Tag Archives: Ottawa International Animation Festival

My Dogs, JinJin and Akida

Jaeyoung is a kid struggling at home to find some space between his abusive father and his religious mother. His dad, remote at best, has little time for any of his kids, but he does seem to have lots of attention for his precious dogs, JinJin and Akida. It’s not all that surprising that Jaeyoung is actually jealous of the dogs, but it is very, very sad to behold, and so kind of understandable when one day Jaeyoung gets it into his head that releasing one of the beloved dogs will, if not actually solve the problem, at least gain his father’s attention.

My_Dogs_JinJinAkida520.jpgDirector Cho Jong-Duck sets his adventure story amid the backdrop of the rapidly changing South Korea of 1983. It’s developing economically but Jaeyoung’s father still works in the fishing industry of a small village. There are lots of such conflicts crossing Jaeyoung’s path. Western influences are crowding in but the traditional Confucian Korean culture still has a stronghold on its people. All of these things put strains on a family already in transition.

The animation style is quite simple but the story is richly observed. There were so many scenes that were really moving in their ordinariness: Jaeyoung’s mother’s use of holy water as a deterrent to her husband’s abuse; the neighbours overhearing but not interfering with the fights going on in Jaeyoung’s house. Make no mistake: this may be an animated film, but it’s no happy-go-lucky Pixar offering. The kid deals with serious, heart breaking issues and there’s no easy out to the problems that plague his family.

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Torrey Pines

So here’s a movie for all you people who like to take some risks with your cartoon watching!

Torrey Pines is stop-motion animated, but there’s no clay in sight, it’s all paper cut outs, which I kind of loved. I mean, I’m a sucker for stop-motion any day of the week, but this one looks like something your or I could do, if only we had tonnes of time and talent and patience and a kick-ass story to tell. Clyde Petersen has all of those things, and this is (sort of) his story.

It’s about Clyde when Clyde was still a 12 year old girl dealing with gender identity and the struggle of finding his way. The film is filled with wild hallucinations and MV5BMjEzNjMwMTc0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjk4NDg4MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1763,1000_AL_psychological projections, so even though the movie is without dialogue, we still feel what Clyde is feeling. When in the car with his mother, we don’t hear them argue, but when a speech bubble features a bear biting off the head of a rabbit, we get the gist. Clyde’s mother is schizophrenic, and what she sees as a fun-filled family road trip from San Diego up to New York, the rest of the world views more as kidnapping. It’s a trip that will change Clyde and his family forever.

My love for stop-motion exists because there’s just no better way to visually represent the love and attention that goes into making a film. Stop-motion will often show us how something works close up, and we see beauty in this new perspective. Torrey Pines doesn’t disappoint; I particularly loved seeing the jointed fingers at work. But it’s also not traditionally beautiful animation. It reminded me of being in high school – my friend Kelly one day said to me that my shoes were so ugly they were cool. Up until that exact moment I’d only seen the cool in them, and forever afterward couldn’t stop seeing the ugly (she was right). The look of Torrey Pines is also ugly-cool (although legitimately both), and perhaps there is no better aesthetic to explore a coming of age story in the 1990s.

I mentioned earlier that there’s no dialogue to this movie, and that definitely proved challenging for Sean. Maybe it’s not for everyone but I liked that this film was a rule-breaker. Music and score play a much larger role in the film because of the lack of speaking roles, and it really moves us along through the stages of the film. There’s a lot to see and think about in this movie, heavy stuff, but really relatable and authentic  with a flavour all its own.

The Breadwinner

Not all men are bad, not even all Afghan men. That’s important to remember. Not all of them want to treat women like garbage, but the taliban sure does. It’s not enough to cover women head to toe in burqas, but new rules in Afghanistan prohibit them from leaving the house at all, except in rare cases when accompanied by a father, husband, or brother.

Parvana’s older sister hasn’t left the house in so long she’s forgetting what it was like. Parvana is “lucky” because her father lost his leg in the war and his livelihood more recently, so she assists him down to the market where they try to sell their possessions in order to eat. Her father respects his daughters, educated them, and wants better things for them, things he can no longer give them with the oppressive taliban regime patrolling with guns and indignation. When the taliban inevitably hauls him off to prison for no reason, suddenly the family is left without an escape clause. Parvana’s mother andMV5BMDg0ODM5NTYtMjNkMS00NDQ3LWI5MGYtMDg3ZTQ5MDE0OTRlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ1NjA0ODM@._V1_ sister and baby brother could literally starve to death waiting for a man to come release them from their own home so Parvana does the only thing she can think of to save them: she cuts off her hair, wears the clothes of her dead brother, and to taliban eyes, becomes a boy.

