I’m not sure you can really call this one an “animated film.”
Well, the little puppet characters do move at times — or so it seems
But most of the time they just stand there.
In fact, a surprising amount of the movement in this film is accomplished with cuts, or camera movements, or something on screen merely shifting slightly.
Or perhaps trembling a bit.
Add in a number of long, establishing shots with little movement, and puppet characters talking with frozen faces and only minimal movement — most of that between shots — and the effect becomes increasingly unsettling.
Although that might just be the very strange sense of design, where everything looks shabby and worn — even the faces of the characters, whose paint seems to be chipping off in some of the shots.
This is an example of what’s called Ga-nime, a curious art movement which had its moment in the early Nothings in Japan. Basically, the word is a combination of anime with the Japanese word for art, ga. The idea was to create a film using still images with editing, voices and music. Toei and Gentosha teamed up to release a collection of films in this format, with the idea that these would be far less expensive than standard anime, and require less work, thus allowing artists and creators the freedom to make the films they wanted.
Toei and Gentosha then sold these films individually, at what we here in the States would consider an exorbitant amount.
Now the idea of this sort of minimalist filmmaking is not a new one: the legendary French short film, La Jetee did this the whole way back in 1962, although it used photos instead of art. It can be highly effective, for exactly the same reasons that film is effective: after all, you could not replicate the experience of watching La Jetee with a collection of snapshots with a few captions thrown in. There is something critical in how these images are presented, for how long, and how all the pieces fit together. Perhaps my favorite example is the commercial made for the Halo 3 “Believe” campaign: it was shot on a large, detailed diorama, and the characters never move (well, except for one instant at the end). The truly unexpected surprise, however, is that this beautifully shot footage of little soldier figures fixed in place on an artificial battlefield turns into a deeply emotional story.
As did La Jetee.
And perhaps, at its best, this sort of extremely limited minimalist film is ideally suited to tapping into our emotions, as it is forced to dwell on the stillness, on the moments between what is happening, making our reactions to the events seem more important than the events themselves.
But, perhaps what I am struggling for here is someway to explain the inexplicable. That’s certainly the best way to look at this film, with its long pauses, and plentiful moments when people stand around and stare at what just happened.
On the face of it, this is an adaptation of three H.P. Lovecraft stories. The first, The Picture in the House, is a routine sort of minor horror tale, about a man taking shelter in an apparently empty house, only to have an unsettling encounter with the owner. The original story is only 3300 words long and yet the main thrust of the story could have been told in far less. Like a lot of his stories, there is a mass of description, as his nameless narrator tells us of this rather unhealthy region, of the house, and its unappealing owner.
It would be nearly impossible to adapt the work literally, and the director, Ryo Shinagawa, to his credit, doesn’t even try. Instead, we have a long intro in which we see what the narrator saw, without a single word. In fact, the narrator never speaks, only the man who owns the house.
The second is one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, The Dunwich Horror. It is the most science fictional of the stories in this collection, despite the prominent place magic plays in the story, as there is a quick reference to the father of the horrible creature as an alien. Our glimpses of a dead creature are suitably nasty, and in the big climax we actually get a brief moment of monster goodness, as the creature finally becomes visible.
While most of the major incidents of the story are covered, it is not as close as the first tale, as it added a narrative voice, and the idea that those hunting the beast use magic to stop it. In the original story, it is clearly something from beyond that cannot exist in our universe, but that notion gets lost along the way in this version.
The Festival is also quite close to the original, although it ignores most of its narration, once we’ve been introduced to the basic situation. It wasn’t a story I was familiar with, so, as I watched it, I assumed it was essentially similar to The Shadow over Innsmouth (for which, admittedly, it seems to have been a dry run for Lovecraft), as we have another town with an ancient past and secret, with a narrator drawn into its secrets. As a result, I’d assumed that the creatures were a horrible old race or something of the sort, although the original tale has something quite different in mind (and, I’ll note, a radically different ending). The flying monster bat-like things are particularly cool in this one, but the flying sequences are perhaps the weakest part of the entire film, as one really doesn’t get the impression of them getting on the beasts and flying away until most of that part of the film is over.
For all that Lovecraft’s underlying vision is often science fictional, his works are often presented as more occult than anything else on film. Certainly we do not get the far more explicit description of the creature and its origin that Professor Armitage gives in the original version of The Dunwich Horror, although that is hardly a surprise in a work this minimal — although neither are we given the apparent truth of those things in The Festival, either, which merely look horrible and monstrous.
Many of you will be dissatisfied with this one because of its strange non-animated animation. Nor will its odd, rather decayed-looking (for want of a better description) aesthetic appeal to everyone.
But I’ll confess I found this one quite interesting, and extremely moody and atmospheric throughout. It does a good job of catching the tone of much of Lovecraft’s work, and is actually closer to the source stories than most of his adaptations have ever been.
This isn’t the best Lovecraft adaptation ever, but it is a curious and quirky attempt to bring his stories to life on the screen.
Even if it doesn’t do so in a very lively sort of way.
It’s an interesting artistic experiment, and mostly succeeds, thanks to a strong score and great editing.
And, as it is up on Youtube, it is definitely worth a look, if you love H.P. Lovecraft or other works of classic horror…
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