information would be available.

We created flyers and other promotional materials, and it was no surprise that one of the biggest attention grabbers was a portrait of the anime version of Emru, designed by local artist Veronique Thibault. Young people especially were drawn to the image, then paid attention to the important information that was included. At Anime North this year, I ran into old friends of Emru who remembered how he was present when anime was an inchoate "trend" and how he championed the works that he felt deserved more attention. At Otakuthon, it was similar.

Emru was notified in June of a potential match the day before he was set to travel to a planning meeting for the annual ACM SIGGRAPH conference. He was co-chair of the Computer Animation Festival until he fell ill, but the SIGGRAPH organizers refused to let him resign and insisted he stay on as a consultant even if he was only able to help in a limited capacity. He was thrilled at the idea of being cleared to travel, seeing fellow volunteers again, and being able to help out.

Just as I was gearing up for the Fantasia film festival, I was also preparing an ad for the Rock The Bells concert tour with the help of two friends. One was Ward Jenkins, who provided this beautiful illustration of Emru. Two of the films Emru especially enjoyed this year before he really had to stay away from crowds were Genius Party and Fear(s) of the Dark at the Fantasia Film Festival and he registered his enjoyment of them days before his death. Fantasia organizers donated the proceeds from one of their films to Emru, and this helped his family enormously, as neither he nor his wife could work much in 2008.

In September, I gave him the run-down of all the happenings at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, which began the day after Emru's received his bone marrow transplant. He received it at the Ottawa Hospital, and he joked about the timing of the transplant being perfect, because he was planning since the previous year's festival to be in Ottawa anyway. I hardly reported on the festival this year, as I was busy campaigning for stem cell donor registration with Emru leading up to it, and I was more exhausted than I thought I would be when I got to the festival. Once there, I received an astonishing outpouring of support for Emru, a festival regular for 19 years - this would have been his 20th year, and I think his presence was still felt despite his physical abscence. It was actually an extension of the support he had received in the form of calls, emails, blog postings, articles, letters, and events that had been occurring to help him. He cherished the sketchbooks he received full of sketches from festivalgoers.

He was happy to hear about the great films at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, a small festival with a big lineup. He and I always looked forward to it, whether we could attend or not. In the last few years we made a point of it and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. It starts today and I wish I could be blogging about that and heading there tomorrow as I had originally planned, instead of writing about this. Joseph Chen, the WFAC curator, just sent me an email saying he wished he could be in Montreal for Emru's visitation.

No matter where you are, if you love Emru or love animation, he loves you too.

Visitation Information

Learn more about becoming a stem cell or bone marrow donor.
It starts with a cheek swab (Canada, US) or blood sample (Quebec, UK).
If you match, you do not put your own life at risk to potentially save another.

UK - Anthony Nolan Trust, African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust
US - National Marrow Donor Program, DKMS Americas
Canada - Hema Quebec Stem Cell Registry, OneMatch Stem Cell Network

Other Countries

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August 5, 2008

Yoshitaka Amano completists will want to hit Right Stuf or Amazon to preorder Yume Juma, aka Ten Nights of Dreams, an anthology of strange and wonderful shorts based on the short-story collection by Soseki Natsume. Amano's short is, of course, dreamy, with his signature elfin characters flowing through some borderline-gaudy CGI.

(Though the rest of the movie isn't animated, it's certainly worth watching. One of my top picks from last year's Fantasia festival, I consider it a perfect example of why I love movies in the first place.)

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July 8, 2008

The audience of the Monday screening of Fear(s) of the Dark was treated to a bonus before things got rolling: Hot Dog, the third in a series of shorts by independent New York animator, Bill Plympton. Many know Bill Plympton's name, but those who don't will immediately recognize his trademark style in the clip shown here. Only a portion of the short is in the clip, and gets much funnier as it moves from one stage to the next.

His current feature, Idiots and Angels, seems distinctly different in tone. In Plympton's words:

The look of the film is very Eastern European - something like what Jan Svankmayer might make, or David Lynch if he made animation - very dark and surreal.

Fear(s) of the Dark will replay again tomorrow at the Fantasia festival, but without Hot Dog preceding it. Later in the day, Plympton will present the Canadian premiere of Idiots and Angels, and continuing the festival's spotlight on Animated Auteur Visions.

