Sunday, December 20, 2009

Milwaukee Film Festival Day Seven 9/30/2009

Film #14 - An Animated World
Film #15 - Rashomon

One thing that struck me off the bat when seeing An Animated World was that it was a really good crowd for a week day show. It was a Wednesday at 5:15, so obviously the people there made an effort to be there. There was another thing that struck me, however, and that was the number kids that were in the audience with their parents. Knowing how these animated shorts showcases can go, this seems either misguided or incredibly progressive - I hope these kids can read subtitles quickly...

After the shorts showcase is a reprint of Rashomon, which is incredibly exciting to me since A) It's one of the greatest movies ever made and B) I will finally have some company with me since my boyfriend Chris and one of my best friends, Jay, is going to be joining me for the screening. If there's anything I love more than watching a good film, it's watching a good film with loved ones.

Countries: Various

(No stars will be attributed to each short, only mini-capsule reviews)

Please note - if you are interested in seeing any of these shorts, most are available on You Tube for viewing

Mutt - Director: Glen Hunwick
Australia - 2008 - 7 min
A dog waits desperately for his craggy owner to play ball with him on a ranch in the Australian Outback, and the owner wants nothing to do with the dog except to put him to work. Computer animated, this one was kind of cute, but there wasn't a whole lot there.

Lapsus - Director: Juan Pablo Zaramella
Argentina - 2007 - 4 min

A surreal black and white study in animation involving a nun who can't stop saying "Oh my God!" I thought this one was brilliant, both in its simple animation, and the clever way Zaramella created humor and a bit of a story with nothing more than a couple well placed frames of animation. This one was definitely one of my favorites.

Photographs of Jesus - Director: Laurie Hill
USA - 2008 - 7 min

A narrator who works at the National Archives discusses funny and ludicrous requests he hears. Another excellent short. Between the narrative and the witty animation, mostly stop motion animation of photographs and objects in the National Archives, this was extremely entertaining.

Cattle Call - Directors: Mike Maryniuk & Matthew Rankin
Canada - 2008 - 4 min

What takes place inside a cattle auction. I thought this one was just okay, I was more interested in the mixed media approach to the animation than what was actually happening at the auction.

Yellow Sticky Notes - Director: Jeff Chiba Stearns
Canada - 2007 - 6 min

Chiba Stearns animated his life on yellow sticky notes for a couple of years, including major world events around him. I loved this short because even though the format was simple, it was incredibly moving, especially since the director/animator completely opens up his life to us. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's poignant, but the entire short was mesmerizing.

Western Spaghetti - Director: PES
USA - 2008 - 2 min

Cooking a meal, but with Western pop culture references instead of actual consumable ingredients. I thought this one was really clever; this stop-motion animation short was certainly one of the most creative, but PES was also able to make a subtle point about Western pop culture. Examples of the substituted "ingredients" were Pick-Up Sticks used as spaghetti and a Rubik's Cube cut up like vegetables and stir fried.

Hot Dog - Director: Bill Plympton
USA - 2008 - 7 min

An ugly bull dog desperately wants to become a fire dog. It is no secret among anyone who knows me that even though I can appreciate animation, particularly animation showcased in this kind of format, I'm not exactly a fan of the genre. Along with that glowing endorsement of my feelings for animation, I have to say that I consider Bill Plympton's work to be some of the most unbearable that, when forced to, I have to endure. This is the second time I had to sit through this screeching, spastic, annoying short (the first was at a screening of Oscar nominated shorts - this was not one of them, rather on the "short list") and I hope I've done my due diligence at this point and never have to see it again.

Saint Feast Day - Directors: Annelaure Daffis & Leo Marchand
France - 2007 - 15 min

On the annual Saint Feast Day, ogres have free reign to feast on children, but one ogre is vexed that he doesn't have teeth at the moment to do so. I absolutely loved this one and laughed really hard during most of the short. The mixed-media animation really worked well, and I loved that the directors would insert animated figures among what was clearly stock footage; it created a great comedic effect. Definitely dark humor, and I'll admit there weren't a lot of people sharing my mirth at ogres seeking to eat children, but I stand behind my glowing review!

The Yellow Bird - Director: Tom Schroeder
USA - 2008 - 12 min

A ranch hand reflects on his life after he bumps his head. Unfortunately, that was the best description I could give this one because honestly, I had no idea what the hell was going on in this short. There were flashbacks to the guy's life, but nothing really connected, so everything just seemed random, and not in a good way.

Skhizein - Director: Jeremy Clapin
France - 2008 - 14 min

A man is hit by a meteor and finds himself exactly 9 centimeters off from where he is supposed to be. I had seen this short before as well; it was an Oscar-nominated short, and brilliantly done. When I sat through it this time, I felt a sense of dread because I was listening to everyone around me laughing at the site gag of the guy with his head through the wall when it should be through the window, etc., but knowing what was coming made me think, "You're laughing now - if you truly get it, you won't be laughing in about 10 minutes..." Turns out the guy is schizophrenic, and what's worse, he can feel it happening, summing up his displacement predicament with, "I am exactly 9 centimeters from myself. You've lost it, you're beside yourself." Brilliant and devastating.

Akira Kurosawa
Japan - 1950 - Japanese with English subtitles

(I've previously reviewed this film, so I am pasting that review, with a few short comments about the experience and restoration preceding it)

I was so thrilled to have the pleasure of not only seeing Rashomon on the big screen, but also to view the frame-by-frame 35 mm restoration. Though I love film in almost any format, I do love the idea of seeing a classic film on something tangible, like celluloid, so this was an immense treat for me. I was also pleased to see a decent crowd show up for the film; a classic film readily available on DVD and not costing $10/ticket is not the easiest sell in Milwaukee, so I was heartened by the attendance. As expected, Rashomon lived up to my memories and I came away from the experience with continued admiration for Kurosawa.


Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film about a horrible crime and the various versions of the "truth" that come to fruition during the investigation is absolutely amazing, pure and simple. The story is told four different times, each time from the point of view of one of the participants. The basic story of the crime is that a bandit (Toshiro Mifune) comes across a husband and wife traveling through the forest. The bandit, Tajomaru, seduces/assaults the Masako (Machiko Kyo) after tying up her husband Takehiro (Masayuki Mori), and soon after, Takehiro is dead. What happens between the times Tajomaru encounters the couple and the discovery of Takehiro's body is what is left to be discovered. Masako, Tajomaru and even Takehiro (with the assistance of a medium) each tell their account of the story, each taking blame for Takehiro's death. The fourth telling is from a passer-by, and the audience is left to decide which is the true account.

I absolutely loved this film. I had heard that Yimou Zhang's Hero had, if not as an homage, employed the same technique of storytelling and perspective, but seeing this great film was a real treat. The story is original and rich, and Kurosawa always is able to pull great performances from his actors. I found Rashomon to be extremely compelling from start to finish, and even managed to be really creeped out at one point. (The psychic medium is pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel) From the very little that I know of Japanese cinema of the 1950's & 1960's, I realize that Kurosawa was not the only director, but he certainly was the trailblazer and set the bar for the genre for decades to come. His peers were putting out material, it was just fairly primitive. (It is easy to forget that not every country's film industry was as opulent as America's) To see this kind of film, a film that is actually incredibly simple, but so ingeniously conceived of and executed makes me remember why I have been and always will be both a student of and lover of film.

5 out of 5 stars

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