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Archive for July 14th, 2012

By Bob Clark

If there is one basic rule of humanity that stretches across generations and cultural borders of every ilk, a good candidate might be that people will generally be as inhumane to one another as they see fit in order to stay alive. As such, telling stories about those who are trapped in and grow up around all kinds of suffering is an easy way to transcend national and other differences and elicit sympathy from filmgoers when aiming for as large an audience as possible. It’s an especially canny decision when you decide to engage in hybrid animation that mixes traditional hand-drawn 2D practices with newer CGI models for a blend that has every chance of alienating crowds as much as winning them. Granted, we’ve seen plenty of film and television animation that mix the two, usually just as a cost-cutting measure or to allow for more spectacularly explosive scenes than the time and labor intensive demands of purely hand-drawn craft allow (the Rebuild of Evangelion revamps of athletic Eva units and mind-bending Angels being an obvious example), but in some cases all of these considerations can come together into something that’s either affecting or at least tries hard enough for the attempt to stand out on its own. Might as well try to aim for the heart with experimental weapons if you’re going to fire them at all.

Two of the three animated releases from the New York Asian Film Festival this year highlight the creative challenges and virtues of joining new flavors of animation with visceral violence and affecting, almost downright sentimental content. Last year’s The King of Pigs from South Korean animator Yuen Sang-ho has been busy capturing attention in festivals like Cannes, while this year’s Asura (showcased as a part of the joint-participating Japan Cuts festival along with an adaptation of the Junji Ito manga Gyo) from The Big O designer and Tiger & Bunny director Keiichi Sato builds off the storied reputation of one of Japan’s most notoriously controversial mangakas, George Akiyama. Both are studies of abject brutality and inhumanity throughout all levels of class and society in contemporary South Korea and medieval Japan, but with a particular emphasis on how they affect children growing up amidst such hardship. Both are also horrifically, sometimes spectacularly violent, in ways that both disguise the limitations of and showcase the highlights of the cross-disciplinary digital melting pot they both practice, and help illustrate the creative potential for a new brand of animation when most practitioners and audiences alike are stuck thinking about 2D and CGI as competing strands of differing artistic value.

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