Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fantasia ’17: Cocolors, etc.

Whether it is the far future or the distant past, the environment is a sinister force not to be trifled with. We’re talking about poisoned atmospheres, radiation, mutated monsters, and of course birds. The grimmest view of humanity’s possible fate comes in Toshihisa Yokoshima’s Cocolors (trailer here), the lead selection of a trio of animated shorts that screen together during the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

We never see the faces of Aki and Fuyi, but we still feel for them deeply. Like all the residents of their subterranean shelter, they are never seen without their dark reflective environmental helmets. Fuyi is acutely sensitive and sickly by nature. Aki is also rather sensitive, but he is relatively healthy compared to his peers, so he is selected for the salvage corps. It is their job to bring back useable resources from the surface to sustain their community. Aki is not very good at it, but he regularly managed to bring back colored stones for Fuyi to color in his idealized portrait of what life was like on the surface. It is a harsh, inhospitable world now, but it turns out it wasn’t mankind’s fault—at least not entirely.

Despite the absence of big anime eyes, Cocolors is absolutely devastating. It relies solely on subtitled vocal performances and animated body language, but it will emotionally cold-cock you just the same. As an added bonus, Yokoshima creates a richly detailed world in only forty-five minutes. Somewhat conspicuously, he leaves plenty of questions unanswered, especially when he briefly but unambiguously establishes the extraterrestrial nature of the catastrophe. That leads us to believe he has more planned for this world, but probably not with Aki and Kai.

As in Cocolors, the protag of Park Hye-mi’s Scarecrow Island has had to grow up fast. After a nuclear disaster, mutated monsters took over the Earth’s land masses, forcing humanity onto aircraft carrier shelters. Call sign FA35 is fighter pilot in his early teens at the latest, but he was just promoted to captain his own squad of “cleaners.” It is their job to clean sectors of monsters. However, when he is thrown off course, he spies a living, breathy human, who has decked out its secluded isle with scarecrows. Although they never really communicate, good will blossoms as FA35 regularly returns for fly-bys and to drop supplies for more scarecrows. Unfortunately, militarism will interrupt their budding friendship.

Scarecrow is another provocative post-apocalyptic tale from the maker of Crimson Whale, but it sort of suffers when compared to Cocolors. Still, Park crafts some memorable visuals and somehow avoids a feeling a finger-wagging didacticism, even though the film obviously has a heavy take-away.

On the surface, Cloud Yang’s Valley of White Birds is the ringer of the trio, yet it totally fits. A haughty mage has blown into an abandoned hamlet like Sergio Leone’s High Plains Drifter. It appears to be inhabited entirely by white birds, who could very well have the jump on him. Frankly, Valley is more about style and imagery than narrative, but is it ever gorgeous. In a way, it is like the most spiritually-imbued wuxia fantasies, rendered with a look that subtly hints at traditional watercolor. It is a film to sink into and just let whatever happens happen.

Altogether, it is quite a strong trio. Valley probably edges out Cocolors as the class of the program, but it is a close call—and their respective merits are radically different. Highly recommended for fans of animation and dystopian cinema, Cocolors, Sacrecrow Island, and Valley of White Birds screens this afternoon (7/29), as part of this year’s Fantasia.