Previously on fps
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Review: Plymptoons: The Complete Early Works of Bill Plympton

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I had the opportunity to catch the Canadian premiere of Fear(s) of the Dark, a French film that understands what it is to tell a story, many in fact, about fear in various forms. The six stories are not told consecutively, a surprising but successful choice, as viewers are often used to stories being discrete. As a result, the viewer is briefly disoriented at times, returning to a story that was not quite over.

Some fears are completely mundane. Others are truly horrifying, because they are so outlandish, like Charles Burns' story, or because they may have actually happened, like the one by Blutch.

The standout piece was by Richard McGuire and Michel Pirus. It is a taut story that is not incredibly scary (this is arguable - my viewing companion was squirming in her seat), it is beautifully conceived visually, aurally and had the complete attention of the audience.

The DVD will be out later this summer, but it is definitely worth catching if it shows theatrically at a theatre near you.

The screening I attended was also a fundraiser for my brother, the creator of this site and the original Frames Per Second print magazine. All the ticket proceeds will be given to him and his family. I would like to extend my thanks to all who attended and the Fantasia festival team for offering their support.

Peur(s) du Noir screens again in French with English subtitles on Wednesday at the Fantasia film festival.

Previously on fps:
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Peur(s) du Noir Screening at Fantasia to Benefit fps Editor

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July 6, 2008
The Canadian premiere of Peur(s) du Noir on Monday is a part of Fantasia's 2008 spotlight, Animated Auteur Visions. Not all of the six shorts are horror films, but each features a black and white animated exploration of fear. Contributors include comic artists Charles Burns and Blutch.

The screening will also be a benefit for fps editor, Emru Townsend. A portion of the profits from each ticket sold will go toward Emru and his immediate family as he prepares for his upcoming bone marrow transplant.

(Earlier this year, Emru wrote a message letting people know that they could help to save his life or that of another person waiting for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. In June, a potential match was found in the system where there previously were none among over 12 million people registered as potential donors. You can read more about his experience on the Heal Emru blog.)

Previously on fps:
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation

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July 2, 2008
There is a reason Batman has his own label on fps. Besides many of us being big comic fans, many of us are huge fans of the Bat specifically. He has numerous animated interpretations and the notable incarnations in the 90s and 00s have definitely left their mark on (what was) Saturday morning television, cable television, comic book adaptations, and Warner Bros. television animation.

So people are a little nervous about an anime version of Batman since Batman: Gotham Knight was announced. I am a huge Batman fan and a huge anime fan, but I won't champion one at the expense of the other. After hearing about the talent behind the series of interrelated shorts, both American and Asian, I was somewhat relieved, but I was also willing to wait for a final verdict once I'd actually seen the shorts. After getting a peek at the soon-to-be released DVD in a theatrical setting gearing up for the 2008 edition of Fantasia, I think people's fears are largely unfounded.

Disliking the stories because they use the visual style of anime is just as bad as only liking it because it is anime. What you need to know is the stories are told well. What you need to know is these stories all embody something about the Legend of the Bat and are consistent with the characters that have already been established. It does look great!

And the same people that dismiss the anthology because it is anime will probably be the ones who refuse to notice that there are six very distinct visual styles that are employed to tell each story. The level of interestingness does vary depending on the style you are drawn to, but this is also the case of a decades long comic-collector who has some artists they prefer over others. Like these artists, Batman's look changes at the whim of the artists involved. The two stories with styles I found the most recognizable and distinct from the others were produced by Studio 4°C. They were even distinct from each other. Selecting one of these as the first story in the set was a great choice as it breaks conventions of what people consider the "anime style."

There are no spoilers in this entire post. I am not interested in ruining it for anybody, especially the die-hard Batman fans. However, if you are told or read spoilers elsewhere, you will not find out anything new about Batman if you already know his character. You will feel comforted by the way the stories fit easily into the mythos that has already been created from past stories. Just go and watch the stories unfold, and enjoy another glimpse of Batman's early days as he tries to learn the ropes of crimefighting.

You can catch a theatrical screening of Batman: Gotham Knight at Montreal's Fantasia festival on Saturday at noon, before it is released on DVD next Tuesday.

Previously on fps
2008 Fantasia Festival Animation
Batman: Gotham Knight Promo Video Online
DC Comics OAVs
Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo
The End of Justice League

Previously on The Critical Eye
Batman Animated
Batman & Batman Beyond
Paul Dini
Bruce Timm & Glen Murakami

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July 1, 2008

It's a week of firsts for this blogger - this is my first post on fps and my first experience with Montreal's famous genre spectacle, the Fantasia Film Festival. Illustrator and fellow fps blogger Matt Forsythe and I attended the press symposium and were treated to a preview of what we can expect from July 3rd-21st.

