Imagine the film Gravity raised to the power of one hundred and you might start to understand the situation these two Japanese astronauts face. It turns out the last two people in the world are actually orbiting in space. The outlook is grim, but their final mission still holds meaning in Tomasz Popakul’s starkly black-and-white animated short film Black (trailer here), which screens as part of the Midnight Shorts Program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.
During their time on the space station, nuclear war quickly and shockingly swept across the globe, leaving Haruko and Yoshi cut off from Earth. She generally copes by focusing on their original experiments, while he carefully monitors and records each new mushroom cloud. Ironically, the first day without an explosion leaves them (and us) feeling chillingly hollow, rather than relieved. There is a lot that goes unsaid between them, but their gaunt look and the increasingly distressed condition of the station tell viewers everything we need to know.
Realized by the Polish Popakul during his time as in Tokyo as an “Animation Artist in Residence,” Black is a short film of tremendous power. The central relationship, brought to life by Japanese voice actors Rina Takamura and Ryo Iwase, is acutely believable and deeply poignant. The sharp relief of Popakul’s black-and-white imagery is also absolutely stunning. You can clearly see a manga influence, but it is darker and moodier, not unlike the rotoscoped Alois Nebel. Regardless, the film just pops off the screen.
Black is as serious as any doomsday movie can get, yet it is not a downer. In fact, it leaves us exhilarated by its tragic beauty. This is fantastic, awards-caliber animation that is sure to leave the late-night crew dazzled. Very highly recommended, Black screens again with the rest of the Midnight Shorts tonight (1/20) and Friday (1/26) in Park City, as well as next Saturday (1/27) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.