Saturday, April 19, 2008

Poor Little Animated Shorts: Guest Edition

Trying to covering a reasonable scope of the animated shorts available is not a healthy task for one person to attempt alone, so I dragged in a couple friends to help. It’s the Film Walrus’s first ever guest collaboration!

Two key areas where I have a rather limited knowledge are anime and music videos. I knew Mad Dog (John Mora), a veritable anime expert, would be perfect for handling the former. Folker (also known as my brother Patrick) is a musician and music blogger and he graciously agreed to write a review of his choice of music videos. I had originally suggested "Fell in Love with a Girl" by the White Stripes because of its interesting use of Lego stop-motion and CG, but I much prefer his own selection, “Agenda Suicide” by The Faint.

I didn’t plan it this way in advance, but it turned out I was already familiar with today’s three choices (frequent association with the authors does tend to do that) and I have to say that I think they are all highly worthy animated shorts. As usual, enjoy!

Title: Magnetic Rose (1995)
Director: Koji Morimoto
Time: 45 minutes
Availability: Available on the DVD “Memories”
In the not-too-distant future, a space debris salvage team gets an SOS signal in the form of an opera song from an abandoned zone of space with dangerous magnetic fields. They locate the origin of the signal, a collection of debris in the shape of a rose. When they investigate further, they find the debris actually hides an opulent mansion, presided over by a retired opera singer (based on the famous diva Maria Callas). As the rescue team begins to be terrorized by illusions and mind games, it becomes clear that the cause of this SOS may be something supernatural...

This is one of those rare animated shorts that manages to escape the animated short “ghetto” and become something that can compete with full-length features. Simply put, Magnetic Rose is one of the best animes I've ever seen. This is due in no small part to the impressive staff that worked on it. Koji Morimoto (Animatrix) is no stranger to shorts, and shows he can excel at convention as much as experimentation. Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue) wrote an incredibly dense, efficient screenplay. Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop) creates an indelible score that mixes saxophone, opera and Gregorian chant. The result is a truly haunting and masterful short.

Title: Noiseman Sound Insect (1997)
Director: Koji Morimoto
Time: 15 minutes
Availability: Availabile on R2 DVD or on Veoh here
In the futuristic city of Cahmpon, a scientist creates an artificial life-form made up of “noise,” which he dubs Noiseman. Noiseman is a capricious, selfish creature, however, and overthrows its maker to begin using his machines to enslave everyone in the city, giving him all their delicious sounds while turning them into helpless ghost-like creatures. A member of a biker gang and his female friend manage to break the mind control and try to stop Noiseman from completing his scheme.

It's not a stretch to say that this short is bizarre. The plot barely makes any sort of coherent sense, but the artistry at work is exhilarating. Cahmpon comes alive via some very sophisticated CG composite fly-through shots, giving it a totally three dimensional feel while remaining aesthetically 2D. Color and music are blaring at all times, with animation supervised by Masaaki Yuasa (Cat Soup) and a techno soundtrack by the legendary Yoko Kanno. Noiseman Sound Insect is more representative of Morimoto's frenetic, weird style, and it's a wild ride.

Title: Agenda Suicide (2002)
Band: The Faint (director unknown, made through Saddle Creek)
Time: 4 minutes
Availability: Free for download from the band's website, but available in what I hope will be higher quality on the Agenda Suicide single.
The Faint are a dance-rock band, a sort of New New Wave thing. Continuing the New Wave tradition of writing dancy pop songs about dark subject matter (i.e., OMD's "Enola Gay" or Nena's "99 Luftballons"), "Agenda Suicide" is a song fairly clearly criticizing the typical 9-to-5 lifestyle: "As I lay to die the things I think / Did I waste my time? / I think I did, I worked for life," with the refrain, "All we want are pretty little homes." Things begin with a man waking up, taking some pills with his coffee, descending into a subway, and ascending into an office. At work, the man is pointed and yelled at by a presumed superior in what feels an abusive manner. Authoritative figures talk in screens in the background of a long line of people, and time feels omnipresent. The man seems suspiciously bored and removed, and on his ride home, he sees several people jump in front of his subway. When the next day starts, things are much weirder. People seem to fall down and/or die for no reason. Human heads are replaced with those of elephants'. The man occasionally phases slightly in and out of static. Ultimately, at the bottom of a structural nightmare, he steps in front of a subway and splinters into pieces.

The status quo appears bleak and the mood is grim. All the while, things keep moving, colors flash, text rushes by, and other people move around in a drone-like fashion. The subway and the office are often seen as a sort of architectural schematic; we see the lines of their outlines and form but no detail. The video is mostly CG with rotoscoped actors grafted in for people and photos overlaid for certain other objects. The photographic images are all black-and-white, and everything else uses fairly simply color schemes (with a lot of rather ugly orange).

Clearly, the Faint do not look fondly upon the regular live-work-die philosophy. This video was banned from MTV.

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