This year's animated offerings feature an unusual and unintentional focus on collaborative efforts and collections of short films, from DC Comics' Batman: Gotham Knight, Studio 4C's aptly named anime extravaganza, Genius Party, and the cutting-edge showcase, Best of Ottawa Animation Festival 2007. There are only two single-narrative feature-length animated presentations in the entire fest - Bill Plympton's poetic, pencil-scratch surrealist vision, Idiots and Angels and John Bergin's bleak, post-apocalyptic fable, From Inside. We'll cover each entry in more detail throughout the festival.

Continue past the jump for a full schedule of the animated films screening at Fantasia 2008:

July 4th - 7:30PM - Hall Theatre - Genius Party
July 5th - 12:00PM - Hall Theatre - Batman: Gotham Knight
July 5th - 1:00PM - J.A. De Seve - Best of Ottawa Animation Festival 2007
July 6th - 1:00PM - Hall Theatre - Genius Party
July 7th - 9:45PM - Hall Theatre - Peur (s) Du Noir
July 9th - 3:00PM - J.A. De Seve - Peur (s) Du Noir
July 9th - 7:30PM - Hall Theatre - Idiots and Angels (Hosted by creator, Bill Plympton)
July 12th - 2:40PM - J.A. De Seve - Outer Limits Of Animation 2008 (Shorts from around the globe)
July 13th - 9:40PM - J.A. De Seve - From Inside
July 14th - 3:00PM - J.A. De Seve - From Inside

(Okay, who's the putz that programmed Batman: Gotham Knight to screen at the same time as the Ottawa Festival shorts?! ...sigh... guess I'll have to watch you at home on Blu-ray, Batman...)

Tickets go on sale July 2nd at 2PM at the Concordia Hall Theatre (Guy-Concordia Metro) and throughout the Admission Network at $7.50 each.

Directions:Hall Theatre - 1455 Maisonneuve O. (Guy Metro) Map and Directions
DB Clarke Theatre - 1455 Maisonneuve O. (Guy Metro) Map and Directions
J.A. De Seve - 1400 Maisonneuve O. (Guy Metro) Map and Directions

Previously on fps:
2007 Fantasia Line-Up
Batman: Gotham Knight Online
Genius Party Trailers
Plymptoons: The Complete Early Works of Bill Plympton

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October 5, 2007
If you're in Montreal, before you go to the Poetry in Motion screening tomorrow, you may want to drop in at the National Film Board's Cinérobotheque, less than a 5 minute walk away. As part of a weekend of screenings of short programmes from this year's Fantasia festival, the Outer Limits of Animation Program will be screening at 3:00 p.m. The program repeats on Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

For nearly two hours, you will be able to see shorts selected by North America's premiere cult film festival for just $7 (less if you're a student).

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July 15, 2007
The second animated feature to be shown at the Fantasia film festival this year was Aachi & Ssipak, a Korean film that, violence and urban dystopia notwithstanding, is miles apart from fest opener Tekkon Kinkreet, or from other Korean features like Sky Blue or My Beautiful Girl, Mari. Unlike those other three films, which profess some kind of introspection, Aachi & Ssipak is an outright and outrageous comedy, whose entire basis is, er, crap. (So maybe the touchstone should be Doggy Poo.)

It's like this: in the future, the world's new energy source is human feces. Everyone has an implanted anus ID ring, so that when someone goes to the bathroom they're rewarded with Juicybars, yummy—and, as it happens, addictive—popsicles. Blue mutants, led by a muscled, pierced, dreadlocked messiah, have been heisting Juicybar shipments in Shit City to such a degree that the city's disturbingly doll-headed fascist leader has commissioned a mad scientist to create a super-cyborg out of cadavers to fight them. Meanwhile, Aachi and Ssipak, two idiot petty Juicybar thieves, find themselves in trouble thanks to their no-good associate, the auteur-wannabe porn producer Jimmy. It's in the course of Jimmy's payback that they encounter the sexy Betsy (Beautiful in the English subtitles), and Ssipak falls head over heels for her on first sight. Betsy becomes the movie's MacGuffin when she's forcibly implanted with a new anus ring that delivers mountains of Juicybars whenever she hits the can, which further complicates things to the point where everyone is trying to catch and/or kill everyone else, with Betsy as the main prize.

