A New York-based media company, Central Park Media, that imports Japanese manga (comics) and anime (DVDs) for sale in the USA, arranged for limited theatrical distribution for a 90 minute long presentation of a trio of its best offerings under the title Negadon Attacks: Three Animated Odysseys from Japan. All readily available on DVD, it was a great delight nevertheless to see these productions on the big screen. They were all skillfully dubbed in English. The screenings took place at New York City's Imaginasian Theater on May 12th through the 18th, 2006
The program started with Negadon: The Monster From Mars, the independent dream project of writer/director/animator and CGI/VFX creator Jun Awazu - who has poured his passion for the kaiju (monster) film genre into this homage to the original Godzilla and numerous other classics of that ilk that followed.
The story, set in 2025, concerns a world with the population exploding to over 10 billion, and with a global effort to terraform and colonize Mars well underway. A Japanese spaceship on a return voyage from the Red Planet, carrying for in-depth study a mysterious object found in ancient ruins there, catastrophically crashes in central Tokyo, unleashing a giant and ferociously monstrous creature. Dr. Narasaki (Dai Shimizu/Sean Schemmel), who gave up on his Miroku giant robot-construction project a decade earlier after an on-site accident (shown in flashback) tragically killed his beloved daughter, Emi (Akane Yumoto/Annice Moriarty), re-activates his powerful invention and, controlling it from within, fights the mindlessly ravening alien (a particularly superb "mega-starfish" design concept).
Negadon, thanks to special rendering algorithms created just for the movie, looks terrific with a wonderfully retro feel to the incredibly realistic-looking, detailed imagery that includes passing nods to Godzilla and Mothra, which fans will gleefully spot. Creator Jun Awazu also took care to enhance his plot with quite a decent dose of character development and back story, which greatly enriches the viewing experience, as does his ingenious scene-staging, and the excellent score by Shingo Terasawa, who also wrote the lovely closing credit song. A winner of many awards in its home country, Negadon deserves its accolades and bodes well for Mr. Awazu's future in genre feature-length films.
Next came Kakurenbo: Hide and Seek, from YAMATOWORKS with original screenplay, directing, storyboard, producing, CGI animation and editing by Syuhei Morita and with character design, layouts and art by Daisuke Sajiki. As compelling as Negadon, Kakurenbo, set in a contemporary but still rather traditional, small Japanese town, focuses on a deserted, sinister street, reputed to be demon-haunted, and where ghostly lights flicker in the gloom. Rumors abound that children who play otokoyo (hide-and-seek) there after sunset get snatched by the demons never to be seen again.
The story concerns one group of seven youngsters, led by a lad named Hikora (Junko Takeichi/Michael Sinteriklaas). Hikora participates in the game with the express purpose of finding his sister Sorincha (Mahito Suzuki/Veronica Taylor), who had never returned after a previous hide-and-seek event. In the midst of the area's maze-like structures, oddly lit by street lights that inexplicably flare at unexpected, unnerving moments, the game proceeds, with its participants discovering all too soon that the demons are very real indeed, their purpose for kidnapping the children being truly horrific.
Kakurenbo, rendered in a clever CGI technique that uncannily resembles hand-drawn cel animation, offers up astonishingly detailed and intricate visuals and fluid character movement, all graced with an appropriately somber, earth-toned palette, so subtly shaded that the complexity of the action never feels obscured. Expert pacing and fine character development combine to make the viewer feel sympathy for the children and more concern for their plight. An excellent, atmospheric score by Karin Nakano and Reiji Kitasato builds suspense and delivers genuine frissons of fright. Another multiple award-winner, this memorable, dark fantasy/horror story and its fiendishly inventive denouement disturbs and haunts the mind as much as it thrills.
Finally, there was Cat Soup: Nekojiru-so (see also here), the oddest of the three. Another award winner, this wonderfully strange confection was directed by Tatsuo Sato, who also collaborated on the scenario with storyboard artist and animation producer Masaaki Yuasa. It employs a hand drawn style that cleverly combines naif primitivism with impressionism, and also utilizes a contemporary, yet still mostly traditional village setting. In this seaside community, there lives a family of anthropomorphized cats, consisting of a husband, wife and two kittens, the male Nyatta being very close to his sister Nyaako.
When Nyaako falls gravely ill, and while her soul is being escorted to the Underworld by Death, Nyatta tries to retrieve her life essence, but is only partially successful. Nyaako revives but is left in a zombie-like mental state. Nyatta then takes Nyaako on a quest to search for the rest of her personifying animus, a wondrous and disturbing journey that takes them through surreal, dreamlike milieus crammed with fantastic characters and backdrops. These include a wacky sea voyage; a crazy carnival; a creepy mansion; and all sorts of constantly morphing beings and places - everything contributing to the overall hallucinogenic effect.
Cat Soup takes place with no dialogue, but clever sound FX. The excellent eclectic score by Yutoro Teshikai creates a suitably eerie atmosphere and continuity, and watching this creation induces a feeling of pleasantly amazed bewilderment. Although a discernable theme concerning the transience of existence underlies Cat Soup, this opus is best enjoyed by simply relaxing and letting its trippy, mind-bending, Hello-Kitty-meets-Salvador-Dali imagery flow over you.
Whether seen on a big screen or viewed on DVD, Negadon Attacks: Three Animated Odysseys from Japan reveals a variety of styles and a range of subjects that impresses and proves hugely entertaining. The creativity and imagination displayed by the creators of this program's three short films is a profound and valuable addition to the genre.