You do not have to save the world to be an anime hero. It certainly doesn’t hurt, but Japanese animation is arguably more interested in the lives of average teens and adolescents (and even adults) than the Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks factories. You can see that clearly in two of the constituent shorts that make up the anthology film, Modest Heroes, which screens tomorrow at the 2019 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, ahead of its American BluRay release.
Stick with Modest, because it starts with the weakest film of the three, relatively speaking. It also happens to the only one without subtitles, by deliberate choice. Fortunately, viewers really do not need a word-for-word translation of the minimal dialogue in Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s “Kanini & Kanino.” In some ways, this story of two young water sprites struggling to find their injured father is the most Ghibli-esque of the three short films, which is a heavy statement, but it is also the most like other films we have seen before. Regardless, there is no denying the fine quality of the elegant animation.
In contrast, Yoshiyuki Momose’s “Samurai Egg” (a.k.a. “Life Ain’t Gonna Lose”) features a sketch-like illustrative style that nicely suits the tale of a young boy dealing with a life-threatening egg allergy. It is a simple tale, but the relationship between Shun and his mother is deeply moving, in a realistically human kind of way.
The best of the three is Akihiko Yamashita’s visually striking “Invisible.” This nameless drone has long been an invisible man in the Ralph Ellison sense, but he seems to have evolved into an invisible man in the H.G. Wells way, through a Kafkaesque process. He is invisible to our eyes too, which leads to some highly cinematic sequences involving his transparent body animating his salaryman suit. It is quite a sophisticated film, both thematically and stylistically, in which the fantastical and the metaphorical become indistinguishable.
It made sense for Studio Ponoc to collect these three short films together, because there is definitely an international market for anime of this caliber. Still, the comparatively brief fifty-three-minute running time makes it a bit of a programming challenge. Regardless, fans will appreciate its artistry, especially that of “Invisible.” Highly recommended for connoisseurs of international animation, Modest Heroes screens tomorrow (6/10) at Annecy and releases on BluRay in the U.S. on 6/18.