At this point, reasonable people would no doubt shake their heads in bewilderment and move on. They'd also miss one of the funniest and well-crafted animated movies I've seen this year. Kino Kid put it well after we saw the film when she said, "It is what it is"—not in that shoulder-shrugging, "what are you gonna do?" way, but in the sense that in the first ten minutes, between the exposition and the car chase/gun battle, you know what type of story it is. And once the basis is established (the world is powered by shit!), there's no need to go for gross-out jokes or squishy sound effects; it's just part of the world, right down to its advertising. (Sure, the ads about happy communities crapping together is absurd, but is it any more absurd than animated marching cigarettes or winking Esso signs? Not really.)

Scatology aside, Aachi & Ssipak is also a relentless action movie that manages to be both ultra-violent (those blue mutants make for excellent exploding-body cannon fodder) and cartoony. If you check out the film's official website, you'll see what I mean. Even as the cyborg mows down mutants with a fervour and style that would be the envy of any Terminator, his body and his equipment maintain the same kind of squash and stretch we expect from gag cartoons. And bonus points to director/screenwriter Jo Beom-jin for putting in all kinds of movie in-jokes that are actually funny without calling attention to themselves (unless, as in the case of Jimmy's Jiffybar-overdose freakout, that's the point). If you've seen Battleship Potemkin you'll howl at the extended riff on the Odessa steps sequence, but if you haven't it's still funny and exciting on its own.

In terms of animation and design, Aachi & Ssipak is both consistent and ambitious. Everything in this dirty, corrupt world holds together visually, and the film is crammed with the kind of dynamic composition, animated camera moves and quick but clear editing that drew many people to anime over the last four decades.

One of the film's many movie posters declares that it contains "2D funky action in an awesome 3D reality!" It's true that there's some 3D work in there, but with one or two forgettable exceptions it's integrated quite well. Having watched the film only once (so far), I'd venture that 3D digital tools were largely used for anything that would be too complicated by hand, but the director set the "too complicated" bar pretty high. The result is that we still get some of that exaggerated, sometimes-snappy, sometimes-elastic feel in many action sequences, rather than fairly literal motion and acceleration. (This is why I'll take the space combat scenes in Macross over those in Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles any day.)

It's refreshing to see that the subject matter didn't make the filmmakers lazy, or too self-satisfied in their subversiveness. Aachi & Ssipak's story and animation work together to make a tight, hilarious action film. I don't know how likely this it is to get a domestic release, but fortunately the Korean DVD includes English subtitles.

Aachi & Ssipak
Directed by Jo Beom-jin
90 minutes
Buy the Aachi & Ssipak DVD (Region 3) from YesAsia.com

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July 12, 2007

One of the most obnoxious things about Hollywood movies is the tendency to put kids in danger to mine a little extra anxiety from the audience. It's a cheap stunt, because bad things rarely happen to kids in Hollywood films. (Steven Spielberg is a serial offender here. Remember Short Round on the bridge in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or Tim climbing the soon-to-be-re-electrified fence in Jurassic Park? Right.)

There's none of that fake danger in Tekkon Kinkreet, the Studio 4°C film that opened the Fantasia film festival this year. The young protagonists live in a harsh, gritty world that gives no quarter, and that sometimes takes the movie to places that Hollywood movies fear to tread.

Tekkon Kinkreet is the story of Kuro and Shiro (whose names literally translate to Black and White), two of the many orphan children who prowl the streets of Treasure Town. Shiro, the younger of the two, is the innocent, while Kuro has no problem with getting his knuckles (or a length of pipe) bloody to protect him or their turf. In this mix are two cops (one older and wiser, who keeps an eye out for Kuro and Shiro, the other a young rookie); a young yakuza who's leading his boss's advance into Treasure Town; and a mysterious and sinister elfin character who aims to turn a fair chunk of Treasure Town into a massive theme park.

There's a lot going on in this movie, and every one of its 100 minutes is put to good use. The kids, the cops, the yakuza and the developer all have some sort of interplay between each other (sometimes with words, sometimes with violence, sometimes with both), but just as importantly, they each have some sort of interplay with the city itself. In fact, Tekkon Kinkreet is as much about our various relationships to the urban landscape as anything else.

Based on the Taiyo Matsumoto manga Black & White and directed by Michael Arias, Tekkon Kinkreet shares elements of other anime films that feature outsider children. Like Grave of the Fireflies, Kuro and Shiro have struck out on their own, with the older character willing to take on any burden to protect the younger's health and innocence. Like Akira, the movie dwells mostly among those who live in the city but who have dropped out of society. And like Kakurenbo, these kids' relationship with the urban landscape has little to do with its intended use, but is in many ways more intimate and more thorough than for ordinary citizens.

