cars could be a technological development that greatly benefits the general
quality of life, as long as we are still the ones telling them where to go and
not vice versa. That is a concern Kokone Morikawa and her dream-state alter-ego
Ancien will come to understand. Her/their experiences will sound a cautionary
note on science and industry, but not necessarily a pessimistic one. She will
face danger, but if Morikawa survives, she stands to inherit her true legacy in
Kenji Kamiyama’s Ancien and the Magic
which had its North American premiere as the closing film of this year’s New York International Film Festival, a mere day after its Japanese opening.
time to time, Morikawa finds herself lucid dreaming in the dystopian fantasy
world of Heartland, a Metropolis-esque
city-state dedicated to automobile production, where she is a semi-captive
princess with magical powers and her plush dog Joy talks and walks and watches
her six. Only her spells, cast through her tablet computer (take your puny
little wand and hit the bricks Harry Potter) can invest the Evangelion-like Engine-heads protecting Heartland
from the ominous Kaiju, Colossus.
Morikawa is “just” a smart but unusually sleepy kid, with a few close friends
she can rely on and her father Momtarō (or Peach the pirate, as he appears in
her Heartland dreams). Her mother apparently died when she was young, but
Morikawa is a little sketchy on the details and she has never met her
grandfather (as per her father’s decisions, not her own). Much to her surprise,
events in real world Japan start to parallel the narrative of her long running
dream when her father is suddenly arrested and goons from the old man’s car
company start rummaging through their house looking for her mother’s old
tablet. Morikawa will have to outmaneuver the bad guys in both worlds, but it
will be easier for her in Heartland, where she can use her magical powers.
just about every way, Kamiyama has created the perfectly representative anime
film, incorporating nearly every crowd-pleasing “greatest hit” staple of the
genre. Yet, somehow, he marshals them in a narrative that always makes sense
and never feels forced. Morikawa is also a massively appealing young heroine,
plucky, loyal, a bit unsure of herself, but never cloying. There are certainly
far more problematic chosen children in sf/fantasy films.
might not have the name recognition here of a Miyazaki, Makoto Shinkai, or Mamoru
Hosoda, but he has been entrusted with features in the Ghost in the Shell and Cyborg
009 franchises, so you know he has to be a professional with some talent.
In fact, Ancien is exactly the film that
will take him to that next “brand name” level up. It is paced like greased lightning
and packs a well-earned emotional pay-off. Plus, it is the perfect film for
parents and teachers looking to encourage young girls in STEM subjects.
an additional layer of intrigue, the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic games plays an
important role in the film (driver-less cars may or may not participate in the
closing ceremony). Hip viewers might hear echoes of the Beijing Games, for
which corners were cut and lives were sacrificed just to put on a good show. “Heartland,”
with its hulking, inadaptable car factories sure sounds like a veiled reference
to Detroit, but Kamiyama is also critical of Japanese industrial organization,
making the point in post-screening Q&A that Japan has always been competent
when it comes to hardware production but has lagged in software development
(hence the use of a formula as a Macguffin).
Most importantly, Ancien also happens to be fun. For anime connoisseurs, it would
make a fascinating pairing with Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. Honestly, the closing theme, Hirune Hime’s reworking of Daydream Believer is so amazing, it is
worth the price of admission on its own (if the Monkees could have done it like
that, they would have been bigger than the Beatles). Sweet but never
saccharine, Ancien and the Magic Tablet is
highly recommended, following it premiere at the 2017 NYICFF (evidently, an
American theatrical release is in the works sometime later this year, so sit
tight, true believers).
Labels: Animated films, Anime, Japanese Cinema, NYICFF '17