Our juvenile hero is a chimney sweep, but this is not a cute, upbeat musical, like Mary Poppins. It is dystopian anime. Apparently, Chimney Town was conceived as a utopia, but it turned into a dystopia, as utopias necessarily always do. Yet, earnest young Lubicchi just might save his society from its fears and ignorance in Yusuke Hirota’s Poupelle of Chimney Town, produced by Studio 4ºC, which opens in limited release this Thursday, for Oscar qualification.
Poor Lubicchi must constantly sweep the smokestacks belching smoke over his steampunky city, because he is the sole support of his wheelchair-bound mother, since the death of his beloved father. When he was alive, Bruno used to tell stories about stars in the sky and other lands beyond the sea, but everyone assumed they were fairy tales—except Lubicchi. He is still bullied over his father’s stories, but Lubicchi could potentially face harsher repercussions from Chimney Town’s inquisition, which does not take kindly to such heresy.
One magical Halloween, a mysterious, cosmic heart lands in a landfill, where it assembles and animates a literal “junk man.” Naturally, the fearful and provincial townspeople shun him, but he finds a friend in Lubicchi, who dubs him “Poupelle.” Of course, the Inquisition wants to capture the “man of junk,” but they evade the theocratic enforcers, with the help of Scoop, a thrill-seeking Libertarian tunnel pirate. Together, they might even prove the existence of stars.
In fact, the film, based on a children’s book written by Japanese comedian Akihiro Noshino, is fairly Libertarian, even though it is based on an economic fallacy. Supposedly, Chimney Town was created by a cult devoted to an economist, who invented money that decays for the sake of economic equality. Of course, our money also gets rotten over time. It is called inflation and lately the rate of decay has been blisteringly fast—and it has been working families like Lubicchi’s that are hurt most.
Metropolis-like fantastical industrial setting. It is a fully realized world, filled with lived-in details. This is baroque-looking science fiction, like Studio 4ºC’s big early hits Mind Game and Tekkonkinkreet, but it is dramatically different, stylistically and thematically.
Admittedly, Lubicchi is sometimes annoyingly neurotic and self-pitying, but his arc of empowerment definitely checks a lot of anime fans’ boxes. Plus, the lively score composed by Youki Kojima & Yuta Bando gives it vintage anime heart and energy (but the big “Halloween Party” song by Hyde is not as fun). Still, the animation is amazing and the revolt against oppressive government is cathartic. Highly recommended, Poupelle of Chimney Town opens Thursday (12/30) in LA at the Regal LA Live 14 and Friday (12/31) in New York at the AMC Empire.