Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fantasia ’17: Matasaburo of the Wind (short)

Kenji Miyazawa’s Night on the Galactic Railroad is the one Japanese children’s book non-Japanese speakers might know and even own. It has been adapted as anime features and inspired films like Giovanni’s Island. Miyazawa’s story “Kaze no Matasaburo” might not be as familiar to English audiences, but it was also the subject of several feature treatments. The characters of Miyazawa’s classic tale have been reconceived as anthropomorphic animals (as was often the case with Railroad) and the narrative is simplified, but the purity of spirit remains in Hiroki Yamada’s animated short Matasaburo of the Wind (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Even though summer is fast approaching, Saburo Takada has transferred to a remote provincial school. In this case, the city native is rather stunned to find herself sharing a classroom with a bear, a tortoise, a rabbit, a frog, and an earthworm—as fellow students. There is also a human boy who rather fancies her. Much to his annoyance, some of friends get it into their heads she is Matasaburo, the son of the wind god, because she arrived in such gusty weather. Its rubbish of course (starting with her being a girl), but she will have a fateful encounter with the real Matasaburo.

Yamada’s deceptively simple animation is packed with warmth and nostalgic goodness. The streamlining of the story boils it down to its essence, but the twentysome-minute running time is still long enough to feel substantial. The supportive but unobtrusive score further heightens vibe of summer rain and cicadas chirping. This really is bitter-sweetness at its sweetest.

After watching Wind, a complete retrospective of films based on or inspired by Miyazawa’s work suddenly sounds like a heck of a nifty idea. Yamada’s adaptation is just good for what ails you. Very highly recommended, Matasaburo of the Wind screens this afternoon (7/30), as part of the Fragments of Asia shorts block at this year’s Fantasia. Kang Heekyung’s superhero romance Rainbow also screens as part of the block. It is also sweet and well-meaning, but it cannot match the charm and depth of Matasaburo.