JFF Plus Online Festival Day 4 – Anime Day

Today I’m only covering the two animated offerings from Day 4 of the Japanese Film Festival. Although I was curious to try The Great Passage [Fune wo amu] (2013) – a romantic drama about man’s 15-year project to create a new dictionary – I just didn’t have the mental energy to face it in the 24 hour window available. Maybe some other time.

Sumikkogurashi: Good to Be in the Corner [Eiga Sumikko Gurashi: Tobidasu Ehon to Himitsu no Ko] (2019) is an hour-long animated movie based on the Sumikko characters, who I’d never heard of before but are drawn in a very familiar style – their bodies are basically blobs with facial expressions made of very simple lines. Their design is deceptively simple and they’re very cute – which may be part of the reason this was my favourite animated offering so far. It appears to be better known in English as Sumikko Gurashi The Movie – The Pop-up Book and the Secret Child.

Shirokuma is a shy polar bear. Penguin? is a green creature who likes cucumber and thinks it’s a penguin but may actually be a kappa who has lost its bowl. Neko is a cat who scratches things when anxious. Tonkatsu is the leftover edge of a pork cutlet (99% fat and 1% meat) who hangs out with Ebifurai No Shippo, the tip of a fried shrimp – their dearest ambition is that one day somebody will eat them. Tokage, a dinosaur pretending to be a lizard, is best friends with Nisetsumuri, a slug pretending to be a snail. Zassou is a cheerful weed who dreams of becoming a bouquet. Obake is a ghost who loves to clean, and there are a few other creatures who play a smaller role.

While cleaning out a newly discovered basement, Otake discovers a glowing book and is sucked inside by a demon. When the other characters go looking for Otake, they are also sucked into what turns out to be a pop-up book of fairy tales. The characters find themselves separated and thrust into the roles of various characters depending on which page they arrived on, experiencing the stories of Momotaro, The Little Match Girl, The Little Mermaid, Arabian Nights, Little Red Riding Hood and The Ugly Duckling. (My favourite scene depicted the slightly perverse situation of Little Red Riding Hood (Tonkatsu & Ebufurai No Shippo) drooling at the thought of being eaten by the Big Bad Wolf, who is weirded out and backing slowly away.) They gradually regroup by climbing through tears in the pages or activating pop-up buttons, having various adventures before escaping back to their own world. It drifts along pleasantly from incident to cute incident and was just right for my mood.

Li’l Spider Girl [Wasurenagumo] (2012) is cute in a different way than Sumikkogurashi, but a little less child-friendly. Suzuri (Tsuchida Hiroshi) runs an antiquarian bookshop with the (minor) assistance of his landlord’s granddaughter Mizuki (Shimoda Asami), who has little interest in books. When she accidentally removes the paper sutra sealing a book telling the legend of a battle against giant spider spirits, the one surviving spider child is released from the book, manifesting as a small human girl with a spider’s limbs. Suzuri thinks that Spider Girl (Kaneda Tomoko) is adorable and wants to look after her, but Mizuki is concerned that the girl will revert to her human-eating ways and seeks the advice of her grandfather (Hoshino Mitsuaki). A return to the site of the original resolves matters to an extent, but not in quite the way I’d expected.

This short animated film was commissioned as part of a showcase for up-and-coming animators and marks the directorial debut of Kaiya Toshihisa, having previously worked on projects such as Gunsmith Cats [Gansumisu Kyattsu] (1995). It marks the second screenplay for Tanimura Daishirou – his earlier work Drawer Hobs [Tansuwarashi] (2011) was showcased on Day 3 of the Film Festival. The animation style is much more in line with the fantasy/horror-tinged anime I’m more familiar with, doing a fine job depicting both epic mythic battles against terrifying giant spiders and the more kawaii-inflected (yet still disturbing) Spider Girl. It’s been a good day for animation – this one’s very different to Sumikkogurashi, so it’s difficult to compare the two, but I think this one edges out the other as my pick for best animation shown so far.

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