Anime has often been looked down upon in the United States because of the stereotypes surrounding those who watch it.
“Otakus”, a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, usually in the anime and manga fandom, has a negative connotation because it is used in connection with people who have little to no social skills at all. However, many animators and directors such as Miyazaki Hayao, Kon Satoshi, and Ōtomo Katsuhiro, have redefined anime by elevating it into art films. While few people in contemporary Japan personally identify as “religious,” animated films and television series are often used as sources for understanding religion in contemporary Japan. Anime directors create, promote, and critique religions through their films, and some anime fans maintain “religious frames of mind” by superimposing fictional worlds onto their own senses of reality.
Last Wednesday, May 13th, students were given the opportunity to watch an anime film and discuss the genre, the film, and its themes. Jolyon B. Thomas from the University of Wisconsin Madison discussed the film’s connection to modern Japanese religion. Looking at the film through a critical eye, significant truths are unveiled and a work for art, worth recommending, emerges.
“Short Peace”, the featured animated film by Ōtomo Katsuhiro, is an anthology of four short film pieces, hence making one facet of the title obvious. Opening with an introduction of sorts, one that combines the cultural history of Japan with images of torii, traditional Japanese Shinto shrine gates, with the universal pop culture image of a disco ball, Ōtomo’s film is beautiful and fantastic, a relentless stretching of the limits of animation.
“Short Peace” is a dazzling but somewhat uneven and disconnected anthology of four short animated films, titled “Possessions”, “Combustible”, “Gambo”, and “A Farewell to Weapons”. There are no smooth endings or beginnings—we as the audience are simply dropped straight into situations that illustrate disconnect between the modern and the ancient living side by side in Japan.
The first, Morita Shuhei’s “Possessions”, blends traditional art and cultural references with modern, realistically depicted images. Best described as frighteningly comedic, Morita blends the look of 19th century wood-block prints and contemporary anime in a striking short that is both an illustrated folk tale and a comment on a wasteful society.
This short and the next two are linked by the consistent images of nature and whispers of spirits, hauntingly brought to life through individual animators’ visual styles.
The last one, Katoki Hajime’s “A Farewell to Weapons”, is a striking parallel to Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Set in a hypermodern, futuristic battle, this short film felt more like a practical exhibition of what animation could accomplish instead of focusing on the plotline or a more contemplative meaning. Full of action and jumping from soldier to soldier’s perspective, the futuristic technology and landscapes are well planned and executed.
The animation in each short is breathtaking and engaging in its own way. It is only the transitions between shorts that can be jarring, as if giving its audience time to appreciate the visual brilliance and to reflect on the multiple messages embedded within each short film. Nevertheless, with its exquisite storytelling and beautiful animation, “Short Peace” is a work of art that taps into reflective and sentimental territory.