The movie looks fantastic, with Treasure Town a lush forest of rooftops, fire escapes, cables and signs. The characters who inhabit Treasure Town are angular, slope-shouldered, asymmetrical—they owe more in look to Mind Game than, say, Naruto—and fit right in with the bustling, chaotic city. I was quite surprised during the post-screening Q&A when an audience member implied that most of the film was clearly CG; not only because it's obviously not the case, but because if there's any film that proves it doesn't matter which elements are CG and which are hand-drawn, it's this one. The appropriate tool is used at the appropriate time, and it's put together not with the express intent of hiding the seams, but of making the scene work. The end result is something you'll want to repeatedly freeze-frame when the DVD comes out, but which you should catch on the big screen when its limited North American run starts on Friday, just to drink it all in.

Tekkon Kinkreet
Directed by Michael Arias
100 minutes
Buy Tekkon Kinkreet Limited Edition on DVD (Region 2) at YesAsia.com
Buy Tekkon Kinkreet on DVD at Amazon.com
Buy Tekkon Kinkreet soundtrack CD at Amazon.com
Buy Tekkon Kinkreet soundtrack remix CD at YesAsia.com

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June 29, 2007
Our pals at the Fantasia film festival have unleashed this year's lineup, and as always, animation fans are well served—but they have to do a little more work to get their fix.

Features seem a little diminished, but not so much as last year. The fest starts and ends strong—Tekkon Kinkreet is the opening film, and the Korean Yobi the Five-Tailed Fox is the last animated screening, on the second-to-last day of the festival—but those are the only two features on 35mm film. The odd-looking stopmo film We Are the Strange is in high-definition video, but the other features (the Flash-animated Minushi, Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow and Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society) are all projected, standard-definition video. Previous Fantasia fests prove that watching projected video can still be enjoyable, but spending four days at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema watching nothing but 35mm reminds you of the kind of difference the medium makes.

There are also two short feature documentaries that are about animation, and they're screening together. Animania is about Canadian anime fandom, which appears to focus on how the current generation of teen fans relate to anime. I've seen and heard so many reports on teen fandom I'd be inclined to give it a pass, but last year—back when the movie's focus was less on the teens—I was interviewed extensively for Animania, and I was asked some very interesting questions. I'm hoping they applied the same kind of thoughtfulness to their adolescent subjects. (And no, I'm not in the actual Animania movie, but apparently I'll appear in the DVD extras.) The other documentary is the French Ghibli et le mystère Miyazaki (Ghibli and the Mystery of Miyazaki), which needs little explaining but which is definitely a must-see, especially with interviewees like Isao Takahata, Moebius and Takashi Murakami.

Fantasia's real source of pleasure for animation fans comes from the animated shorts, but that's also its real source of pain. For years I've been preaching that animation shouldn't be ghettoized, that it should be treated like "regular" film. The problem is that Fantasia gives me just what I ask for, scattering its animated shorts among omnibus films (Ten Nights of Dreams) and over a dozen collections of shorts, only two of which are animation-specific (a best-of compilation from last year's Ottawa fest, plus the latest edition of The Outer Limits of Animation, which inexplicably includes the two-year-old, almost overexposed, not-terribly-out-there In the Rough). Miraculously, it's possible to see all of the animated shorts with only one schedule conflict: The one screening of The Outer Limits of Animation is at the same time as Watch Out! Beyond the Genres of Korean Short Films, which includes the 34-minute The Hell (Two Kinds of Life).

And really, that's the most amazing thing about Fantasia this year. They've added a third cinema to their venues, but in three weeks of screenings there appear to be fewer repeats than ever before. It's a testament to the passion of their crew that they're still going so strong.

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July 3, 2006
There were a few things I couldn't or didn't address properly in my thoughts about this year's Fantasia lineup. First of all, Vaclav Svankmajer's The Torchbearer (pictured) is being screened along with Worlds of Wounded Clay: The Films of Robert Morgan. (Which reminds me to mention Jan Svankmajer's partly stop-motion Lunacy, which will also be in the festival.) Second, Visions of Frank, in which eight Japanese animators interpret Jim Woodring's world and his star character Frank, is part of the Visions of Jim Woodring screening. And finally, I wanted to mention The Outer Limits of Animation, not least because it includes three shorts by Bruno Bozzetto and the festival favourite The Regulator. Why didn't I? Because while I'd written it down in my notes, I couldn't find it in the online schedule. Silly me: it was under its French title, Au-delà de l'animation. Now you know, so you've got no excuse to miss any of these films. Tickets go on sale tomorrow.

