Sunday, September 01, 2019

Fantoche ’19: Shishigari (short)

Nature is dangerous and mysterious, but that makes the wild outdoors the perfect setting for coming of age rituals. Amid snowy forests and steep mountains, callow youths will either grow up quickly or die trying. There is also an element of karma in play for the nameless protagonist of director-screenwriter-animator Kiyotaka Oshiyama’s short film Shishigari, the first production of Oshiyama’s new animation house, Studio Durian, which screens during the 2019 Fantoche International Animation Festival, following its world premiere at this year’s Fantasia.

The somewhat under-sized but resourceful lad bears a striking resemblance to the young hero of Isao Takahata’s Horus, Prince of the Sun. In fact, both films rather freely traffic in Nordic-Slavic-Pagan imagery. In this case, the youthful hunter is just a common lad, but in his world, survival is an extraordinary achievement.

Over the course of the 17-minute film, we come to suspect somewhat fantastical thing are afoot, but in most cases, Oshiyama maintains an ambiguous uncertainty. Regardless, the perils the young hunter faces are very much of our world and totally lethal—as in avalanches and big-horned rams (or something similar).

Oshiyama is already well-known for his work as an animator on Studio Ghibli and Studio I.G films, but he really announces his independence with a bang here. Visually, Shishigari is striking in a primal, archetypal stones-and-skins kind of way. There is a lot action, but the narrative is driven by a higher spirituality.

It is easy to envision how Shishigari could be expanded into a feature-length film. At its current running time, the short film would also pair up nicely with features like Horus, Princess Mononoke, or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, if programmers are allowed to mix and match from the two animation studios. Regardless, anime fans will absolutely want to see it, because it should be the start of something big for Studio Durain. More importantly, it happens to be a really cool film. Very highly recommended, Shishigari screens this Wednesday (9/4) and next Sunday (9/8), as part of this year’s Fantoche, in the land of neutrality.