You may recognize The Breadwinner as a recent high-profile screening at TIFF; Angelina Jolie is a producer and her red carpet appearance really shined the spotlight on this important film. People were equally excited to celebrate it at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. It played to a packed house and I imagine it will again on Saturday so if you haven’t got your tickets, get on it!

The Breadwinner’s animation is stunning.  Stunning. Like, I want to get tattoos of it on my body. That’s really the highest praise you can give, or that I can give, an animated movie, a compliment I haven’t given before or even thought to. The story is kind of perfection. It’s by no means an exact replica of the book. It diverges significantly from it but still feels like an authentic and spiritual distillation of it.

If The Breadwinner isn’t talked about come Oscar time, I’ll be shocked and outraged. Not taliban guy seeing a woman “calling attention to herself” by merely being outdoors outraged, but outraged. It’s a great story coupled with the most amazing animation but it also could not be more essential viewing at this moment in time.

Lu Over the Wall

Greetings from the Ottawa International Animation Festival, which we’re always proud to cover because not only is it our hometown festival, it’s also a really great one – terrific movies, great venues, well-organized by staff and volunteers. It makes an Asshole proud!

Our first stop at the festival was to the good old Bytowne, where all the best indie films get shows year-round. Lu Over the Wall is a Japanese film by director Masaaki Yuasa, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by it.

The film is about Kai, a surly middle schooler who seems isolated from his peers until it 48a6ae418cf7ea14caa9daee89cfc4381491527985_largeis discovered that he makes really interesting beats with his computer, and he gets recruited into a band by Yuuho and Kuniko. The band practices on a deserted island away from the mainland so that Kuniko’s family won’t discover his dirty little secret (he’s destined to be a temple keeper, not a rock star). But out there they stir up the myth that has shrouded their town for decades: that of merpeople.

Turns out, merpeople are attracted to music, and that’s exactly what prompts Lu, a very cute little mermaid, to leave the water to sing and dance with them. Everyone else is terrified of merpeople, who, legend has it, eat people, among other atrocities, but Kai can relate to Lu and so they become friends. It’s a tricky relationship to navigate when half the townspeople want the merfolk dead and gone, and the other half hope to exploit them for money.

No, this isn’t an animated take on The Shape of Water, though it’s beginning to sound like it. But it is a story about looking beyond our preconceptions, a story made all the more palatable by its incredibly sweet animation. When its meant to, the joy practically leaps right off the screen. You’ll feel your heart tug upward. Lu’s happiness is infectious. I mean, what kind of a person isn’t completely bowled over by mermaids? Like, how black is your soul? And Lu is so bright and bubbly she makes Ariel seem like a puddle of puke. Lu Over the Wall is giddy, upbeat, and as you might have guessed, has a soundtrack bursting with J-pop. I love how the movie evokes emotion by changing up its animation style and if for some reason your inner darkness has been able to resist up until now, I’ll leave you with just one word, the only word this review really needs: mer-doggies.

OIAF: Cafard

cafardCafard is the French word for cockroach.  But make no mistake, the animated film Cafard is not the French version of A Bug’s Life.  It’s a bleak, adult tale about the horrors of the first World War, from the perspective of a world champion wrestler who enlists in the Belgian army in 1914 after his daughter is raped by German soldiers.  Unfortunately for all involved, that terrible event is only the start of the awfulness.

Cafard’s story is told well but it didn’t thoroughly draw me in, and I wonder whether that is because I never related to the protagonist.  While well-meaning, his brute force approach did not translate from wrestling to the rest of his life, and his journey is unsatisfying as a result.

The film’s subject matter was likely a cause of my detachment as well.  This is a movie that is difficult to get close to, because it does not sugarcafardcoat any aspect of war’s horrors.  While that approach is commendable, it is that much more difficult to embrace Cafard.  I would have liked for the film to have offered something to offset its harsh subject matter, but there is no joy to be found in this world.  Any hint of happiness feels fleeting, like a consolation prize at best.

Fittingly, Cafard’s motion capture animation is harsh and eerily realistic, just like its storytelling approach.  The visuals fit the movie tonally but are at times distracting, particularly because Cafard by and large is almost photorealistic but there are occasionally very roughly drawn scenes that seem like they contain animation errors.  It is too bad because those moments are few and far between but that made them even more jarring when they appeared.

Despite those minor complaints, from an artistic perspective the film consistently reflects Cafard’s sad subject matter, and tells its story effectively and with purpose.  That is an achievement deserving of mention.  The film is thematically consistent and demonstrates the futility of war from start to finish.  Cafard hammers home that theme and I left the theatre feeling that the filmmakers might even be satisfied that I found the film so difficult to enjoy.  War is hell, after all, and Cafard delivers exactly that.