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June 30, 2006
We got the lowdown on this year's Fantasia film festival earlier this week, and we were surprised to discover that there isn't much in the way of feature-length animation this year—there's the bizarre stop-motion feature Blood Tea and Red String (which took thirteen years to make), The Visions of Jim Woodring (whose title speaks for itself), the Fullmetal Alchemist movie, and... that's it. Given that it's the tenth-anniversary iteration of the fest, it's a shame there isn't more, given how significant animated features have been in their lineup all these years.

That said, Worlds of Wounded Clay: The Films of Robert Morgan (pictured above), which will be hosted by Morgan himself, promises to be an incredible stop-mo head trip, and DJ XL5's Zappin' Party Cavalcade promises the usual freaked-out collection of obscure, new and old shorts, both animated and live-action. In fact, that's kind of where all the animated action is this year: you have to pick through the various short-film compilations and double- or triple-bills to find them: Negadon: The Monster from Mars (which we reveiwed in our latest issue), The Torchbearer (by Jan Svankmajer's son Vaclav), and Fast Film are just three of the nuggets of buried treasure you'll have to dig for. The fest starts up on July 6, so you'd better start searching the schedule soon.

Update: See more details about the festival's animation lineup in my next post.

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July 27, 2005
Well, whaddaya know. It turns out Mind Game and director Masaaki Yuasa took home every award they could possibly qualify for at the Fantasia film festival, which wrapped up on Monday. Best Film, Best Director, Best Script, and Special Award—Visual Accomplishment. Not bad for a first-time director!

A complete list of the awards can be found here.

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July 14, 2005
Marc Lamothe, one of our pals at the Fantasia Festival, just sent us an e-mail to pass along. Better act fast if you're interested:

Stephen R. Bissette's Journeys Into Fear
The History, Heritage, and Censorship of the Horror Comics
Montreal Premiere

Noted comic artist, illustrator, writer and scholar Stephen R. Bissette presents the first two installments of his sprawling, five-part lecture series on horror comics-where they came from, what they've gone through and where they're going. This lecture series has evolved through active presentation of the lecture in many public venues since 1992, including the Copenhagen Comic Art Library, the San Diego Comics Convention and many colleges and universities.

Fantasia would like to offer to 100 fans and friends a ticket for each of the two lectures. All you need to do is print this email and bring it to our ticket counter located at the Hall Theater, 1455, Maisonneuve Blvd West (Guy-Concordia subway station). You'll receive a ticket for each lecture.

Lecture One: Roots July 16th, 2005 2:45 pm J.A. De Seve
Lecture Two: The Comic Book Terrors July 17th, 2005 3:00 pm J.A. De Seve

More info at http://www.fantasiafestival.com/en/films/film_detail.php?id=98

Stephen R. Bissette worked 24 years in the comic book industry as a cartoonist, writer, editor, publisher, and co-publisher, and remains best known for Saga of the Swamp Thing and Tyrant. He retired from comics in 1999, but remains busy—since 1990, he has illustrated books by Neil Gaiman and Joe R. Lansdale, written the Stoker Award-winning novella Aliens: Tribes and non-fiction efforts including We Are Going To Eat You! The Third World Cannibal Movies, as well as articles for numerous books, film magazines and fanzines. His essays, interviews, and articles will be collected in 2006 as the book series Gooseflesh: The Secret Histories of the Horror Film (Black Coat Press). Bissette also works as a tutor, college lecturer and consultant and faculty member at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT (opening fall 2005). He lives and works in Marlboro, Vermont with his wife Marjory and son Daniel.

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July 6, 2005
We were so caught up with releasing our third issue yesterday, I almost forgot to mention that tickets for our Animation Innovators presentation featuring Ray Harryhausen went on sale yesterday. The presentation is in collaboration with the Fantasia film festival, so if you're planning on attending, don't procrastinate—shows have been known to sell out in a fairly short time.

You can buy tickets at the Fantasia box office at the Concordia University Hall building, or order them through the Admission Network, either via the web site or by phone: (514) 790-1245 in Montreal, or toll-free at (800) 361-4595.

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