Animated Oscar Shorts 2013

Get a Horse! (Lauren MacMullan)

Like the premise of Tezuka’s Broken Down Film with the pacing of Pixar’s Presto and revised into a self-consciously old-meets-new Micky Mouse cartoon. The director has worked on Wreck-It Ralph and some quality television.

Mr. Hublot (Laurent Witz & Alexandre Espigares)

Great steampunk 3D – nervous shut-in manages to leave the house to rescue a neglected dog, which eventually outgrows his apartment. Based on the artwork of Stéphane Halleux, who goes uncredited on IMDB. One of the directors worked on the feature version of 9.

Feral (Daniel Sousa)

Wild child is “rescued” and brought to civilization, doesn’t adapt well. Black and white, faces are all toothy mouths, with eyes hidden. Some cool expressionist bits.

Possessions (Shuhei Morita)

A lost traveling repairman seeking shelter gets imprisoned by a house full of vengeful discarded artifacts – broken umbrellas, torn clothing and the like. He convinces the objects they still have worth, thanks them for their more productive years. Not as formally exciting as the previous three nor as cute as the next one.

Room on the Broom (Jon Lachauer & Max Lang)

Clearly based on a children’s book: a witch gradually gains new friends while looking for lost things. Her broom gets more and more weighed down, which is a problem with a witch-eating dragon on their trail. All animal grunts were voiced by famous people, but famous voices are lost on me since I thought Simon Pegg’s narrator was actually Rob Brydon. Cartoony 3D style, like if those animated shorts we used to see on HBO had been made with today’s software.

A la francaise (Boyer & Hazebroucq & Hsu & Leleu & Lorton)

Versailles 1700 with the king’s court portrayed as chickens. Loved it.

The Missing Scarf (Eoin Duffy)

The second short in the program about someone asking woodland creatures for help finding a lost article of clothing. Belatedly, I’m going to declare that the major trend in cinema last year. This definitely wins best performance of the bunch, for the voiceover by George Takei. Conversations with neurotic animals turn philosophical, then metacosmic, with infographic-style animation. This and the previous one were not nominated, but they’re the two I most want to watch again. Aha, the chickens are on vimeo!

The Blue Umbrella (Saschka Unseld)

Seen this before. A good closer.

These were stitched together with not-great ostrich/giraffe vignettes voiced by a guy from Thomas and Friends and a guy from Nightbreed who also appeared in the amazingly titled The Glam Metal Detectives. We saw the traveling theatrical presentation – all screenshots are from online trailers.

R100 (2013, Hitoshi Matsumoto)

Girl gets her makeup just right, returns to dinner table with nervous dude, kicks him in the head. Outside she tosses him down the stairs then reveals herself as a dominatrix superhero.

Then this happens (mouseover to see this):

Takafumi (Nao Omori, title star of Ichi the Killer), it turns out, has joined a club in which he’ll get attacked by dominatrices at random times and places. But the girls start showing up in situations that threaten his family and work life.

The title appears 40 minutes in. Then a spy warns Takafumi to quit the club before it’s too late.

A voice-throwing girl humiliates our guy in the hospital room of his comatose wife. Then the title again. And now a bored film crew discusses the intent of their hundred-year-old director, pictured as a bearded dude in a screening room.

Takafumi fails to get sympathy from the police. The girls get his young son involved, tie them both up. After one girl falls down his stairs and dies, he immediately gets a threatening phone call accusing him of murder. So he’s on the run from ninja dominatrices, the spy from before (“we’re an agency that fights anti-social elements”) is helping, and I’m figuring it’s gonna end somewhat like The Game (it doesn’t).

Takafumi is armed, starts shooting dominatrices – “in the end, masochist turns to sadist.” Meanwhile the CEO (wrestler Lindsay Hayward, one of the tallest women in the world) arrives at the women’s swimming-pool lair, cursing and screaming in English. Total war ensues.


Ends with a flashback montage of the entire movie, Takafuni pregnant posing for a photo shoot, and the hundred-year-old director getting his kicks (mouseover for kicks).

My copy was very brown.

Harakiri (1962, Masaki Kobayashi)

A brilliant flashback drama full of slow-boil tension leading to an explosive action scene and devastating business-as-usual finale. Tatsuya Nakadai (star of Kill! and of the snow-lady second segment of Kwaidan) asks a local clan for permission to commit ritual suicide in their courtyard, and the stooge in charge (Rentaro Mikuni, star of the first Kwaidan segment and the chained son in Profound Desire of the Gods, seeming older here, perhaps because of his baldy-samurai hair) tells of the last guy who tried that, how he was forced to go through with the suicide rather than being given some money to go away. But Nadakai knows this already, since the last guy was his son-in-law (Akira Ishihama of some Kinoshita films) whose death led his young wife Shima Iwashita (the daughter in An Autumn Afternoon) to her own. Nadakai’s plan is to demand an apology, and when the clan attacks he takes down as many men as he can (having killed some key guys earlier, as the flashback structure very gradually reveals). Rather than admit any blame, the clan leader orders a total cover-up, saying the others died of illness. A cynical movie, but thrilling in execution (with tastefully-deployed pre-’70s shock-zooms), the movie Kobayashi made before Kwaidan.

