By Cain Noble-Davies

Pigtails (2015)

Ever wanted to see a more depressed version of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse? Well, maybe you should, because this Yoshimi Itazu directed effort is pretty damn affecting. Starting with what can only be described as an ageist race war between two different colours of clothes pegs, the film generates a hefty amount of emotion by humanising most of the objects in the titular little girl’s house, while none of the rare humans we see get any spoken dialogue. The film’s approach to anthropomorphism is evocative of Studio Pierrot’s Kogepan shorts, where the act of humanising an inanimate object allows for a stealth strike of weighty ideas. And here, that manifests as an incredibly surreal and slyly post-apocalyptic look at recycling (both the utter lack of it and what happens when we do it to more than just objects). It’s a dreamlike mood piece with the highest capacity to make an audience cry over a stuffed toy outside of the Toy Story series.

Kick-Heart (2013)

As cartoonishly over-the-top that pro wrestling can get, this take on the sport by Masaaki Yuasa of Devilman Crybaby fame is a cracked-out cut above the rest. From its opening credits that look like Klasky-Csupo took Raoul Duke’s entire stash in one go, to the wrestling matches that make the Ultimate Warrior look like Lance Storm, it’s a concussed head-trip from end to end. The line work has a child’s chicken-scratch roughness to it, but the main aesthetic is all about kinetic energy over detail, and for something as flip-heavy as pro wrestling, it works very nicely. It even manages to deliver some low-key drama and romance, both involving a struggling orphanage and a re-assessment of wrestling as a form of sadomasochism as grand spectacle. It’s the kind of short that should appeal to those who watched Liquid Television religiously back in the day (or Adult Swim nowadays), and irrespective of anything else, few things look, sound, or even feel like this.

Li’l Spider Girl (2012)

Combining two of the most dangerous things an adult can find in their house (spiders and children), Toshihisa Kaiya’s short is about an antique book dealer and his assistant who discover the titular nightmare hybrid, freed from the confines of a book she’d been trapped in since the feudal era. While it starts promisingly enough with a mixture of otherworldly action and an indie rock soundtrack – and there’s enjoyable moments like Li’l Spider Girl’s reaction to a tokusatsu TV show – this really feels like something that would’ve benefitted from feature length expansion. With a larger run time, the characters, the nature vs. nurture themes at the heart of the story, and especially its hasty conclusion, would’ve sat much better. But as is, it’s acceptable for fans of oddball domestic creature features.

Drawer Hobs (2011)

A humble debut for director Kazuchika Kise, who would not only go on to work extensively on the Ghost In The Shell Arise series but also collaborate with Makoto Shinkai on his recent smash hits with Your Name and Weathering With You, Drawer Hobs (also known as Wardrobe Dwellers) is what would happen if the Garbage Pail Kids were actually as helpful as the script kept insisting they were. Framed with eye-catching watercolour textures for the backgrounds and some Miyazaki-esque character designs, it’s the story of a customer service worker who inherits a chest of drawers that contains six spirit children. A parable on family tradition and motherhood, it’s a rather sweet and playful story that makes solid use of its run time.

The Girl From The Other Side (2019)

Adapted from Nagabe’s manga series of the same name, Yutaro Kubo and Satomi Maiya’s The Girl From The Other Side works both as melancholic parental drama and abstract psyche-horror. Without dialogue, this depiction of a young girl and her tall, dark and antlered guardian grabs onto a lot of emotions that are difficult to even put into words, mainly to do with estrangement and the distance one can feel from those who are right in front of us. Stark use of black and white to highlight the dichotomy between the girl and her mentor is contrasted with incredibly vibrant and expressive uses of colour to flesh out their environment. When it wants to put the fear of corruption into the audience’s bloodstream, it does so with eerie efficacy, but for the most part, it’s quite heartfelt and ends on a surprisingly devastating note.

JFF Plus: Online Festival December 4 – 13, 2020


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