 

Disney Short: Inner Workings

This past week at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, we were treated to something extra special. Not only did we get to see a preview screening of Disney’s upcoming short, Inner Workings, but we got to hear the director talk about its inspiration and production, start to finish.

2016-06-17-1466185874-8132255-inner1-thumbAs you may know, Pixar started the trend of releasing shorts before their films. It was a great way to showcase some stellar work that often gets overlooked. Disney has taken a page from the Pixar handbook and saw lots of success with its Frozen short, Frozen Fever, which aired before Cinderella. Inner Workings is slated to debut before their November release of Moana.

Inner Workings is going to take its place among the Disney\Pixar best. It’s a charming little short that nominally stars Paul, but really stars Paul’s brain, INNER-WORKINGS_first_look.jpgand his heart. From the moment he wakes up, we see the interplay between his two most boisterous organs, and the way they direct the others as well. The organs have been properly Disneyfied – they are cute, they are funny, but they are never gross or full of blood and guts. Paul is just a regular guy who’s got to get to work. His brain marches him toward the office while his heart is distracted by the many other tempting options. The pace is jaunty, the jokes are clever, the short is colourful.

Director Leo Matsuda and producer Sean Lurie followed up the screening with an in-depth look at the making of their little film. Matsudo was inspired by INNER WORKINGSthe encyclopedias he studied as a child, clear plastic pages holding the nervous system, circulatory system, etc of a man that could be overlaid on a body to see what fit where. Working at Disney as a storyboard artist, Leo along with many others, was invited to an open-pitch, where anyone could present their idea to John Lasseter and one would be chosen for production. Leo wrote his story with those encyclopedia images in mind. Spoiler alert: Leo won. Lurie mentioned that his deadpan pitched coupled with fanciful and humourous drawing really made his presentation stand out.

Matsuda discussed the influence of his Brazilian-Japanese background, the respect he has for the small team who quickly created his vision, the gratitude he feels at seeing his dream realized. We got to see the many iterations characters go through before their definitive look gets locked in, and the “cheats” they use in animation to create a small world as efficiently as possible, and the tiny little details in the drawings that all help to tell the story without words. Fascinating. Wish you could have been there.

 

La guerre des tuques

You likely know the Assholes are proud Canadians but you may know not know that I (Jay) am French-Canadian. I didn’t grow up in Québec (the traditionally french-speaking province), but in a small eastern Ontario town that borders it. I grew up speaking both languages but for the first ten years of my life, I was educated solely en français . It was a little school, about 100 kids covering grades from la maternelle (pre-kindergarten or jk) to la huitième année, or grade eight. When the temperatures dipped below -20 into frostbite snowtime_stillterritory, the whole school would assemble into our tiny gym, and one of the few movies screened for us on a 24-inch TV was La guerre des tuques. It was a movie about a bunch of kids who wage an all-out snowball fight in the vicinity of a huge snow fort during their winter break. La guerre des tuques literally translates to war of the tuques, but the English version was called The Dog Who Stopped The War.

This year, a new, animated version of the movie was released so a new generation could appreciate it. I was excited to revisit my childhood. Matt and Sean, dumb anglos, didn’t know it from a baseball cap battle, so they were in for a treat. It’s screening this week as part of Ottawa’s International Animation Festival, conveniently in English and everything (this time the English title is Snowtime!)

Being animated, they can take things a little further than a live-action movie made in the 80s could. The fort is several stories high, with CCTV, a secret railroad, and constantly simmering hot chocolate (though they draw the tech line at telephones: the old tin can method is still used, despite the fact that kids today rarely see a landline with a cord). It’s still got all the things kids look for in a fun movie: fart jokes, slightly crude humour, references to girls being icky and boys being stinky. It’s also quintessentially Canadian: snowtime-still-1yes there are hockey sticks, but also lacrosse sticks and curling brooms.

There’s a lot of good fun to be had and despite it being a “war”, most of it pretty benign. However, the end forcibly inserts a teachable moment and a dog must make the, ahem, ultimate sacrifice. It doesn’t quite fit and I wish it went differently.

Sandra Oh makes her second appearance as a voice actor in this festival (she was in Window Horses as well); this time she plays 4-eyed Frankie, and despite it being a bigger stretch, I’d say she does it more seamlessly this time around. And because this is a shamelessly Canadian production, it wouldn’t be complete without a soundtrack featuring Walk Off The Earth, Simple Plan, and Celine Dion. Is this a great movie? No, it’s not. But I can see kids liking it. And when you have winters as harsh as ours, you need entertainment aimed specifically at getting us through it.