Thursday, July 14, 2016

Japan Cuts ’16: Ouch, Chou Chou (short)

For many fans, “anime” and “experimental” are two words that have no business together, nor should they. However, the Japan Society will upend expectations with the Experimental Spotlight: Anime Vanguard program of animated shorts. Many are accomplished works, but they largely depend on viewers having a taste for abstract imagery and their given soundtrack music. The clear and distinctive exception is special festival guest Onohana’s Ouch, Chou Chou (trailer here), which screens as part of the avant-garde-ish shorts block at this year’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.

Aesthetically, Onohana’s film is somewhat reminiscent of Bill Plympton’s work, at least initially, but the narrative is closer to Oliver Sacks. Cabbage and Pea used to be close friends until the former’s family relocated and they lost touch. The intervening years were cruel to Pea, who was driven to attempt suicide by incessant bullying. She would survive, but the trauma regressed her back to when she was seven-years-old and best friends with Cabbage.

At the invitation of Pea’s mother, Cabbage visits her damaged friend, rekindling their friendship. Up to this point, the film is rather touching, but empathy takes a dark turn when Cabbage essentially steps into Pea’s subconscious. Although it is probably futile to closely analyze every surreal bit of imagery, the strange cosmic visions that follow certainly convey a sense of Pea’s ailing psyche.

Ouch, Chou Chou will overwhelm and flummox less adventurous viewers, but it is a film of visceral power. Of the shorts in the programming block we have seen, it is the standout, by far. Highly recommended on its own merits, it screens this Sunday (7/17) at the Japan Society, as part of Japan Cuts’ Experimental Spotlight: Anime Vanguard program (whereas the block itself is rather a mixed bag).