J. Mellen for Criterion:

In the film’s condemnation of the Iyi clan, Kobayashi rejects the notion of individual submission to the group. He condemns, simultaneously, the hierarchical structures that pervaded Japanese political and social life in the 1950s and 1960s, especially the zaibatsus, the giant corporations that recapitulated feudalism.

High & Low (1963, Akira Kurosawa)

Toshiro Mifune is Kingo, an executive plotting to take over his company and force out the board who wants to make inferior products for higher profit – so he’s set up as one of the good rich guys. In the city below, in the shadow of Kingo’s ostentatious house atop a hill, a medical intern doesn’t see the goodness, just the richness, kidnaps Kingo’s son and demands millions in ransom. Turns out the kidnapper got the chauffeur’s son by mistake, but still insists on his ransom, and Kingo pays it, becoming a media hero.

Meanwhile, Detective Tokura (Tatsuya Nakadai, star of Harakiri) is hot on the case with his team tracking the kidnapper, going way further than Stray Dog into the lower depths of the city, culminating in a grimy alley full of strung-out addicts, where kidnapper Takeuchi (Tsutomu Yamazaki, later of Tampopo and Farewell to the Ark) kills a woman with a knockout dose of uncut heroin, a test for his plan to get rid of his accomplices. Few visceral thrills, mostly a slow and methodical investigation, leading to an ambiguous ending – the kidnapper/killer providing no clear answers, and Mifune starting over (not exactly, but it’s starting over from a rich guy’s perspective) with his own small business.

Based on an American pulp crime novel. Bernstein gave a good intro and Q&A, and G. O’Brien has a nice long Criterion essay.

From samurai to shoe manufacturer: Gondo retains the combative instincts and self-conscious pride of an earlier era while struggling to reconcile himself to life as a company man. Much like Kurosawa (who had left Toho to form his own production company in 1960) fending off the perceived cheapening of Japanese cinema, Gondo touts the virtues of his own individualistic path: “I’ll make my ideal shoes: comfortable, durable, yet stylish. Expensive to make maybe, but profitable in the long run.”

The pink smoke—the only burst of color in a black-and-white film—marks the moment when the film definitively descends from heaven to hell, the point of entry being a dump that burns “everything that can’t be disinfected.” This is the juncture when those above finally take notice of the life below them, even if only in the form of burned evidence. Those below, on the other hand, could always see what was above them. “From down there,” as the inspector notes on his arrival in Gondo’s apartment, “if he’s got a telescope, the kidnapper can see this entire room.” The kidnapper, then, has possessed from the beginning the same power as Kurosawa’s camera: to command space and find every hiding place within Gondo’s seemingly impregnable aerie. To hide from those eyes, even the police are forced to crawl on the floor.

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985, Paul Schrader)

The movie is divided into sections. Three are adaptations of Mishima novels with autobiographical elements, and they’re tied together with interspersed b/w newsreel-like reenactment of Mishima’s final day (starring Ken Ogata, lead killer in Vengeance Is Mine), with some flashback footage of his youth. It’s an excellent approach to cinematic biography, though I suppose it wouldn’t work on everybody. Philip Glass, who introduced the film at Emory, provides a varied score (less driving lock-grooved than his others).

This would seem like a weird choice for Schrader to follow American Gigolo and Cat People, but he’s apparently a longtime fan of Mishima and of Japanese cinema. His sister-in-law is Japanese and wrote the dialogue. I’m sure he explains all on the Criterion commentary – that DVD has got hours of fab-looking extras.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion: clubfoot student Koichi Sato pals with stutterer Yasosuke Bando, teaches him to exploit his disability in order to score with chicks. It works, and Miss Universe contestant Hisako Manda gets nude, but this is not to the stutterer’s liking, and he decides to destroy everything that is beautiful.

Kyoko’s House: Young man (Kenji Sawada) becomes obsessed with bulking up through weight training. He finds out his mom is deeply indebted to a dangerous loanshark, so he sells himself to pay his mom’s debts, and the two become locked in a spiraling sadomasochistic relationship ending in double suicide.

Runaway Horses: Pro-Emperor militant cult leader Isao (Toshiyuki Nagashima) plans an attack on the government but they’re arrested before they can carry it out. Isao escapes, kills one of the targets (Jun Negami, who appeared in the Mishima-starring Afraid to Die) on his own, then performs seppuku before the rising sun.

