Camera Japan Review: SHORT PEACE Has Great Shorts But No Peace

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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(Otomo Katsuhiro once again searches for beauty in violence and destruction, and this time he has brought some friends...)

Seeing anime on a big screen is always a special affair in the Netherlands, and there are only a few festivals able to purchase the more obscure titles. One of them is the Camera Japan festival in Rotterdam, and this year they showed the anthology Short Peace, produced and partly directed by Otomo Katsuhiro, him of Akira fame.

First, a confession: this review is, technically speaking, incomplete. I have only seen the movie part of Short Peace, which contains four short films, three of which are set in the past and one in the future. But the whole project actually includes a fifth current-day episode, playable as a console videogame. And that part, alas, I haven't experienced yet.

Ironically, the first thing I told friends after I watched the film, was that I wanted to play a videogame based on the last short. It's telling that the film contains enough spectacle and gorgeous designs to allow for such wishes, but the short running time of each segment unfortunately brings with it the general shallowness of videogaming, with none of the stories getting time to breathe. In fact, it is a wonder, and a testament to the technical prowess on display, that all parts manage to immerse as much as they do.

The thread tying all segments together is a tenuous one. Basically Otomo wrote down some simple rules for everyone to follow, and the subject had to be "Japan". Indeed, every short features at least a brief glimpse at mount Fuji, possibly the only bridging visual motive in the whole anthology. All segments show characters having to do battle, with either ghosts, a raging fire, alien demons or robots, but each is recognizably different from all others, in style and mood. Together they do not provide any sort of aligned narrative, moral or conclusion. The film as a whole lacks depth because of it, although it never sinks to the level of an empty tech demo either. What it does provide is a good overview of the talent and ability of the Japanese animation industry, if maybe not so much its storytelling capabilities. I recommend seeing it!

I will discuss the separate episodes below in four short reviews. Browse through the gallery to read them all:

Segment one: Possessions

A weary traveler rests in an abandoned and decrepit little temple, and discovers during the night he is trapped by several Yokai, spirit creatures, some of which are angry. The traveler tries to appease them all, but the last one may be beyond help.

Director Morita Shuhei collaborated with Otomo on the series Freedom, and is famous for his 2004 short Kakurenbo. Both of those projects showed impressive merging of traditional anime and CGI, and Possessions has the same quality. Its setting and use of wild textures also reminded me of Nakamura Kenji's excellent series Mononoke, of which this could easily have been an episode.

A beautiful start for this anthology, Possessions immediately shocks and awes the audience, and was even nominated for the Oscar for best Animated Short. I plan on buying the Blu-ray of this film (which has actually been released already in the US), and this will probably become the most-often-re-watched-by-me segment on it.

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