SF International Animation Fest ’11: Tatsumi
(trailer here) serves as a compelling introduction to his career and stories. Singapore’s official submission for best foreign language Academy Award consideration, Khoo’s animated tribute-biography screens at the San Francisco Film Society’s upcoming 2011 San Francisco International Animation Festival.
Tatsumi was ten when World War II ended. Somewhat logically, the American occupation and economic revival of Japan would factor prominently in his life and that of his characters. Khoo intersperses five notable Tatsumi stories, mostly in black-and-white, amid his vivid color adaption of the Gekiga pioneer’s memoir. Psychologically complex and deeply flawed, it is clear how Tatsumi’s characters were shaped by their creator’s experiences. In fact, it is easy to conflate them with Tatsumi, particularly the unfortunate artist in Occupied.
Each of the five would stand alone as satisfying self-contained short films. However, the most powerful of the collected stories comes first, by virtue of chronology. Hell forthrightly addresses the horrors of Hiroshima and its aftermath, but it takes viewers to some unexpectedly dark places, undercutting simplistic moral judgments. Throughout all five stories, there is a profound sense of alienation, often prodding the protagonists to commit shockingly anti-social acts out of existential compulsion, but their actions are always understandable, in a sadly human way.
Though his life was never as lurid as that of his marginalized characters, Tatsumi’s early years were marked by considerable pain and want. Khoo structures the film in a way that really emphasizes how these struggles instilled a humanistic empathy in Tatsumi, embracing those who were downtrodden and even grotesque. Ultimately, it is rather inspiring to see the artist rise from such mean circumstances to become an acknowledged leader of his field.
Rendered by Singapore-based creative animation director Phil Mitchell in a style akin to Tatsumi’s, the film’s animation is deceptively simple, but eerily expressive. Tatsumi’s warm voice also narrates the biographical portions of the film bearing his name, forging a further connection with viewers.