Mishima’s actual words are used as narration, in Japanese by Ken Ogata in the restored version, which is what we saw. English-release narrator Roy Scheider later appeared in Naked Lunch, another movie that mixes a novelist’s biographical details into his work.

The Lower Depths (1959, Akira Kurosawa)

I bought Criterion’s Lower Depths double-feature, watched the Renoir version then only took seven years to watch the Kurosawa version. This one by comparison lacks snails, a fancy baron’s house, and a finale where the happy couple walks off into the sunset.

Toshiro Mifune is the big named star, but this is completely an ensemble drama – he’s less the lead than Jean Gabin was in the Renoir. It seems like a play, mostly confined to the interior of a single room, ending in the courtyard just outside. Shot mostly in long takes which, thinking back on vague recollections of Ran, Dreams and Ikiru, might be a Kurosawa trademark.

Mifune lives with a bunch of others in a shitty tenement – there’s the tinker with his deathly ill wife, a gambler, a drunken actor (Kamatari Fujiwara of The Hidden Fortress and Mickey One), an ex-samurai, a candy-seller, and prostitute Akemi Negishi (the only woman on Anatahan). Mifune used to be hot for the landlady (Isuzu Yamada, Lady Macbeth of the same year’s Throne of Blood) but lately has taken up with her younger sister Okayo (Kyoko Kagawa of Mothra, lead guy’s miserable suicide sister in Sansho the Bailiff), incurring the older sister’s wrath. Landlord Ganjiro Nakamura (star of Ozu’s Floating Weeds and The End of Summer) hangs out with the gambler, tries to stay out of the romantic drama but gets killed for his trouble.

Also in the mix: randomly-appearing high-energy Unokichi, and a traveling magical grandpa who shows up to dispense wisdom then vanishes during the murder.

The Man Who Left His Will On Film (1970, Nagisa Oshima)

A closed loop of a movie, unusual for Oshima in that you can guess where the story is going and how it will end, but there’s plenty of engaging craziness in between. Opens with a handheld shot of two people fighting over a camera. Someone with a camera suicides off a building, the cops apparently have taken the camera, and Motoki wakes up with his friends (or comrades – they seem to be a political media collective).

Nobody else seems to know anything about anyone jumping off any buildings, just that police attacked while the group was filming a protest in the park and took their camera, and Motoki had bravely tried to reclaim it (though they chide him for having a sense of private property about the group’s camera). Motoki swears to Yasuko that her boyfriend Endo killed himself this morning – though Endo was in the room with them all a few minutes before. Then he rapes Yasuko – why? A “seventh art series” video essay I found says that she was always his girlfriend, but when Motoki doesn’t seem to remember this she plays along, agreeing that she dates Endo.

He and Yasuko start acting like a couple, screen footage of seemingly random locations shot by another group member then set out to find these locations, each starting to “remember” events that may not have happened, and denying events that did. “The stupid asshole who made that movie didn’t exist!” Motoki seems to accidentally find his own parents’ house while reverse-location-scouting. He sets out to shoot the same landscapes in order to become the other cameraman, and Motoki stands in every shot, ending up hurt or raped each time. Finally we see a POV shot of the group confronting him to return their camera, and he runs – but in front of the handheld camera, as if there are two of him. Atop a building, Motoki appears, blocking his way back down, so he jumps – then we see a hand pick up his camera and run with it.

C. Fujiwara, in an excellent article on Moving Image Source:

The sense that The Man Who Left His Will on Film has come after something else, in a “post” period, is explicit in the Japanese title, Tokyo senso sengo hiwa, which means “Secret Story of the Period after the Tokyo War.” “Tokyo War” refers to the mass protests in November 1969 against Japanese prime minister Eisaku Sato’s visit to the United States. This war is assuredly and emphatically not “the War” that serves as the main historical landmark for characters in other Oshima films, providing a (false) explanation and excuse for their actions (as with the officials in Death by Hanging and the father in Boy [1969]). The Man Who Left His Will on Film places itself within a later history, one perhaps not yet readable at the time it was made.

Ronin Gai (1990, Kazuo Kuroki)

Random samurai movie watched on Criterion’s Hulu channel when it was free for a week – thought I’d pick something unlikely to come out on DVD anytime soon, since I’d never heard of the movie or director. It was surprisingly excellent, with assured, quality filmmaking and an exciting, complicated story – handily better than the Samurai trilogy.

1836: Bull, rough-looking with short black beard, is an ex-samurai so poor he lets people beat him up for money. He, drunken pimp Gennai and slightly more respectable Horo end up drinking together after a fight had seemed inevitable, turns out they’re all in love with one of the bar girls Oshin. Now, it gets a bit hard to follow because the main girls in the film are named Oshin, Osen, Obun, Otoku and Oyo – I tried to remember Osen as the “o-girl” for about ten minutes before realizing my mistake.

