J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Animaze ’19: Spirit of the Drowning Girls (short)


A quarterstaff is a fine weapon for an itinerant hero. Just ask Friar Tuck. Our silent protagonist will have plenty of uses for it when his wuxia wanderings take a sinister turn. Cao Runze’s action packed short film returns to Montreal, following its North American premiere at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, with a screening (sometime soon, the schedule is still a little vague) during the 2019 Animaze Montreal International Animation Festival.

When a brave warrior chances across two little girls in distress, he immediately comes to their aid, because that is what he does. Unfortunately, a sinister magical being of great power anticipated his heroics and has a nasty surprise waiting for him. It will be a hard day on the road for the stoic martial artist, but is far more resilient than she expected.

Spirit is a wildly enjoyable short film that we can only hope Cao and the Mainland-based Escape Velocity Animation Studio intend to expand into a full-fledged franchise. The animation is appealingly colorful and dramatic and Cao’s martial arts action sequences are pretty dazzling. Plus, there are some legitimately creepy bits.

However, the greatest surprise is the note of poignancy Cao manages to hit with ringing eloquence. Perhaps we are imposing our own meaning on the film, but it is not hard to see the titular drowned girls as an analogy for all the girls tragically aborted, abandoned, or killed out of dubious mercy because of the notorious One Child Policy, the malignant effects of which still continue to corrode Chinese society.

Regardless, Spirit is a righteous film in every sense. Anyone who enjoys wuxia or Chanbara-style anime will flip over it. Enthusiastically recommended, Spirit of Drowning Girls screens sometime during this year’s Animaze (8/29-9/1).

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