A dead woman is discovered:

Anyway, everyone is poor, struggling to survive in general, but now a group of rich moralists are killing girls every night. Bull acts as the women’s caretaker, is teaching them to read, and takes the murders very personally. And all the men would like to join the local clan, because then they’d get a salary. Local birdseller Doi’s sister Obun goes to the clan bosses to interfere in her brother’s behalf, essentially joins the prostitutes. Gennai starts dallying with rich clan woman Oyo, and Bull gets a job as a “dog”, servant to one of the seven asshole clansmen who turn out to be the murderers, eventually kills Oyo for his master. The clansmen decide to rip Oshin apart with bulls attached to ropes, and somehow the other two guys find out in time, come over and kill about fifty guys in the big climactic battle. Bull isn’t gonna get an easy out after slaying that woman, stabs through himself to kill his master. Postscript: Oshin leaves town with Gennai, Obun takes over the bar, and all surviving clan samurai are asked to commit harakiri for disgracing the shogun.

Oshin, about to be rescued:

Bull killing his master:

Director Kuroki died in 2006, made Evil Spirits of Japan in 1970. From the screenwriter of the Yakuza Papers series, based on a novel previously adapted in the 1920′s as a whole series of films. Nominated for a pile of Japanese academy awards, mostly beaten by Shinoda’s Childhood Days and Kohei Oguri’s The Sting of Death (though they also nominated Die Hard 2 for best foreign film, so it’s not clear they can be trusted).

Shintaro Katsu (Bull)’s final film – he was Zatoichi, Hanzo the Razor, and star of Man Without a Map. Gennai was Yoshio Harada, also of Manji and Farewell to the Ark. Young Oshin was Kanako Higuchi, the young painter’s mom in Achilles and the Tortoise, Obun was Kaoru Sugita, Sho Aikawa’s wife in Dead or Alive and Otoku was Moeko Ezawa of Kitano’s Getting Any?

Late Spring (1949, Yasujiro Ozu)

First of three Ozu movies within a few years in which Setsuko Hara is named Noriko. Here she’s a young woman (but not so young anymore) living with her absent-minded professor father (Chishu Ryu of Tokyo Story), refusing thoughts of marriage so she can take care of him. She hangs out with Aya, a cousin about her age, and her dad’s assistant Hattori, who is already engaged to another woman. Elder relatives meddle as usual: an irritating aunt (Haruko Sugimura) insists Noriko should marry, and twice-wed uncle Onodera offers a different perspective on marriage. Finally Noriko’s dad forces her hand, lies that he’s marrying an aquaintance so she’ll leave home and live her own life. It’s a movie full of very small revelations, building to a huge emotional moment. The movie has told us that Noriko will adjust to married life and grow to love it, though she seems unhappy on her wedding day, and her dad has said that he wants only what’s best for his daughter, but he cries when he’s finally alone. Most relationship movies end with a wedding, but this one has a very different take.

The meddling aunt starred in Naruse’s Late Chrysanthemums (not this one), also in the final segment of Kwaidan, and uncle Onodera was in Pigs and Battleships. This was Hara’s first film for Ozu, having previously starred in Kurosawa’s No Regrets For Our Youth. Katy liked, but can’t figure out its top-twenty placing in the Sight & Sound list.

M. Atkinson for Criterion:

Ozu’s Zen-infused sensibility translates on film to something like the art form’s nascent formal beauty: patiently watching little happen, and the meditative moments around the nonhappening, until it becomes crashingly apparent that lives are at stake and the whole world is struggling to be reborn. … Late Spring is a hushed battlefield where no one is right or wrong. We watch the infliction roll out inexorably, wishing there were a cheesy, American-style resolution somewhere on the horizon in which all of the well-meaning characters could be happy. But that’s not Ozu. Ozu is the natural energy of Noriko’s generous grin, dispensed selflessly in all social situations, until she realizes where her life is helplessly headed – and the blood-cooling shock of seeing that resilient smile finally drop.

“The turning point is the uninterrupted, eight-minute performance of a Noh drama during which Noriko suddenly becomes aware of her father’s apparent interest in an attractive widow and realizes he may not actually need her after all.” From a good James Williams article in Film Quarterly on the influence of Late Spring on Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum:

Certain episodes correspond exactly: for example, the Noh play and the Nightshift sequence, the final trip together to Kyoto and the journey to Lubeck (both feature a scene where the pair sleep side-by-side like lovers), an abortive concert, and the focus on preparations for mar- riage rather than the ceremony itself … What particularly interests her in Late Spring is its representation of the “strong yet awkward” father figure that resonates so powerfully with her own family background.